The job of an Athletic Director (AD) or Head of Sport can be extremely demanding with long hours, an extensive list of duties, and a constant flow of events to organize or people to supervise. In the United States of America (US), there is a massive turnover rate each year of people who just do not want the headaches anymore. In the past, it has seemed that there is more stability in the position internationally and more competition when jobs do open up. That security could be because, compared to our US colleagues, there are less legal issues, no sold-out stadiums to deal with, and very few parents pushing to get their children to the next level. However, if the results of the international AD “State of the Industry” survey are any indication, it may be that international ADs are starting to look for greener pastures. This year is the third version of the survey, and the results have stayed consistent with a continued “top concern” of ADs around the world being “increased workload.”
I want to start this survey report by highlighting the feeling that for years, the AD’s workload has been increasing. They have not been getting more help and that is now coming on the backs of the most difficult years in their careers. The 2023 survey asked some specific questions about how things have been going as schools recover from the pandemic. As you might assume, the majority of responses said that last year was more challenging than ever. When asked what they would purchase if costs were not a factor, a top response this year was “more staff members.”
One anonymous AD in Asia could not wait for summer to come, saying, “Expectations in this new job that I took have been absolutely outrageous and beyond anything that's adequate. Very burned out after the first year and not sure where to find motivation for the second year.” While another anonymous AD in Europe has already had enough. “The workload is incredible. ADs put in an extra month of hours compared to our teaching, and sometimes, admin colleagues and I have come to the end of my candle. I have been burning it at both ends for over a decade and need some time to re-evaluate and re-energize. I may or may not be back in the future. I'm curious how many of us are at the same or a similar point?”
State of the Industry
This survey began in 2019 as a way to bring our athletic community together and to see what was on the minds of international school Athletic Directors from various school sizes and geographical locations. I analyzed the results of the “State of the Industry” survey which was completed by ADs all around the world. Two years later, I asked the same questions again and got some very similar answers but with more COVID-slanted responses. In the spring and summer of 2023, it was time again to go back and see what, if anything, had changed. This year, 93 people filled in the survey, approximately the same as in 2021. The majority of the responses were from ADs in Europe (40), Latin America (24) and Asia (23). African and Middle Eastern ADs also took part but with less than 10 responses each. To look at previous survey results, please click here for 2021 and here for 2019.
Same Story, Different Year
“Increased workload” is not the only thing that has remained the same in the three surveys. Other questions have also yielded the same results each time. ADs say again that the number one reason they are contacted by parents is complaints about “communication they say they didn't receive or couldn't find.”
When asked about what types of things ADs are “not concerned about,” the top two answers remain “job security” and “pressure to win.” Eighty percent of ADs are not concerned at all about losing their job. That percentage is, of course, high but still lower than the pre-COVID results. One thing to note about the survey in general is that the answers are, for the most part, similar regardless of which region in the world the participants are in with only one or two questions that stand out as being geographically different. T
This year, “pressure to win” was one of those questions. Fifty percent of Latin American responses indicated they were concerned about pressures in comparison to the response of European ADs where only 19 percent were concerned.
The other standout this year was the question about vendors and getting supplies to school locations. Seventy percent of ADs in the Middle East and Africa were concerned about supply issues, whereas only 30 percent of other areas were concerned.
Money and Time
Two of my favorite questions of the survey ask ADs to look to the future with unlimited money and then unlimited time and tell what they see. I love these questions because they can show you what ADs believe their programs are lacking to be able to really make a difference. Topping the list, as always, for what ADs would purchase if they could were better, bigger, or improved facilities. Unfortunately for many, that is just a pipe dream. The second highest responses in the past two surveys were that ADs wanted more money in order to pay coaches more and also offer them more professional development.
Athletic Directors stated they wanted more money so they could hire more staff to help with the increasing demands of the program. Some ADs mentioned going from a part-time to a full-time AD position while others mentioned an Assistant AD or even just part-time office staff. One AD in Asia, who wants to remain anonymous, would love some more help and writes, “I am at a school of over 700 and I am running everything myself. No assistant, no assistant AD, and no stipends for coaches. All coaches are volunteers so I am trying to do whatever I can to help, so I do not lose them. I plan all trips, logistics, teach a class, and even have to referee at times.” With a top concern of the job being “increased workload,” is this a cry for help before more of us need to “re-evaluate and re-energize?”
Full-time or assistant AD positions could absolutely help schools realize what their ADs would do if they had “more time,” which is my second favorite question. Again, topping the list for three years in a row is the result, “more time spent with coaches and athletes.” Many ADs want to develop leadership training programs or athletic councils, while others want to just be able to sit and talk with their coaches. Some new answers that popped up in this survey are wishes to improve or create apps, social media accounts, or websites that will help get information to parents “that they say they didn't receive or couldn't find.”
The “increased workload and expectations” is the second rated response this year followed by finding qualified coaches in third. Both of those responses have been top concerns since this survey started. However, the number one concern this year is brand new. The “rising costs of trips” rocketed to the top of the list with 47 “very concerned” and 41 “concerned” responses out of the 91 total responses. Coming out of COVID, the cost of travel has risen tremendously; however, travel costs are not the only reason trip costs are going up. The switch from home stays to hotel stays for many conferences has already caused many schools to scale back their trips or look for more local options.
Home stays versus hotel stays has been a constant debate for schools and conferences for years with passionate discussions and arguments supporting both sides. People on each side of the discussion often think their way is both safer and easier but COVID has seemed to tip the scales for anyone close to the midline. The first episode of my podcast, Global Take, was dedicated to this topic. Most do say that hotel stays bring more security for our students but at a higher cost to parents; however, there have been conferences around the world that have used hotels for years. David Johnson, American International School Riyadh, says his biggest concern is trip costs. “The prices of these trips concern me and I am not sure how long we will be able to sustain sending kids to play in different countries. Although, not many yet, we have had a bit of parent concern and pushback about the cost of international trips. It is a difficult balancing act of attending things and passing on things due to increased costs.”
Those new to using hotels have often sent extra chaperones to help with supervision issues and give coaches who have been working all day a bit of a break. Daan van Bunge, International School of The Hague, says that “the safeguarding of our students is high on the agenda for our senior leadership and they have decided against home stays. The financial pressure on the parents has increased and it is more likely that they will start to say no to participating in trips.”
In 2021, COVID issues took over the survey's top concerns with ADs wondering if they were going to have normal athletic seasons, or if they were going to have seasons at all. One of the questions last survey was “What is something new that you have done and that you will continue to do in non-COVID years?” So of course, this year, I had to check back in and see if those things have actually continued. It has only been two years since then, and with many schools in Asia only coming back to competition mid-year, I was not sure what kind of responses I would receive. However, my assumptions were confirmed that online meetings for many have remained. Online pre-season parent meetings were among the highest responses with conference meetings, coach meetings, and individual trip meetings also being mentioned. Personally, the pre-season parent meetings have been a fantastic addition to our program for the types of parents we have. We have had parents join from hotel rooms, on business trips, in their cars on the way home, and families join while they are finishing up their dinner. Wherever they are in the world, they are using the opportunity to get some information and ask questions when physically coming into schools would not have been as convenient or even possible.
The second question about COVID and the last question of the survey asked ADs to compare the last school year (as a post-COVID year) to normal years. The resounding response was that last year was more challenging, or as one AD writes, “crazy and way more challenging.” The reasons for those responses were split into two distinct reasons. Will Vreugdenhil, Korea International School, articulates the first reason being that “we are having to train or retrain students, parents, coaches, hosts, employees what the exact expectations are. We can't say ‘Remember last year’... it was too long ago.” The rebuilding of culture is so time consuming, especially for people who were at their schools before COVID. They must look at and explain, what does it mean to represent your school on an athletic team and how does one do that? Some schools have seen more new requests than ever before, as people are trying to make up for missed opportunities.
Adding new trips, events, or even teams is the second main reason last year was so challenging for our responders. However, not just because they are new but because it seems that more faculty members want to spend their time doing more things for themselves. Erlend Badham, International School of Belgrade, reflected that the year was “challenging as we are putting on more activities and events than ever and parents still expect more, but we have less willingness from faculty to commit.” A similar response came from Anthony Hennelly, International School of Prague, who feels like they “had to further encourage adults to support the programme more so than previous years.”
However, challenging and busy are not always bad things for an AD as Will Moncrief, Frankfurt International School, writes that the year was “very busy, lots of participation...but a GOOD busy. Feels great to be back and then some!”
When I was first thinking about organizing this survey back in 2018, I asked some colleagues what they thought about the idea. One of them asked me right away why I thought it was important and what I thought would come out of it. My answer was simple at first: to bring the international Athletic Director community together. I also wanted to show each other how similar we are regardless of how big our schools are and where they are in the world. Looking back, I think that goal has been accomplished - of course, also in part by the pandemic, the Globetrottin’ ADs podcast, the online conferences, and my book International Education Leadership: A Global Playbook. Now after the third round, I want something more to come from this “State of the Industry” survey and all of the time the ADs put into their responses.
For years now, ADs have been concerned about the increasing amount of work that their schools demand of them. In many cases, the AD is doing more and is also doing it alone, or even after a long day of teaching classes. This year has been the first year that ADs have written about quitting the profession or wondered how much longer they can do it. It was also the first time that many ADs wrote about hiring more staff to help with the increased demands. Sure, there are hundreds of applicants for every AD job that opens up, but when the position becomes a revolving door it is only the students that suffer. My hope now is that with the results of this survey, there will be more understanding of the position and that it will also help ADs around the world speak to their administration about their increased workload and their lack of staffing, and show them that they’re not alone in their views. Dave Horner, who has been an AD in four international schools, believes that “many human resource and administration team members are not aware of the amount of time and effort that goes into our jobs. It is often overlooked.”
ADs, share this survey with your administrators, share it with your colleagues, and continue to discuss your job. If not worldwide, then at least schools in individual conferences can band together for the betterment of all of your student athletes and entire school communities. I also hope that with this survey analysis teachers and administrators will get a better understanding of what the job could be if it is adequately staffed and supported. A full-time Athletic Director with a staff behind them can do many amazing things at a school. It is a shame to not use an athletic program to the best of our abilities.
Athletic Director or Head of Sport is a vocation filled with servant leaders like Dave Johnson whom I would like to give the last word to. “I find myself just running around trying to complete the next task on the list and not enjoying the students and watching their growth during the seasons… so that is the biggest thing I would love to do. Simply have the time to work with our student-athletes more in practice and enjoy watching them play.”