How to Become an Athletic DirectorHow to Become an Athletic DirectorHow to Become an Athletic Director

When visualizing sports leaders, it’s natural to first think of a coach, or perhaps a team captain. Both of those can play a significant role in a team’s performance, but behind the scenes another key position works to help programs, teams, and athletes thrive: the athletic director.

Focused on the elements of athletics business and management rather than on-field performance, this position is ideal for those who want to make sports a lifelong career but aren’t passionate about the daily responsibilities that come with coaching. Athletic directors engage with sports on a holistic level, assessing sports programs and increasing their value as enterprises.

The first step when learning how to become an athletic director is to obtain the right education and experience. A bachelor’s in sport business management is designed to help equip students with the administrative and leadership skills to become leaders in interscholastic sports.

An athletic director at work on a laptop.

What Is an Athletic Director?

An athletic director serves as the business authority presiding over a high school, college, or university sports program. They are in charge of every high-level decision involving sports at their institution.

When becoming an athletic director, you should expect your daily tasks to cover a broad spectrum of responsibilities. These may include evaluating and hiring potential coaching candidates, planning promotional material for the school’s marketing team, building a budget plan, assessing and training as needed to adhere to policy compliance, scheduling facility upkeep, and assuming other key duties.

Athletic directors carry a lot of influence, but their role involves less upfront facetime, operating more behind the scenes than on the field or court.

An effective athletic director makes sure the school’s athletic program remains organized and operational, from its business processes to its schedule coordination.

Athletic directors usually work full-time; spend a lot of their workday in an office at the school; and report to the president, dean, or other school leaders.

Necessary Skills for an Athletic Director

A competent athletic director is a master of several skills ideal for optimizing a business operation. Some of these skills include:

  • Interpersonal communication: Clear, concise communication with coaches, school personnel, and parties outside the school, such as the public and external partners, is a key element of an athletic director’s role.
  • Leadership: Athletic directors must provide direction and guidance to coaches and other sports staff, while maintaining responsibility for the general effectiveness of the department.
  • Organization: They must stay on top of recent sports regulations, put together employee calendars, balance department budgets, and document information on all staff and players.
  • Cultural competence: Athletic directors must understand athletes’ cultures and backgrounds, communicating in ways that acknowledge every player’s unique circumstances. This also means understanding the culture of the community at large, and the role that sports plays within it.

Athletic directors should also be well versed in different sports, familiar with the leagues their teams compete in, and informed regarding their own teams’ strengths and weaknesses.

Steps to Become an Athletic Director

Aspiring sports business leaders can take several steps to become athletic directors who have competitive value on the job market.


The level of education required for athletic directors usually depends on whether they work at a high school or middle school, or at the college level. School athletic directors are usually expected to have a bachelor’s degree in education, physical education, or a related field. Most director positions at colleges and universities require a master’s in business, sports management, education administration, or a related area. Sports management degree programs are designed to prepare their students for high-level administrative positions such as athletic director.


Many athletic directors find their start in coaching, teaching, or administrative positions. This offers the opportunity to cultivate leadership skills, and learn the intricacies of fundraising and promotional events.


To work as an athletic director, some certifications may be required. The most noteworthy is the Registered Athletic Administrator (RAA) certification offered by the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA). This certification recognizes athletic directors and other administrators who have completed a course based on professional growth and program development to better serve their schools and communities. Besides the NIAAA, professionals should consider joining their state’s sporting association and, if possible, that association’s governing body.

Advance Your Learning in Sports Business Management

Athletic directors work alongside dedicated coaches, trainers, and athletes. Immerse yourself in the culture of athletic excellence with an online Bachelor of Science in Rawlings Sport Business Management, designed to help prepare sports professionals for leadership careers.

Maryville University has positioned itself to provide opportunities and support for aspiring professionals who wish to be the sports leaders of tomorrow. With courses such as Sport Marketing, Sport Finance, and Sport Business Data Analytics Structure and Preparation, Maryville’s degree program is designed to help you reach your career goals in the area of sports business and program management.

Take the first brave step toward a career as an athletic director today.

Recommended Reading

Athletics by the Numbers: How Can Data Analysts Help With Sports?

Types of Coaching Styles for Athletes

Social Media in Sports: How Does Tech Help or Hurt Sports Culture?


The Balance Careers, “What Does an Athletic Director Do?”

BetterTeam, “Athletic Director Job Description”

Football Scoop, “Advice to Coaches Who Want to Become Athletic Directors”

National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association, About the Program

SportManagementHub, “All About Being an Athletic Director: What Does One Do?”

VertiMax, “6 Keys to Being a Successful High School Athletic Director”

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