COACHES’ CORNER: BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS WITHIN THE ATHLETIC DEPARTMENT
As you move up throughout your career you will need allies in the front office, not just in coaching circles. If you eventually aspire to be a head coach– next year or 10 years from now– you need to invest some time building relationships with the Assistant ADs in the Athletic Department, and make a good impression with the Athletic Director.
Just as you aspire to be a head coach, these up-and-coming future Athletic Directors are also putting together their career plans and one day may have the power to hire you, or influence someone else in their circle to hire you. If you’re a grad assistant or assistant coach, look around at your peers within the Athletic Department, all the other interns and entry- level staffers also aspire to run the show one day too! Build careers together.
You need to build your network among coaches, yes, but also with these current and future decision-makers who can hire you or get your resume on top of the pile with Athletic Directors. Other coaches have the power to hire you as an assistant coach, but Athletic Directors have the power to hire you as a Head Coach. Get them and future Athletic Directors in your circle early!
A pet peeve among Athletic Department staffers is feeling that they are being treated unprofessionally or in an unorganized way. Recruiting involves lots of paperwork, approvals and assistance from several other internal departments and involvement during Official/Unofficial Visits. You must be organized with them and not constantly overstress their jobs because of lack of preparation on your part.
It’s a good idea to sit down with staffers within the Athletic Department, and throughout the University, people who you will deal with on a regular basis. Give them advance notice on what is coming up, come up with a plan together of what you need to work together successfully. Don’t be caught off-guard at the last minute with paperwork requirements and approval processes, it quickly irritates everyone around the department and you’ll develop a reputation of being rude or unorganized.
Depending on your off-field responsibilities, you may have to interact and have some difficult dealings with administrators regarding budget, player discipline, compliance, staffing or politics. Try to always keep these tough conversations professional, you can have conflicting opinions or stances in these areas, but always look for the best and most professional ways to resolve them.
I’ve worked with some coaches who take on a “me-versus-the-world” attitude when dealing with others staffers in the Athletic Department, and others who look to network with everyone department-wide. Guess which ones have had more successful careers? You need as much help for your program that you can get, and remember that you are building a reputation within the Athletic Department, and word spreads nationally.
Always assume that anyone in the Athletic Department can eventually help you, whether it’s getting a job or through recruiting relationships. You never know who will help you down the road. With the high rate of turnover in Athletic Departments, your network and contacts at other schools will quickly multiple as everyone moves up and takes jobs at other schools.
Along with administrators, be cordial and appreciative with other departments—Marketing, Ticket Office, Training Room. For your team, these staffers will work harder for you and be ambassadors for your program if you make them feel like they are a valuable PART of the program.
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At monthly or quarterly all-staff department meetings or Athletic Department social events, be sure to get out of your shell and away from your day-to-day established contacts and sit with some new people that you don’t know yet, or contacts you haven’t spent much face-to-face time with. Build friendships outside of your sport. Be friendly and approachable.
And yes, while this is their job, many staffers will go above and beyond for your program. There will be a last-minute request or big favor you’ll need one day, start off on the right foot. Make sure you take the time to thank them after big recruiting weekends – send a personal note, pick up the phone and ask for feedback on how to make improvements in procedures. Annually, plan a lunch or dinner to thank those who consistently help you throughout the year. Make them feel like an appreciated and necessary part of your program.
EXTEND APPRECIATION: REWARD THOSE WITHIN ATHLETIC DEPARTMENT
• Walk around Athletic Department and give away extra camp t-shirts (after camp) or marketing giveaway items for upcoming or recent games.
• Offer a camp discount to department staff’s children (with Compliance’s approval, for children under a recruitable age).
• Pick up the phone and leave a quick voicemail to shoutout other teams, coaches and staff on their big wins, upcoming games or awards.
• Invite other young staffers to lunch on campus, build relationships that make sense.
• Start a mentorship panel and get together for lunch or dinner monthly
• Organize department social events- BBQs, bowling, trivia nights, kickball leagues.
• Ask older, more experienced staffers for career advice. Ask just a few questions, and sit back and listen. Let them do most of the talking.
• Write personal thank you notes– a lost art that is still impactful!
• Pick up some donuts or Starbucks and deliver them personally for extra assistance or hard work!
• Invite key staffers to a team meal or team function, if approved by head coach and allowable by budget.
• Attend games of other sports teams and post your support on social media!
• Work out in the communal staff gym. Many staffers get a workout in the early morning or at lunch.
• Thank supportive staff or departments publically for their assistance and give them a social media shoutout, especially on Signing Day, Graduation, Registration, End of Season, etc.
• Organize a Field Day for staff: softball game or friendly competition.
• Give extra gear or t-shirts to children of staff members.