By Aaron Stecker C.M.A.A. & Scott Garvis C.M.A.A.
The role of an athletic director is a multifaceted and complex role, requiring a balance of leadership, communication, and decision-making skills. As leaders, athletic directors are responsible for setting the tone for their programs, guiding coaches, and creating a positive culture for their athletes. However, with this responsibility comes the potential for negativity and criticism from coaches, parents, and other stakeholders, which can take a toll on an athletic director’s health and mental wellness. This article explores how athletic directors can manage their emotions and maintain their mental health and wellness when dealing with difficult stakeholders.
“Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.” –Robert Frost
As athletic administrators, it’s easy to let the opinions of others get under our skin. Whether it’s a disgruntled coach, an upset parent, or a critical community member, negative feedback can affect our mood and mental health and wellness. But as leaders, it’s important to recognize the danger in allowing this negativity to fester. When we allow negative feedback to get under our skin, it’s like a wound that gets infected. The longer we let it fester, the harder it is to get rid of the infection. It can lead to bitterness, resentment, and burnout. As athletic directors, we need to find ways to protect ourselves from this kind of negativity. One of the most important things we can do is to cultivate a positive attitude. When we focus on the positive aspects of our work, it’s harder for negative feedback to bring us down. We need to remind ourselves of the good we’re doing, the successes we’ve had, and the impact we’re making on the lives of our athletes. Another key strategy is to surround ourselves with positive people. We need colleagues and friends who will support us, encourage us, and remind us of our strengths. When we’re feeling down, these people can lift us up and help us regain our perspective.
Finally, we need to learn to let go of negative feedback. It’s important to listen to feedback and take it seriously, but we can’t let it consume us. We need to recognize that not everyone will agree with our decisions or be happy with the work we’re doing. We need to stay true to our values and our mission, even when it’s hard. Being an athletic director is a challenging and rewarding job. It requires leadership, resilience, and a commitment to excellence. But it also requires us to take care of ourselves and our mental wellness. By cultivating a positive attitude, surrounding ourselves with supportive people, and learning to let go of negativity, we can be effective leaders who make a positive impact on our schools, our athletes, and our communities.
The Danger of Negativity
As athletic directors, we are often tasked with making decisions that are not popular with everyone. We may have to cut programs, deny requests for new equipment, or make coaching changes that upset parents and coaches. These decisions can lead to negative feedback and criticism, which can take a toll on our mental wellness if we allow it to fester. That negativity can become like that sliver you just cannot get out from under your skin. It starts out as no big deal but over time becomes infected and painful and requires all of your attention to address it. Internalizing negative feedback and not managing it becomes the same thing and eventually it requires all of your energy, all of your time, and can hurt relationships in the long run.
“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.” — Maya Angelou
Cultivate a Positive Attitude
One of the most important things we can do is to cultivate a positive attitude. When we focus on the positive aspects of our work, it’s harder for negative feedback to bring us down. We need to remind ourselves of the good we’re doing, the successes we’ve had, and the impact we’re making on the lives of our athletes. Get down to the gym or out to the practice field and watch your coaches and athletes doing what they do best and see the joy it brings them. Remember that this is why you do what you do.
To cultivate a positive attitude, we can start by focusing on our strengths. We can identify what we’re good at, what we enjoy doing, and what brings us satisfaction. When we’re clear on our strengths, we can use them to guide our decision-making and create a sense of purpose in our work.
We can also focus on the positive aspects of our program. We can celebrate successes, highlight accomplishments, and share positive stories with our coaches, athletes, and parents. By focusing on the good, we create a culture of positivity that can help protect us from negativity. The negative people around your programs are going to tell version of the story. Be sure to share all of the great things your athletes and coaches are up to and make certain that version is equally well known and well celebrated in your school and community.
“Be mindful. Be grateful. Be positive. Be kind. Be you.” – Aaron Stecker
Surround Ourselves with Positive People
Another key strategy is to surround ourselves with positive people. We need colleagues and friends who will support us, encourage us, and remind us of our strengths. When we’re feeling down, these people can lift us up and help us regain our perspective.
To surround ourselves with positive people, we can start by building relationships with our colleagues. We can seek out coaches who share our values and vision for the program, and work with them to create a positive culture. We can also connect with other athletic directors in our district or conference and build relationships based on shared experiences and challenges. This is the power of our state and national athletic administrator associations, the power of our profession. We need to connect with those who walk in the same shoes and can share their experiences and wins with us, keeping us moving forward and focused on the positive change we can facilitate as athletic directors.
We can also seek out mentors and coaches who can provide guidance and support. By working with mentors, we can gain new perspectives and insights that can help us navigate difficult situations and make better decisions.
“Surround yourself with great leaders; surround yourself with positivity and colleagues who are going to challenge you to make you better each and every day.” – Scott Garvis
Learn to Let Go
Finally, we need to learn to let go of negative feedback. It’s important to listen to feedback and take it seriously, but we can’t let it consume us. We need to recognize that not everyone will agree with our decisions or be happy with the work we’re doing. We need to stay true to our values and our mission, even when it’s hard.
To learn to let go, we can start by developing a growth mindset. We can embrace the idea that we are always learning and growing, and that feedback is an opportunity to improve. By viewing feedback as a chance to learn, we can approach it with a more positive and open mindset. We need feedback that challenges us and forces us to reflect. even if what we learn makes us uncomfortable. This is when we can learn the most about what we do and how we do it. We just can’t get stuck here. We need to reflect on tough feedback, learn everything we can from it, and then move on to whatever comes next, better because of it all.
We can also set boundaries for ourselves when it comes to negative feedback. We can limit our exposure to negative comments and criticism by not engaging in social media arguments or reading negative emails or comments. We can also better manage our own emotions in handling negative feedback by reaching out and discussing the issue with someone else on our team, such as an assistant, administrator, or a colleague.
“Letting go doesn’t mean that you don’t care. It’s just realizing that the only person you really have control over is you.” – Scott Garvis
Antibiotics of Leadership
As athletic directors, we are often faced with difficult decisions and criticism from stakeholders. It’s important that we learn to manage our emotions and maintain our mental health and wellness in the face of this negativity. We can do this by cultivating a positive attitude, surrounding ourselves with positive people, and learning to let go of negative feedback. By doing so, we can protect ourselves from the infectious nature of negativity and continue to lead our programs with confidence and purpose.
As leaders, we must also be attentive to the way we respond and how we present feedback. Yes, we must learn to manage negativity when it comes our way. We also must recognize there are times when we might be the ‘sliver’ and get under the skin of others, even if it is unintentional. We must pay attention to our own interactions with coaches, athletes, and community members and be sure we are not creating small wounds that might grow into frustration, bitterness, or resentment in those we are trying to lead. Recognizing all of our relationships and interactions create emotion, we must always be mindful of our responsibility to promote authentic and positive experiences for our coaches and athletes and pay attention to how any feedback we may provide is being received by those we lead.
There are a variety of resources available for athletic directors to help support their mental health and wellbeing. Here are a few options:
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): NAMI provides education, advocacy, and support for individuals and families affected by mental illness. Their website offers information on mental health conditions, as well as resources for finding local support groups and treatment options.
- The NIAAA (National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association) is an excellent resource for athletic directors. The NIAAA offers professional development opportunities, including conferences and webinars, as well as resources on a variety of topics related to athletic administration, including mental health and wellness. They also offer a certification program for athletic directors, which includes coursework on topics such as leadership, ethics, and risk management. The NIAAA is a valuable resource for athletic directors looking to connect with peers and enhance their skills and knowledge in the field.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: This free, confidential hotline is available 24/7 for anyone in crisis or experiencing suicidal thoughts. Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for support.
- American Psychological Association (APA): The APA is a professional organization for psychologists, offering resources and support for mental health professionals as well as the general public. Their website offers articles, podcasts, and other resources on a range of mental health topics.
- Employee Assistance Program (EAP): Many employers, including schools and universities, offer EAPs as a benefit to employees. These programs typically provide confidential counseling and support services to help employees manage a range of personal and professional issues.
- Sports Psychology Consultants: Athletic directors can also consider working with a sports psychology consultant or counselor who specializes in working with athletes and coaches. These professionals can help athletes and coaches manage stress, improve performance, and work through mental health concerns.
It’s important to note that this is not an exhaustive list and that there are many other resources available for athletic directors seeking support for their mental health and wellbeing.