How to Become an Athletic Director

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By Published On: October 20, 2022

Being an athletic director is a powerful way to impact young athletes’ lives. Athletic directors are responsible for the entire athletic department at an academic institution, and their work has a significant impact on the lives of students.

Becoming an athletic director gives you an opportunity to help develop student athletes and prepare them for professional athletics. Athletic directors collaborate with coaches, manage facilities, and maintain budgets as part of a member of the school’s faculty.

What Does an Athletic Director Do?

Athletic directors oversee the entire athletic department at a school, university, or other facility. They are responsible for creating programs and opportunities for people that are rooted in exercise science and health.

An athletic director is an organizational leader, responsible for maintaining a safe environment, scheduling events and activities, hiring and managing coaches, and supervising sports faculty.

Working in this position requires a deep understanding of both exercise science and sports education. You also need additional skills in business organization and leadership, communication, and problem-solving skills.

Athletic directors work in academic institutions, such as K-12 schools, colleges, and universities. Some may also work for non-profit community sports programs and charities. You can choose to work where you are most passionate about sports education.

School athletic directors ensure that their programs are always aligned with state education guidelines, as well as learning standards for different grade levels.

At the college or university level, directors have to communicate with the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), and communicate with other directors both before, during, and after game season. They will also connect with recruiters, stakeholders, and other faculty members throughout the year.

Steps to Become an Athletic Director

1. Earn a Degree

As a management position, athletic directors need both a strong background in sports management and education. Earning a degree in either exercise science or sports management is a good stepping stone for anyone interested in this career.

As a postsecondary administrator, directors usually need at least a master’s degree in sports management, physical education, or exercise science. Some may hold PhDs or EdDs in order to qualify for the most esteemed positions in their field.

Master’s programs are important for directors because they help them develop the skills required to serve as a leader and manager. An MS in Sports performance training is a particularly valuable degree path for aspiring athletic directors. The program prepares students to take the NASM’s Performance Enhancement Specialist (PES), making it suitable for aspiring coaches, trainers, and directors alike.

With this degree, you will have an education grounded in fitness, health, wellness, and sports medicine. Course topics include kinesiology, biomechanics, exercise science research, applied or advanced exercise physiology, principles of sports performance training, and program design for sports training.

2. Develop Key Skills

Athletic directors are in charge of entire divisions, so they experience a great deal of challenges as they lead coaches and athletes alike to success.

Below are some of the skills you’ll need to thrive as an athletic director:

  • A good judge of character. Athletic directors hire sports faculty and coaches, so they must be capable of determining who the best people are for their division. The director will screen and interview various people for open positions, and they will have to be able to determine if they’re the right fit for a school based on the school’s culture and programs.
  • Excellent communication. Directors must delegate tasks, serve as a liaison, and communicate with many people in both spoken and written formats. You will have to be comfortable giving presentations, making phone calls, and leading meetings among groups of people. Essential communication skills will ensure knowing how to state your thoughts clearly, and listen to others, and collaborate well.
  • Exemplary sportsmanship. As the director of an athletic program, you are the school’s beacon of sportsmanship. You have to embody exactly what virtues and practices you want your students and faculty to develop. Good sportsmanship includes always working on a team, never showing bias, and letting a passion for the sport guide everything you do.
  • Leadership. Directors are at the highest level of management in an athletic department, so they have to be skilled leaders. As a result, they must display all the characteristics of a strong leader, such as resilience, tenacity, innovation, and diligence.
  • Vision. One of the most important qualities of a director is vision for their students, faculty, and department. They have to understand how their programs affect students’ lives, and the impact of their experience on their lives. They must also recognize that sports play a great role in the community, and know how to create programs and opportunities that have a wide-reaching impact.

3. Gain Work Experience

In order to become a director, you will first have to serve as a member of faculty. For many directors, their careers begin as educators or coaches at the schools they one day aspire to work for.

Working closely with students is a fantastic way to start your career. During your time with them, you will learn to recognize what the school needs from a director, as well as how the staff could benefit from different opportunities as well.

Internships and volunteer work are also suitable ways of gaining athletic management experience. Employers will want to see a demonstrated history of sports management, so expect at least five years of work before you can qualify for a position as a director.

4. Earn Certifications

There are a variety of certifications you can pursue in your career to being a director, such as coaching and specialist certifications through the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NCSA), and athletic administrator certification through the NIAAA.

Certificates help you demonstrate expertise in your chosen profession, as well as expand your career opportunities at every level.

5. Continue Your Professional Development

As your career grows, you can increase opportunities by earning additional certifications or an advanced degree. The next step for most directors is a master’s degree, PhD, or EdD in exercise science or sports management.

Athletic Director Salaries

Salaries vary for athletic directors based on where they work, their educational credentials, and their level of experience. The median annual salary for an athletic director is $61,000 a year, with incomes ranging from $39,000 to over $101,000.

An athletic director can make the most money at the collegiate level, where they can oversee teams that have national and even international acclaim.

Employment Outlook for Athletic Directors

Currently, the demand for athletic directors is growing as fast, with careers for athletic directors growing at a rate to 7% between 2021 and 2031 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This means that as a director, you will see opportunities open at every level as you continue to develop your skills and gain experience.

It’s also worth noting that athletic directors are often educators as well. Holding a degree in exercise science allows them to pursue various positions over the course of their career. They can become coaches, physiologists, personal trainers, or even physical therapists.

The greatest advantage of a foundational degree in exercise science is its flexibility. No matter where your career leads you, there will always be a need for qualified, educated professionals who understand the importance of exercise and its impact on the body.

Get Started

Discover how to transform your passion for sports into a rewarding career that changes lives. With an exercise science degree, you will be prepared to enter the athletic education field with confidence, skill, and drive.

Concordia Chicago University’s Exercise Science programs are the perfect foundation for entering the exciting world of athletic management, and eventually becoming a qualified director. Programs are available at the undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate levels, making them suitable for students and professionals alike.

With the Master’s in Applied Exercise Science program, you can pursue concentrations in areas such as human movement science, exercise physiology, sports nutrition, and strength and conditioning. Our doctoral programs allow you to pursue either a PhD or EdD in Health & Human Performance, to respect your goals and career ambitions.

With expert instructors from health, education, and sports industries, you will have access to a robust education filled with professional guidance and support.

Apply to Concordia University Chicago today to start your career.

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