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Managing Change in a High School Athletics Program

By Dr. David Hoch, CMAA on April 13, 2016 hst Print

Athletic administrators constantly face new developments and have to adapt accordingly. Change may come from recently passed legislation, new technology or an incoming supervisor or school board. In addition, administrators must deal with new parents, new coaches on the staff and perhaps budget cuts. These examples, and more, all represent change.

How anyone reacts to and accepts change is based upon one’s own perception. While change is neither inherently good or bad, or right or wrong, it will be constant and continual. There have been more developments and advancements with technology, equipment and information in the past few years than at any time in history. It is vital, therefore, that athletic directors – and other school administrators – manage change.

How individuals perceive change varies and is dependent upon several factors, including:

• Experience that stems from one’s family, education, friends and community.
• The setting in which a person works. All schools and districts are uniquely different.
• One’s personality, which could be that of an optimist or a pessimist.

However, a person’s viewpoint largely determines if change is seen as good or bad, or right or wrong.

Athletic administrators have a host of management responsibilities and tasks, including managing the budget, personnel – coaches, assistants and support staff – games, events and venues, and many other things. Actually, 85 percent of an athletic administrator’s job involves management. In addition, athletic directors have to manage change for everyone involved in the department.

In the corporate world, large businesses typically have an individual or even a department that is designed to help employees through change. The transition may mean new responsibilities for the workers, and updated equipment and technology, and all of these developments necessitate education, guidance, training and support. This is exactly what athletic administrators have to provide to all of their constituents.

Constituents? Yes. Change affecting the athletic administrator quite possibly will have an impact on coaches, athletes and parents. And depending upon the specific development, others such as administrators, teachers and support staff could also be involved. This means that the athletic administrator has to take the lead.

Realizing that adapting to new developments isn’t always easy, corporate managers have identified five stages of dealing with change by employees.

  1. Shock – This can be characterized by, “How or why can this be happening? I don’t believe it!”
  2. Anger – Any and all expletives may be utilized and various means of expressing this emotion might be employed.
  3. Rejection – The response would typically involve, “I’m not doing this. There is no way.”
  4. Acceptance – This is the point when the light bulb goes on, “Well, I guess that there is no choice and this is what we have to do.”
  5. Help – The realization sets in that, “Gee, I don’t know how to do it (whatever is involved) and I need assistance to learn what is needed and how to proceed.”

However, before an athletic administrator can reach out to guide and help others, he or she first has to personally navigate these five steps. And common sense dictates that the quicker the athletic director can reach step No. 5, the sooner he or she can start getting the department on track. This is the key to managing change within an athletic department.

Tim Hannagan, a management professor, sums up the process very succinctly: “Whereas management is about coping with completing tasks and details, leadership is about coping with change. Leaders set the direction concerning change; managers plan, organize and oversee the implementation of change.”

In filling this role for the athletic department, athletic administrators should:

1. Provide the vision for everyone associated with the program. They have to explain “where we are going” – which probably has already been determined – and detail why this change will occur. Also, the improvements that will occur as a result should be shared.
2. Explain the strategy of how the change will be implemented. This means providing the specific steps and that help will be provided during the transition. And it is always important to re-assure those involved that everything will work out.
3. Monitor the change by including “… This is how far we are and this is how much more that needs to be done.” A little bit more time or help might be required, and this should be clearly outlined for everyone involved.

With these three steps, athletic administrators are managing change.

Even if athletic administrators had access to a crystal ball, they could not accurately predict what will happen in the future. But one can safely assume that there will be more advances with concussion protocols and treatment and other sports medicine developments. There will be new technology and social media applications that will render the current forms obsolete. And obviously there will always be new legislation, policies and procedures will be passed or developed. However, change is on the horizon.

The former chief executive officer of Chrysler Corporation, Lee Iacocca, stated at a shareholders’ meeting in the 1980s: “You are either moving forward or falling behind because there is no such thing as standing still.” And this perfectly describes your athletic program and the fact that change will occur. It is natural and ongoing. Therefore, athletic administrators have to manage change.

Whether it was due to an asteroid hitting the earth or climate change resulting from an impending Ice Age, dinosaurs couldn’t adapt to a changing environment – and they became extinct. Can you adapt or manage a changing environment?