Editor’s Note: The following is an interview with Rick Johns, CMAA, athletic director, Providence Academy, Plymouth, Minnesota, and Rick Guimond, athletic director, Marietta (Ohio) High School, regarding returning to positive experiences as a high school athletic director.
Question: Why did you decide to enter the field of athletic administration? In coaching, for example, you had daily contact with student-athletes during the season, which is a major source of enjoyment and fulfillment. While this aspect may be missing as an administrator, what is the driving force instead for you?
Johns: Like many in our field, I spent a great deal of my life defining myself by my athletic ability. I loved being an athlete and for most of my childhood, much of what I thought about related to athletics. My life revolved around whatever sport was in season. As I entered high school, my motivation was to do well in class because it would allow me to be on the playing field, court or diamond after school. College became an option because I was an athlete. In fact, my chosen profession came down to the fact that I wanted to continue to use my athletic knowledge as a coach.
After an extensive and satisfying teaching and coaching career, I came to the conclusion that being a teacher-coach no longer was how I identified myself. While I enjoyed teaching and coaching, I yearned for something more. I loved being a leader with my ability to educate and to influence. This epiphany led me to athletic administration.
While I miss my students and athletes, the men and women that I lead now fill that void. They have the same energy, enthusiasm and excitement that my student-athletes had. Also, by serving as an athletic administrator, I can still have an impact on every athlete by guiding their coach.
Guimond: The major impetus for me to become an athletic director was to marry my love for coaching with my educational background. I felt that I could impact more lives and affect the most change in an administrative role. The move also afforded me the opportunity to advance my career and it offered the professional challenge I was seeking.
Question: During a week in which you may have to deal with a misguided parent or a coach who was harassing officials at a game, how do you retain your positive attitude that education-based athletics is important?
Johns: By staying in touch with my goals and values, I maintain a positive attitude. I always seek open, honest communication and stress the importance and accountability for each individual as I try to educate the misguided. While I work hard to be open-minded, ethical behavior, student safety, dignity and respect are non-negotiable.
In the end, I strive to provide the same encouragement and support that was given to me constantly throughout my life, and I find that this outweighs possible negatives of this position.
Guimond: Passionate emotions are part of athletics. The atmosphere can shift from positive to negative, and back to positive again within moments. It is, therefore, important that an athletic director consistently projects a positive demeanor. This sets the tone for athletes, coaches and fans, and I constantly remind myself of this fact.
Question: In a typical week, what are the most enjoyable moments for you? What do you really have fun doing in your position and why?
Johns: My favorite time of day is between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m., when I have the opportunity to visit every team that is practicing or competing on campus. This is incredibly rewarding. I actually get to see the kids and coaches in action and have the opportunity to reinforce the fact that far beyond the walls of the classroom, our athletes are learning essentials such as teamwork, patience, tolerance, conflict resolution and the ability to persevere when challenges arise. And I get to see our great coaches teach students how to play for the sheer enjoyment of the game and help to reinforce our school’s expectation of excellence in all aspects of the educational experience.
Guimond: I love the interactions that I get to have with the kids. Whether it’s a high-five in the hallway or a “good game” after a contest, seeing young people grow and develop makes me proud. Also, I have had the opportunity to develop my leadership skills by teaching NIAAA courses. Helping others work toward their CAA certification has been a great experience. In addition, I currently serve as the president-elect for the Ohio Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Associations, which is very rewarding.
Question: When you are faced with a difficult, hectic schedule, perhaps overwhelming at times, what do you do to remind yourself of the reasons that you entered the field? What keeps you coming back positive and enthusiastic the next day?
Johns: Really, all I need to do is to take the time to hang out with some of the kids. They are the reason I went into education and they are what keeps me coming back. I also schedule an athletic date night with my spouse. We go out for an early supper, go to the game(s) and even stop for a nightcap on occasion. I could not do this job without total support from my wife. She gets it and helps to keep me grounded in my values and beliefs. It is a true team effort.
Guimond: This is a routine challenge for me. Long hours coupled with the impossible task of pleasing everyone 100 precent of the time can weigh heavy. As I enter the high school building each day, I walk past vintage team photos hanging above the lockers. It makes me proud that athletics played a role in forming what kind of adult that these individuals are today. The positive effect that sports has keeps me coming back, despite the complexities of this job.
Question: Is there anyone who you turn to for support or to vent in order to get over problems and frustrations involved in your position? Who helps you to regain a positive outlook and to remind you of the importance of what you do daily?
Johns: Regularly, I attend our state conference as well as national conferences and have found active roles in each. Through this involvement, I developed a number of very close friendships with current or past athletic administrators. This is an incredibly important arrow to have in your quiver.
I can pick up the phone and call one of my mentors, an entrepreneur or a colleague from a conference to discuss a wide variety of topics. Frustration often emanates from an inability to solve problems. However, with all of these valuable resources to help solve problems, you can easily regain your positive outlook.
Guimond: Fortunately, I have an amazing assistant, a fantastic athletic secretary, great principals – both middle and high school – assistant principals and superintendent who are incredibly supportive. They make themselves available to me and provide thoughtful guidance or just an ear when I need it.
In addition, I can access an incredible support system of peer athletic directors both on the state and local levels who serve as ethical role models and actively encourage my continued professional development. And, lastly, I am lucky to be surrounded by incredibly supportive family and friends who understand that this job demands extensive hours that often takes me away from them. However, this sacrifice is for the benefit of our young people.
Question: Is there anything that could be done with the organizational structure of your position in order to make it more enjoyable and fulfilling?
Johns: Actually, I have a great structure with great support. Of course, I would like fewer late nights, meetings or issues to solve, but all of those things were in the job description that I accepted. While some may go into this field because they liked sports and wanted to continue their career, athletic administration is about managing and supervising your department. More importantly, however, it is about leading a group of people to work toward one goal, which is to create a positive, education-based athletic opportunity for everyone. Everything else - happy kids and parents, wins, funding, public approval and job satisfaction – will follow.
Guimond: The athletic director’s position is grossly misunderstood by the public and specifically by parents. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the job, it would be an impossible task to communicate the process that goes into making complex decisions. To make matters more complicated, many resolutions surround privacy issues, students and employee coaches. The results of those constraints then translate to one-sided defenses.
In the future, I would hope that athletic directors could somehow find a way to communicate or defend their decisions without compromising confidential matters. This could help to prevent knee-jerk responses from the public. The athletic department needs its own public relations approach to minimize the occasional damage caused by an irate parent while continuing to promote the other 99 percent of the good things that are happening within the school system.
Dr. David Hoch is a former athletic director at Loch Raven High School in Towson, Maryland (Baltimore County). He assumed this position in 2003 after nine years as director of athletics at Eastern Technological High School in Baltimore County. He has 24 years experience coaching basketball, including 14 years on the collegiate level. Hoch, who has a doctorate in sports management from Temple (Pennsylvania) University, is past president of the Maryland State Athletic Directors Association, and he formerly was president of the Maryland State Coaches Association. He has had more than 550 articles published in professional magazines and journals, as well as two textbook chapters. He is the author of a book entitled Blueprint for Better Coaching. Hoch is a member of the NFHS High School Today Publications Committee.