How to Become an Athletic Director
Are you thinking about turning your love of sports into a career as an Athletic Director? This guide will walk you through what it will take to get there, from daily duties to expected pay plus lots of helpful resources.
What Does an Athletic Director Do?
An Athletic Director manages the sport programs and departments at a college, university or high school. They are the top administrative official that provides guidance, oversight and direction for a school’s sports program, from small high schools to large NCAA universities.
The Athletic Director oversees all aspects of the athletic program, including hiring coaches and staff, scheduling practices and games, preparing a budget, promotion, compliance and facility management. Their range of duties will vary depending on the level and size of the institution and sports programs they manage. Some common Athletic Director duties and responsibilities include:
- The Athletic Director is responsible for preparing an annual budget and allocating spending on items such as salaries, equipment, travel and facility upkeep. They must manage the budget throughout the year to ensue that it is being met and all needs are covered.
- Athletic directors work closely with coaches, conferences and leagues to schedule games and practices throughout the year, ensuring a fair use of available facilities by all teams.
- Hiring and Managing Coaches. Athletic Directors often have direct oversight of coaches, and are responsible for hiring and providing guidance to the coaches in their program.
- Particularly at the college level, Athletic Directors work closely with a compliance officer to make sure that the program is adhering to all conference and association rules.
Athletic Director Skills
Athletic Directors are administrators, so their skills are the similar as anyone in a management position. They should be able to plan ahead and multi-task, in order to work on all the varying details of their programs. They should work well under pressure, as there can be times of crisis when tough decision-making is called for. Athletic Directors should also have good interpersonal and communication skills, in order to effectively manage the staff and players in their program, and advocate for their program’s needs.
Other key Athletic Director skills include:
- Working knowledge of sports and understanding of sport rules.
- Strong writing skills with working knowledge of Associated Press style.
- A high degree of knowledge of NCAA Division I athletics programs
- Demonstrated success and mastery in managing a large budget
How Do You Become an Athletic Director?
Education and Training
Although some Athletic Director job listings only ask for candidates with a bachelor’s degree, many job listings for Athletic Directors, particularly at the college level, require potential employees to hold a master’s degree. To pursue a career in athletic administration, you may want to get a bachelor’s degree in a related field such as education, kinesiology, movement science or sports administration. Then, you can pursue a master’s degree in sports management, or education or business with a sport administration emphasis. Sports Management programs cover a wide breadth of subjects, including facility management, legal issues, fiscal management and leadership skills.
To land an Athletic Director job, you will likely need some previous experience. You can complete an internship in the sports industry while a student. After graduating, you might gain additional relevant experience coaching or managing a sports team, or a work an entry-level position in a school’s athletic administration and work your way up.
Finding a job
The Bureau of Labor Statistics includes Athletic Directors under the category “Postsecondary Education Administrators,” and forecasts 9 percent growth for these roles through 2024, faster than the average for all occupations. More people are pursuing a secondary education, which increases the need for administrators like Athletic Directors. Sports, in particular, are an important source of revenue for many colleges and universities, so the demand for Athletic Directors is expected to continue to increase. High School athletic programs are also increasing in size and importance, so there will likely be more of jobs there in the future, as well.
To begin your Athletic Director job search, start by crafting a high-quality resume that highlights your skills and experience. For help building a resume, take a look at our library of Athletic Director resume samples.
After building the perfect resume, search online for Athletic Director job opportunities. As you look for openings, be sure to leverage your professional network, including people you met through an internship or school.
When you’re ready to apply for an Athletic Director job, write a cover letter that expresses your interest in the position and highlights your qualifications and what you will bring to the role. For some cover letter ideas, check out our collection of cover letter samples.
Insights from an Athletic Director
To get a better idea of how to become an Athletic Director, we talked to Jack Guiterrez, the Athletic Director at Central Community College in Nebraska. Here’s what he shared about his career as an Athletic Director.
What is the common career path for an Athletic Director?
The common path is usually having some coaching experience or playing experience in a sport, and being well rounded in many different sports. I played multiple sports in high school and college football. I then coached at the high school level for three years and worked as a graduate assistant in the physical education department and served as an assistant men’s basketball coach. My experiences in these areas allowed me to see the needs and wants of different coaching professionals and athletes.
What should someone consider before becoming an Athletic Director?
The main thing to consider is the necessary time commitment in the evenings supervising and overseeing games at all levels, boys and girls. Another thing to ask is are you really ready to leave coaching behind and totally focus on being an athletics administrator, which means staying focused and unbiased to all sports, big and small.
What type of person excels in this job?
A person that excels as an Athletic Director is a good listener and communicator because you deal with many different personalities in your supervision of coaches, dealing with the media and working with sporting goods salesmen. A successful Athletic Director is one that has the ability to remain calm and stay positive in difficult situations, and has great stamina to work long days and the ability to say no when necessary.
What are some of the most important skills for Athletic Directors to have?
I feel the most important skill, which at times is hard to master, is to juggle your time to fit all of the needs into your schedule. Working with coaches is challenging because you see many personalities, both aggressive and passive, and giving each coach the time they expect, and the interruptions with that go along with it, is demanding. An open-door policy in these situations is a must because they may have a crisis to deal with and need advice, or they may just want to show their excitement for a big win the night before.
Another important skill is fundraising for your programs. It is always difficult to ask businesses for money and to delegate that task to the coaching staff is not always appreciated. Having a sound and committed administrative assistant is also a must and delegating responsibilities is a soft skill that is required of a good Athletic Director.
Perhaps, the most important skill though is to listen and let your team express their feelings, concerns, wants and excitement. Staying positive and calm with your staff will aid in getting things accomplished.
What do you find to be the most rewarding aspect of being an Athletic Director?
I feel that I am most rewarded when I see our student athletes having fun and doing well in the classroom. Wins and losses come into play but it is more important that our coaches are displaying a positive image through themselves and their players in practice and games. It is rewarding when our teams look good and play hard. I also stress to our coaches the importance of their positive behavior with their teams at home contests and especially on the road.
How Much Do Athletic Directors Get Paid?
Athletic Directors are generally paid an annual salary. The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the median wage for “Postsecondary Education Administrators,” which includes Athletic Directors, as being $88,580. The lowest-paid Postsecondary Education Administrators make about $50,240 per year, while the highest-paid can earn more than $174,280 annually.
Top 10 States for Athletic Director Salary
Postsecondary Education Administrators, including Athletic Directors, in the following states make the highest median annual wage in the U.S.
- Delaware: $122,630
- New Jersey: $120,650
- Alaska: $112,010
- Hawaii: $110,570
- Florida: $109,790
- North Dakota: $105,770
- California: $103,030
- Maryland: $101,230
- Texas: $100,350
- New York: $99,620
Athletic Director Resources
Looking for more info about becoming an Athletic Director? We put together this list of additional resources to help you in your career search.
On the Web
Athletic Management – A magazine focused on all aspects of athletic management, go here for articles, interviews, and to keep up to date on the latest news in the field of athletic management
Coach and Athletic Director – This is a one-stop-shop for all kinds of helpful resources about athletic administration.
National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA) – NACDA provides educational opportunities and serves as a vehicle for networking and the exchange of information to others in the field of athletic administration.
National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA) – NIAAA offers educational opportunities to develop leaders and foster community amongst Athletic Administrators
Athletic Director Books
Athletic Director’s Survival Guide – This guide provides all the information and strategies you’ll need to know how to be a successful junior and senior high school Athletic Director.
Athletic Director’s Desk Reference – For those interested in being an Athletic Director at the collegiate level, this is a great resource.