Diagramming the Day

January 29, 2015
As an athletic director, it can be tough to balance the roles of administrator and leader. This author X's and O's a plan to accomplish both.
By Tracey Ranieri

Tracey Ranieri is in her eighth year as the Director of Athletics at the State University of New York at Oneonta, previously serving as Head Women's Soccer Coach. She is a member of the NCAA Division III Management Council and was named a 2014 Under Armour/NACDA Athletic Director of the Year. She can be reached at: [email protected].


In my first year as an athletic director, I was determined to triumph over every piece of paper that crossed my desk. From creating new policies to reworking a schedule until it was perfect, I was on top of all of my administrative tasks.

Without realizing it, I became chained to my desk. I even gained 10 pounds because I spent so much time in the office.

Fortunately, it didn't take me long to recognize that I was neglecting the other half of my job--working with and leading others. Because my background was primarily in coaching, I had felt an urgency to master the administrative side of my new job, but I was taking it too far. I now spend a portion of my day walking around, talking, and being a part of the sports scene. (And I have returned to my "coaching weight.")

Being an athletic director at a small, NCAA Division III school entails many challenges, and one of the biggest may be balancing the two roles of administrator and leader. There is paperwork and planning to do on a daily basis, which requires one mindset. And there is the role of athletic department captain to embrace, which demands a very different mode of operation. Learning to weave the two together is critical to an athletic director's initial survival--and long-term success.

Time for Both
How have I learned to juggle the two roles here at SUNY (State University of New York) Oneonta? It starts with purposefully planning my day, making time for both paperwork and interactions.

I have found that I do my best work in the morning, so I begin each day by "eating the frog." Mark Twain once said, "Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day." I start each day with the most difficult task on my plate and then enjoy eating dessert later on, which for me is being with the student-athletes.

In some cases, "the frog" is a task that requires a lot of thought and reflection, while other times it is a big stack of paperwork. Whatever it may consist of, I aim to have it done by 10 a.m., which is usually when requests from others start coming in. And if I can't complete my frog task by then, I either finish it at night or make it my priority for the next morning.

Once practices and games begin in the afternoon, my goal is to be seen on the fields and courts. I especially make it a point to be at Senior Days as well as our Red Flag games, which are contests identified by athletes and coaches when we make a special effort to bring out fans and fellow student-athletes.

I often carry a notebook with me to help keep things in order no matter where I am. I'll jot down notes or reminders and then go over them all at the end of the day. This helps me to organize my tasks for the next day, as well as clear my mind so I can sleep.

One Team
A huge factor in balancing my administrative and leadership work is delegating to others. Our administrative staff is small--one associate athletic director, one assistant director for sports information, a secretary, and myself--so our coaches are called on to do things outside their typical job descriptions.

Their support can only happen if everyone in the athletic department feels they are part of one big team. Our ongoing mantra is to work hard for what is best for the student-athletes. I want coaches to be team players for the department in the same way they are teaching teamwork to their players. This understanding and commitment makes them quicker to jump on board to help with the big picture.

When it comes to finding the right person for the right job, I carefully assess people's abilities. For example, I may ask a coach who is very thorough and conscientious to help with compliance paperwork. When I need someone to assist with budget matters, I will look for that individual who is great at saving money. I've found that when someone is capable of doing a task, they are happy to help and feel valued by being asked.

Once I choose an individual for a task, I let them take charge. People will only go as far as you hold the rope. And when mistakes are made, I use them as teaching opportunities and remind myself that everyone has good intentions.

Using Goals
I've also found that leaning on our department goals helps me tackle my two roles. Early in my tenure as an athletic director, I would look at this document only when it came time to evaluate how we had done. Now I use it as road map that we can follow.

When you know where you want to go, it makes it easier to decide how to spend your time. Looking at our goals also helps me make decisions more quickly, and these decisions tend to have better outcomes.

When I'm not sure what direction to take, I consult my boss, who is the Vice President for Student Development. I meet with him weekly to review our plans and he helps me see where they fit into the bigger institutional picture and what may need to be adjusted.

I also make our athletic department goals very clear and public. So much of leadership is getting people to follow you and that's a lot easier when people know your destination. It took me a while to steer our bus in the right direction and to convince people they needed to either get on board or get left behind. Now that I have, my job is much easier.

Our success here at Oneonta over the past few years has primarily come from the hard work of coaches and student-athletes, as well as the support of upper-level administrators who recognize the value of athletics and have made decisions that positively impact our program. It may have also come from my ability to be both an administrator and leader, roles I continually nurture as an athletic director.

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