Pass It On

January 29, 2015
Being an athletic director today means mastering many diverse skills. Mentoring allows everyone to have some help along the way.

Everyone can use a little advice from time to time, and most people have some wisdom to impart. When the two come together harmoniously, a wonderful thing called mentoring occurs.

As older athletic directors retire and younger administrators take their places, leaders are calling for more mentoring among the old and new guard. A rookie athletic administrator often needs a lot of guidance, including tips on moving up in his or her career. Are you a veteran who can guide someone through the process?

In this article, we've asked three experienced athletic administrators to offer their thoughts on mentoring younger peers. They talk about how to develop the relationship, what type of advice to offer, and how to keep channels of communication open.

By Andrea Seger

Being an athletic director at a large institution means mentoring others all the time. From the coach who wants to discuss her schedule to the student who seeks career-related advice to the colleague who calls to chat about working with a new president, we are constantly guiding others--whether we are aware of it or not.

But it can also be a wonderful experience to mentor someone in a formal way. There are many young administrators who are eager to become athletic directors and need some guidance getting there. Helping them can be valuable for both of you.

I was fortunate to be mentored years ago by the chair of one of our academic departments at Ball State University, who had a long and varied background in athletics. I found myself talking frequently with him in meetings and during quick conversations in the hallway. We never spoke about establishing a formal mentoring relationship, but that's what it was. We developed a mutual trust and respect that enabled us to discuss confidential matters, and over time our relationship developed so that we were able to counsel each other.

Establishing a mentoring situation begins with building that same trust and respect. The individual seeking your mentorship must know that everything discussed will remain private and confidential, and each party must be willing to be open and honest. To set the right tone, it helps to use positive reinforcement and positive communication at all times.

The next step is to determine what the mentee needs. I often use a SWOT analysis to figure out the mentee's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, which can become the foundation of a strategic plan. This plan could be about advancing professionally, balancing work and life, or simply improving daily performance. Most importantly, it allows the mentee to know his or her next steps while receiving feedback from a mentor.

For example, let's say your mentee has a goal of becoming an athletic director in five years. Using SWOT, you can strategize together to help him get there. Through discussion, you might agree that his strengths include an outgoing personality, great organizational skills, experience in game-day operations, and budgeting. Under weaknesses, the two of you list a lack of experience in direct staff supervision and fundraising.

At this point, you might talk about opportunities to gain that experience. Encourage your mentee to think creatively and come up with his own ideas. There may be an opportunity to ask the current athletic director for staff supervision responsibilities, or it may be possible to become involved in planning a fundraising project.

Possible threats might be the unwillingness of the athletic director to provide these opportunities. This is where the mentor can provide guidance, which might be as simple as suggesting volunteer work.

Once the SWOT analysis is completed, the mentor can assist in developing a specific plan with tasks, timetables, and details about what needs to be accomplished. In the example of fundraising, one task may be to contact someone in the alumni office about volunteering to assist with an event. Another task could be to research community fundraising events and offer assistance on one of them. The mentee should outline timeframes and specific goals for each task, and the mentor can help keep the plan progressing on schedule.

In all these discussions, encourage the mentee to come up with creative solutions instead of looking to you for answers. This type of strategic thinking will transfer to other areas.

Although structuring a formal plan is an important part of mentoring, so are everyday discussions and situations. Role modeling is one key. A mentee can learn by watching the way you deal with people and situations, which might include participating in an institutional meeting or even watching you handle a crisis.

You may also want to encourage your mentee to have more than one mentor at any given time. In the example above, the mentee could seek a mentor specific to fundraising. If there is no one appropriate in the department, he might search for someone in the community.

It is important to recognize that until a few years ago, men and women were typically directed to focus on different areas of athletics. Fortunately, there is no longer the assumption that women are only interested in academics and compliance and men are only interested in football and basketball operations. As a mentor, make sure you don't direct individuals toward specific areas, but instead encourage them to gain experience in all aspects of athletic administration.

Finally, don't forget to make sure you are gaining through the experience. Mentoring is a wonderful opportunity to discuss current issues, with the side benefit of keeping up to date. Many times, just discussing issues and philosophies provides us with renewed energy and ideas to use in our daily activities.

Andrea "Andi" Seger is Director of Athletics Emeritus at Ball State University and an Associate at Alden & Associates. She joined the staff at Ball State in 1975, serving as Director of Athletics from 1995-2002 and Women's Athletic Director from 1983-1995. She can be reached at: [email protected].

By Dr. David Hoch

Every year, there are new high school athletic directors in your league, district, and state. Here in Baltimore County, Md., for example, we average a 16 to 20 percent annual turnover in athletic directors.

Unlike other positions in a school, there usually isn't anyone else with an athletic management background nearby who can help a rookie with the specific responsibilities of the job. That's why we all need to consider mentoring new athletic directors in neighboring schools.

Some state associations have set up formal mentoring programs for new athletic directors, but whether or not that is the case in your state, consider reaching out to these new kids on the block. Think how helpful it would be if they had someone to ask questions of, talk through a problem with, and even anticipate problems for them.

When mentoring a new athletic director, I would suggest starting with the basics. The logistics of what we do can become overwhelming when each piece of paperwork and policy is new, and going over each of the key ones can greatly decrease a new administrator's learning curve.

Paperwork: Explain how to check and file eligibility forms for fall teams and provide tips on how to organize the associated paperwork from athletes--permission forms, physical forms, emergency cards, and signed codes of conduct. If a new athletic director doesn't have a good system in place, paperwork will become overwhelming.

Hosting Checklist: Share a checklist of how to set up a stadium for a home contest and how to cover an event. While each setting is somewhat unique, there are enough similarities to get the new athletic director on the right track.

Rules: Make sure to discuss the rules and regulations of your governing bodies. If an athletic director is in doubt about a rule or policy involving the safety of athletes, team entries, or eligibility, he or she should not hesitate to call for the official interpretation. Provide phone numbers and contact names for your central office, league headquarters, and state association.

Deadlines: Talk about important due dates during the first six months of the school year. These should include deadlines for eligibility forms, tournament entry forms, payroll information for fall coaches, and any other specifics in your area. Suggest asking coaches to return their forms a few days before the actual due date. This gives us the opportunity to chase after anyone who is late in turning in their paperwork.

Associations: Provide all the necessary information to join the state and national professional associations. Why include this as essential information? First, it allows a new athletic director to be covered by liability insurance. Second, it gives them access to a host of professional development information. True, a new athletic director won't have time to read all the materials, but the information will be there when he or she does, or if a specific question pops up.

Concluding this initial meeting may make you feel like a mama bird pushing her baby out of the nest. It's true that the people we mentor may not have completely absorbed everything we've said. But we've got to let them fly on their own--and we've got to get back to our own work!

A few days after the initial meeting, try to call your mentee to see what questions have arisen. Urge him or her to ask about anything that might affect the health and safety of the athletes, an oversight or mistake that could jeopardize eligibility, or a situation that might cause a legal problem.

If possible, invite the mentee to your office to demonstrate some of your systems. Provide a tour of your filing system to show how to quickly access the most frequently used forms. Consider sharing every pertinent checklist, form, policy sheet, and guideline that might be helpful.

From there, make yourself available to the new athletic director as needed. Encourage him or her to call about anything--even just to vent. And you might check in with them if they don't call themselves. Some rookies are hesitant to ask for help, and others don't find the time. A "how are you doing?" phone call can force them to take a step back, which we all need to do every once in a while.

The key for both the mentor and the mentee is to share whatever you can. There is no need to struggle creating a new document, policy, or guideline. Why reinvent the wheel? Just share and help.

One more helpful touch is to sit with your mentee at his or her first league meeting. As items on the agenda are covered, you can provide a little additional information that may be obvious to everyone else. Also, during breaks in the meeting, introduce the rookie to your colleagues. This allows him or her to connect a face with a name listed in a directory and provide the opening for that first phone call.

Mentoring others does take time, but I hope everyone steps up to the plate. It feels great to pass on knowledge accumulated over the years and help someone succeed in our profession.

David Hoch, EdD, CMAA, is Athletic Director at Loch Raven High School in Baltimore County, Md. He is a past President of the Maryland State Athletic Directors' Association and a frequent contributor to Athletic Management. He can be reached at: [email protected]

By Sean T. Frazier

Throughout my career, I have been mentored by many outstanding professionals who have helped shape my leadership style, character, and career development. I am now grateful to be able to pass on this wisdom by mentoring younger administrators.

While mentoring sometimes involves teaching others specific skills, the most powerful mentoring is that which shows mentees how to process information, make good decisions, develop strategic thinking, and communicate well. Those are certainly not easy things to teach, which is why mentoring is not a simple process. Overall, I have found three key elements that can make mentoring effective: helping the individual find his or her passion, developing the relationship, and using effective communication.

My first mentor was my mother. She taught me how to discover where my passions lie and form goals based on that self-discovery. I firmly believe that if you have a passion for a particular project or career focus, it triggers motivation, which sustains a work habit that leads to success. Finding one's passion is a key element of mentorship because it enables mentors to guide their mentees without directly telling them what to do.

When I was a young football coach at the University of Maine, Dr. Shari Clarke, then Associate Dean of Multicultural Affairs, became another mentor for me on the concept of self-discovery. At that time, I faced a tough decision to either pursue another coaching opportunity or move into administration. Dr. Clarke helped me reflect on my goals--she challenged me to think long and hard about what was truly meaningful to me.

Through this process, I realized that the opportunity to be a role model as an African-American male was something I was passionate about. That helped me decide to pursue a career in administration with the hope of having a significant effect on the lives of other minority males.

Another key element of mentorship is relationship development. As a mentor, the ability to provide insight and direction is going to be rooted in how well you understand the person you are mentoring. A sense of trust must also be developed. All of this, of course, takes time, which is why it's critical to schedule specific times to talk with each other. It's also extremely important for both mentor and mentee to actively participate in the process of keeping the lines of communication open.

A great example of relationship development in mentoring I have been fortunate to have is with Jim Livengood, Athletic Director at the University of Arizona. Jim became my mentor in 1999 through the NCAA Fellows Leadership Development Program, which focuses on advancing women and minorities in athletic administration. What made this mentorship work was that, even though our schools were almost 3,000 miles apart, we both took active roles in developing the relationship.

Despite his hectic schedule, Jim not only made himself available to me, but offered his friendship. His style and manner put me at ease, and he provided me with unwavering support. That built my trust very quickly. As a mentee, I made sure Jim got to know all about me as a person and an administrator. We have continued our relationship ever since.

Strategies that have worked for me and Jim include regular phone calls about industry standards, scheduled trips to each others' institutions, regular e-mail updates, and in-person meetings at conventions and other functions. In addition, he has always been very direct with me on specific goals to achieve if I want to advance in my career. We specifically talked about fundraising and revenue generation, and he gave me important advice in a wide range of topics, from setting up an annual fund to dealing with major donors.

A third area of a successful mentorship is effective communication. This means not just making the time to talk, but really hearing what the mentee is saying, which is critical to offering direction.

When mentoring someone from a younger generation, it's easy for communication protocols to get in the way. Both the modes and methods used to process information and communicate have changed dramatically. For example, I've found many young people depend on e-mailing and text messaging so much that they don't know when and how to use face-to-face communication. One of the most important things I try to teach is the art of personal interactions, which starts with the mentor and mentee communicating directly with each other.

What has worked for me when I meet with a new mentee is to frame all our expectations. We talk about everything from career objectives to professional development plans. During these meetings, if there is anything that I do not clearly understand, I ask mentees to recap our discussion. And I ask them to question me if they are confused.

I have the pleasure of currently working with another mentor of mine, Barry Alvarez, Athletic Director at the University of Wisconsin, who exemplifies this element of effective listening. Throughout our relationship, Barry has mentored me in the finer points of communication to help further my goals and objectives. I've also been able to learn by watching the way he listens to others around him and clearly articulates his message to move an agenda forward.

As long as you listen effectively and support passionate, creative thought, you will be a great mentor. I have had the opportunity to be mentored by some fantastic people, and it feels great to now offer my own advice to a new generation. 

Sean T. Frazier is Associate Director of Athletics at the University of Wisconsin and former Director of Athletics at Merrimack College, Clarkson University, and Manhattanville College. He has participated in the NCAA's Fellows Leadership Development Program as both a mentee and a mentor. He can be reached at: [email protected].
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