You are here

Communication Skills (Internal vs. External)

So you want to be an AD


“Communication” can be a catch-all word, one cited when something goes wrong – as in “we did a poor job of communicating.”

Sometimes, the failure is actually poor organization or a lack of anticipation. But communication can be a major issue if direction is left unclear or if you fail to share the good news about your program. You should be constantly evaluating the precision, clarity and effectiveness of your communication.

Documents included in this section include:

  • How to have difficult conversations
  • Staff meeting plans (agendas, timelines and expectations)
  • Media plans

The chapter focuses on two kinds of communications: (1) the kind you need for effective management of your staff, and (2) affirmative communication that can rally supporters around the program.

Most of your communication energy will be directed at your associate/assistant ADs, coaches and student-athletes. Do not, however, forget the need to communicate diligently with faculty on your campus. Some are skeptical of the emphasis on intercollegiate athletics and that skepticism becomes acute when travel results in missed class time. It’s up to you, your coaches and the student-athletes to remind them that the athletics experience is a huge part of any student-athlete’s overall development.

Here are some questions to consider:

  • Do you possess the communication skills you need to manage and lead your staff? If not, in what areas are you deficient and where can you find the means to improve?
  • Are you sure you have the ability to have difficult conversations with staff members and student-athletes? This skill is often learned on the job (and often painfully), so whatever you can learn in advance will help.
  • How much thought have you given to what your staff meetings would look like? How would you find the balance between broad participation/open discussion and keeping the topics on track? How detailed would your agendas be, and how would staff members be responsible for follow-up?
  • How will the nature of your institution and athletics program mold your media plans? An urban institution without football probably has different communications needs than a rural school at which football is king.

As for your staff, you must be as clear and unambiguous as possible at all times. This is especially true in difficult periods, such as when a staff member is not meeting expectations. Being frank and direct at the outset will save headaches down the line. Also, a good relationship with the human resources department can produce valuable assistance with work-improvement plans, performance evaluations and (occasionally) terminations.

Personal communication with staff is important, but it’s only half the game. Effective meetings are the best way for personnel to understand how the pieces fit together. But meetings can be professional quicksand. More than one administrator has lost credibility because of the inability to conduct effective meetings. When you assemble the staff (or segments of the staff), ensure that the meeting has a purpose. That means agendas and, after the discussion, clearly understood timelines and expectations. Without the planning and follow-up, meetings are a waste of everybody’s time.

The “fun” aspect of communication involves interaction with alumni and other supporters. If you want to be an AD, you probably already have ability in this area, but if you need help with social skills, many quality online courses are available. The key is to remember names, people’s jobs, their history, where they live and how they relate to your school. The more of that information you can retain, the easier and more productive conversations will be. And when you don’t know, use questions to guide conversations. Remember that most people enjoy talking about themselves.

You also should sharpen your collective communication skills. In that regard, make certain you have confidence in your sports information and marketing directors. Work side-by-side with them to develop effective media plans. Make yourself available for “Ask the AD” opportunities on social media or other Internet platforms, and don’t be afraid to field the difficult questions. If you don’t know or can’t provide the answers, then find a way to share as much information as possible. Candor usually pays off in the end.