Establishing Your Chain of Command

April 27, 2019


By Dr. David Hoch, CMAA, CIC

A critical tool to help ensure that communication is effectively and properly undertaken in your athletic program is to have an established chain of command. This is particularly vital when dealing with complaints from parents. It is important that everyone knows where the process has to begin and also to understand why this needs to be done.

The following is an example of a typical chain of command

  1. Coach

  2. Head Coach

  3. Athletic Director

  4. Principal

  5. Superintendent

With any question or complaint, a parent should always start with the individual coach. If there is a problem, an explanation can be best handled at this basic level directly with the person who may have been involved or who has first-hand knowledge of the situation. Too often, parents want to go ‘right to the top’ to get satisfaction and this is not a good, effective way of handling a concern or misunderstanding.

Why is going immediately to the top of the chain ineffective? Chances are very good that any individual above the level of the misunderstanding, problem or complaint will not know anything about it. This means that this person would first have to speak with the individual below them on the chain to get the particulars in order to understand what had occurred.

If parents do try to start with the superintendent or anyone about the level of where the concern evolved, this individual should politely decline speaking with them until they go through the chain of command. Therefore, it's absolutely critical that everyone in the chain of command understands its purpose and the way it needs to work. Also, if someone in the chain is contacted about a problem above the person who was directly involved, they have to send the complaint back down the chain until that person has spoken with the parents.

Since a chain of command is extremely important for the operation of the athletic department and all of the individuals associated with it, this concept—and the expectation of using it—has to be communicated to parents. The explanation process should start in pre-season parent meetings, posted on your website and included in all documents that are typically distributed to parents. Use every means and opportunity possible to share this expectation with them.

If you don’t have an established chain of command, it is time to put one in place and to communicate it with your school community!


David Hoch retired in 2010 after a 41-year career as a high school athletic director and coach. In 2009, Dr. Hoch was honored as the Eastern District Athletic Director of the Year by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education. He was also presented with the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association Distinguished Service Award, and in 2000 he was named the Maryland State Athletic Director Association’s Athletic Director of the Year. Dr. Hoch has authored over 460 professional articles and made more than 70 presentations around the country. He welcomes comments and questions and can be reached at: [email protected]

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