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Tips to Gracefully Climb into Athletics Administration

Working up the food chain might seem daunting....

For new and mid-level athletics administrators, working up the food chain might seem daunting. The market is competitive, but the good news is that confident, networked, visionary women have great chances for success.

Five women offered professional tips at the National Association for Collegiate Women in Athletics Administration (NACWAA) annual conference in Kansas City in October.

Identify your goals

For moderator Victoria Kandt, performance and executive coach for Victoria Kandt and Associates, victory lies in defining a goal and finding a mentor. Ask yourself:

  • Where am I now and where do I want to be?
  • What does it look like along the way?
  • What is negotiable and what is not?

Kandt holds people responsible for what they decide to do, and suggested a great mentor can make all the difference. “Having someone help you see the long term can be really beneficial,” she said. “Mentors can help you clarify where to go, hold you accountable and help you decide if it’s time for a change.”

Sell yourself

Laura Liesman, director of athletics and recreation at Georgian Court University NJ, said women are notorious for selling themselves short in applying for jobs. “Men will find the one thing they do have and apply. Women will find the one thing they don’t and not apply,” she said.

On campus, there are many ways to market yourself. Getting involved in campus committees is a great way to be noticed and have a voice in issues that also affect athletics. Networking with other faculty and administrators through committee work—or having lunch, which she calls one of the most valuable ways—can create helpful relationships. “Talk about your back-ground and theirs. You never know when you will need them or they may need you.”

Always take opportunities. For example, be involved in searches for new administrators or teach classes. “This allows other people on campus to see you in a different atmosphere and in dealing with different situations rather than just in an athletic role,” she noted. “Many times athletics is seen as an island and reaching out is very important.”

Off-campus, she advised women to volunteer, be active in the Chamber of Commerce, a church or various professional developments. Although a strong introvert, Liesman said it’s vital to be noticed. “Put yourself out there, take a risk and ask for guidance,” she said. “If someone says call me, they mean it.” She said to always be professional, be competent, be industrious and be yourself.

Consider your skill set

Julie Manning, assistant athletics director at the University of Colorado, never expected to be more than a coach.

After graduation, she became a golf pro and then head golf coach at Iowa State University for more than 19 years. Then she was offered an administrative job in Colorado. She suddenly realized the wide application of her skills developed as a coach: leadership, rallying people, recruiting, inspiring, communicating, public speaking and taking appropriate risks. As Manning began researching the Colorado job, she could feel herself wanting it more and more.

She said moving to administration showed her that each job had challenges, triumphs, sacrifices and great joy. As she had told her athletes, “Sometimes you don’t realize how much you want something until you realize how much you’re willing to give up to achieve it.”

Prepare for success

Carolayne Henry, associate commissioner for the Mountain West Conference, said preparation is the key to success as an administrator. Henry began as a lawyer and decided to learn as much as she could from those around her. Doing a good job in a current position is key to advancing.

Henry advised women to ask for more responsibility and exposures in their jobs. “You are probably much, much better than you think,” she said. Later in life, women can be pickier about where they work, but Henry said that being willing to move in the beginning helps a lot. She also said having a plan is good, but it may change.

Look at the total package

Sandy Barbour, director of athletics at the University of California-Berkeley, agreed. “What we do is hard,” she said. “With the many constituents and pressures, you have to find and do what makes you sing in the shower.”

Barbour called the interview process the beginning of a working relationship. She recomended doing homework in the department, knowing the marketplace, being prepared to slow down or walk away and then deciding what is most important—what you really want.

When applying for a new position, Barbour advised looking at the total package. To the base salary add other forms of compensation, such as media contracts, car, housing, bonus structure and speaking engagements, and perks such as tickets, merchandise, fitness club membership, parking and retirement. Other factors include transition help in housing and family considerations such as daycare, partner job opportunities, travel and educational benefits.

Before signing a contract, look over the terms, reassignment rights, buyout clause, termination clause, vacation and disability plans—and insist on regular written evaluations. Think about the reporting structure, how disputes will be arbitrated, who your peers would be and the strength of the culture for women on campus.

Barbour called a contract “a professional prenup,” which you should not be in a hurry to sign. Consider it a starting point from which you should always negotiate.

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