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Challenges of Serving as Athletic Director at an International School

By Dr. David Hoch, CMAA on April 19, 2016 hst Print

Editor’s Note: The following is an interview with Gil Grant, athletic and activities director at the Bonn International School in Germany, regarding the challenges of conducting high school athletic and activity programs in his country.

Question: You were born, raised and educated in the United States. What led you to a career at an international school in Germany – first teaching and coaching basketball, then as an athletic administrator.

Grant: In 2001, I was working for PBS in Chicago and my wife asked if I would consider moving to Europe for one to two years. We landed in Brussels. While exploring several different employment options, I met a basketball coach from the International School of Brussels (ISB). He asked me to help him as an unpaid assistant middle school basketball coach and I really enjoyed the school environment, especially working with students from so many different backgrounds.

From Brussels, we moved to Zurich with my wife’s job and I coached various basketball teams at the Zurich International School while getting my master’s in coaching education from Ohio University. In August 2011, we relocated to Bonn and I settled into my current position as extracurricular activities coordinator at Bonn International School.

Question: Unlike the model in the United States, athletic programs are not normally part of European schools. As a result, athletic participation typically occurs through clubs. Does this mean that you have to rely on other international schools in order to schedule games that may involve a lot of travel?

Grant: Yes, we are part of two pan-European athletic conferences – Northwest European Community of International Schools (NECIS), which has 11 member schools, and International School Sports Tournament (ISST), which has 23 members.

Our schools compete against each other in weekend competitions during the season, and each sport season culminates with a tournament hosted at another international school. For example, in November 2015 for the end of the fall season, Bonn International School sent 10 teams to four different schools. We hosted 173 athletes from nine international schools for the ISST Division II Cross Country Championships here in Bonn.

Question: Taking a little closer look at travel, does it usually involve overnight stays? Do your athletes and coaches have to carry passports when playing a team in a neighboring country and do you travel by train or bus? Also, due to team travel does this mean that most of your competition comes in the form of tournaments as opposed to single contests?

Grant: The majority of our travel involves overnight stays. With the exception of the season-ending NECIS tournaments, because they involve too many athletes, the participants are housed with families of the host school. We travel 3-4 hours by bus for regular-season games but will also travel by train and plane to the season-ending tournaments. Typically, our teams will leave school on Friday at 12:00 and travel to another school. The teams play games Friday afternoon, stay overnight with families from the host school (coaches stay in a hotel), play again on Saturday morning and then travel back to Bonn.

Question: In the United States, athletic administrators normally have some hurdles to overcome in order to operate their program. They could have a problem with funding, dealing with misguided parents or the lack of an athletic trainer for their program. What are the greatest challenges that you face directing your program?

Grant: Housing is always our biggest challenge. We need parents to host two visiting athletes on Friday nights during the regular season and for one to three nights during tournaments. Normally, for example, our varsity volleyball team parents will house visiting athletes during the season, but during tournaments we need the whole school community to help.

Question: Ideally, athletic administrators throughout the United States try to fill coaching positions with teachers within the school assuming that they are qualified and interested. What approach do you take to find suitable, competent coaches for your program?

Grant: Teachers make the ideal coaches in international schools; however, the academic pressures and time commitments have increased for teachers over the years so we are hiring more local coaches. The biggest challenge is that the coaches need to be able to travel overnight for 3-4 weekends during the season and communicate fairly well in English. Our administration helps when recruiting teachers as involvement in sports or activities is always looked upon favorably in the international school setting.

Question: In addition to athletics, you also direct the activities program at the school. What activities do you offer and why?

Grant: Bonn International School offers a diverse range of activities for all age groups. We have a yearly musical and theater along with drama, music, clubs and all sorts of languages. Additionally, we are in the second year of the BISSV (Bonn International School Sports Verein), which allows our Grades 2-5 students to compete in the local German youth league in soccer and running.

Question: Why do your students participate in athletics and activities programs and what are their goals? How do these programs fit into the total mission of your school?

Grant: I believe students participate and have the same goals as students in the USA. However, they really enjoy the travel and meeting fellow student-athletes from all over the world. The BIS Administration is very supportive of athletics and activities; one of the central tenets of an IB education is that students are balanced and sports/activities are the perfect complement to a rigorous academic program.

Question: What set of rules do you use for your games?

Grant: The majority of the sports follow rules set by international organizations. For instance, we use FIBA rules for basketball, which means the use of a 24-second shot clock for high school games and eight seconds in the backcourt.

NECIS places a huge emphasis on youth participation and development. In all U12 (Grades 5-6) and U14 (Grades 7-8) competition, each player must play one full quarter (for basketball/soccer) or one full set (volleyball) in each match or else your team automatically loses. This is a great way to ensure participation and it takes away a lot of the problems associated with playing time. If a child is on the team for that game, he/she is going to play.

Question: What advice would you have for someone who might like to take a similar career path as yours?

Grant: Honestly, there are not many full-time athletic or activity director positions in international schools since often the job is coupled with being the head of physical education or with a 40% teaching requirement in another subject. But this is changing as more and more international schools look to offer bigger after-school programs.

The majority of hiring for international schools is done in December and January because successful candidates need time to arrange for an international move in August. The best way is to go to a job fair and start your international career as a teacher and then move into administration.