The role of athletic director can be one of the most thrilling and rewarding, yet challenging and stressful jobs in the field of education. When I first became an athletic director and assistant principal nine years ago, I welcomed the challenge of the long hours, late nights, on-the-fly problem-solving and nearly 24-7 job-related tasks and responsibilities. I felt empowered by the comments of “do you live at school?” or “are you ever home?”, feeling as though these were testaments to my commitment and quality of work.
Nine years later, I am now married, have a 15-month-old son, and another on the way in August. The unrelenting time commitment, tasks and responsibilities still exist in my athletic director position, but now more importantly they also apply to my role as full-time parent. The comments and feedback regarding my time spent at school that used to be so empowering now serve as a reminder of my success, or more frequently my lack thereof, of being able to maintain an extremely important work-life balance.
Due to the diverse and unique characteristics of the athletic director role in individual school systems, as well as the differing characteristics of each individual family, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to the work-life balance. This is especially true, when it comes to parenting an infant while working full-time. There are, however, a few strategies and techniques that athletic directors can incorporate in order to find the balance that works for them, their families and their schools.
Embrace the “Village”
Many have heard the proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” When it comes to parenting as an athletic director, embracing this philosophy can pay invaluable dividends. If you have the opportunity to bring your young child to events, coaches, staff, parents, fans and especially students are frequently more than eager to lend a hand, provide assistance and serve as extended family. In addition to early exposure to numerous athletic activities, children of athletic directors can be the fortunate beneficiaries of an extended network of surrogate grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles and high school-aged siblings.
Advocate and Communicate With Administration
Meeting with the administration and clearly explaining your situation is essential from the onset when planning parental leave. By identifying and prioritizing the needs and responsibilities of your position well in advance of an impending absence, a plan can be put in place to ensure all responsibilities are covered, and the athletic department runs smoothly.
In some circumstances, this may entail hiring a long-term substitute for the athletic director position, while in others, it may involve working from home concerning scheduling, budgeting and the other business aspects of the job, while fellow administrators and staff cover the on-site responsibilities during the day and after- school hours.
Have a Contingency Plan
Even with the best laid plans, there will be unexpected bumps in the road. Illness, appointments and daycare closures will inevitably occur. It is imperative to have a contingency plan involving trained and trusted staff who can fill your athletic director role in a pinch. Putting aside budget funds to compensate substitute staff, as well as identifying a handful of veteran coaches who are willing to serve as trained event administrators due to an unexpected absence can all contribute to smooth operations during unanticipated situations.
Encourage Student Ownership and Responsibility With Event Routines
As an athletic director, some of the most valuable “assistants” can be students. By developing well-established routines that prioritize student involvement, not only can student pride and ownership be increased, but essential pre-event routines become well known throughout the athletic community. Students can play a role in tasks such as printing programs, assembling team seating, pulling bleachers, setting up the score clock, playing pre-game music or singing the National Anthem. By empowering students in these roles throughout the season, it can ensure that these responsibilities will be well taken care of even in the absence of the athletic director.
Establish Boundaries Around Individual and Family Time
Self-care is key to personal and family well-being, and in turn, can make athletic directors more effective on the job. Whether setting aside Sundays as family days, or prioritizing 10 minutes in the morning and evening to take a quick walk, establishing these acts of self and family care as non-negotiables can allow athletic directors to be more present both personally and professionally.
Be Creative With Time Off
School breaks are an opportunity for faculty, staff, students and families to rest and recharge. For athletic directors, however, school breaks are most often filled with athletic events and obligations that do not allow for time off. Being creative to find time to recoup can be the key.
To accomplish this goal, try taking long weekends during the time in between seasons, turning state and national conferences into family vacations, or simply using a personal day when there are no home events. All of these approaches can serve as opportunities to spend valuable, uninterrupted time with family.
Becoming a parent has undoubtedly been the most fulfilling experience of my life. With that said, I could not imagine a job that “fills my bucket” more than being an athletic director. Any balance would not be possible, however, without the support and flexibility of my amazing spouse, our administration and the school community.
Every athletic director’s situation is unique, but with communication, creativity, advocacy, clear boundaries and a little bit of humility, a healthy work-life balance can be a reality. Our son’s first 15 months have truly been a team effort, which makes absolutely perfect sense, since mom is also the athletic director.
Geri Witalec-Krupa, CMAA, is the athletic director/assistant principal at Bellows Free Academy in Fairfax, Vermont. In 2014 and 2018, she was named Vermont Small School Athletic Director of the Year, and she is the Vermont liaison to NIAAA Section 1.