Why Every Ath­let­ic Direc­tor Should Also Coach

James Cof­fey, Maine high school ath­let­ic direc­tor and coach, explains exact­ly why it’s best to do both jobs — at once.

Why Every Ath­let­ic Direc­tor Should Also Coach

James Cof­fey, Maine high school ath­let­ic direc­tor and coach, explains exact­ly why it’s best to do both jobs — at once.

This past school year, I need­ed to hire a var­si­ty soft­ball coach. 

It was a good thing. Our soft­ball program’s num­bers were extreme­ly low two years ago when I became the ath­let­ic direc­tor at Fal­mouth High School (Maine). In an effort to build up engage­ment, we cre­at­ed a co-op with anoth­er school and kept the pro­gram alive for two years. We also put addi­tion­al funds and resources into our mid­dle school pro­gram to boost participation. 

Our efforts paid off — we final­ly had enough girls to field a team. With our ros­ter filled out I post­ed the coach­ing posi­tion ear­ly in the school year. I was up front that this was a pro­gram in need of a total rebuild. Nobody applied. 

Well, I’ve been an ath­let­ic direc­tor for four­teen years. I’ve also coached before, but not while being an AD at the same time. Still, as a for­mer base­ball play­er, I love the sport too much to see a pro­gram fall apart. I knew some­one need­ed to step up and rebuild this pro­gram for future play­ers, so I pulled a Roger Dorn from Major League and hired myself.

Our team con­sist­ed of an all-league senior cap­tain, one junior, four sopho­mores and ten fresh­man. To say the least, we were young and inex­pe­ri­enced. Yet we took on the tough­est soft­ball con­fer­ence in Maine, and took a big step for­ward in rebuild­ing the program. 

Along the way I learned how dif­fi­cult it is to coach and be the ath­let­ic direc­tor at the same time. I also learned exact­ly why every ath­let­ic direc­tor should coach at least one sport. 

Con­nect with stu­dent-ath­letes in a dif­fer­ent capacity. 

As an AD, I have great rela­tion­ships with the stu­dent-ath­letes in our school. But a lot of my time is spent in meet­ings or con­fer­ences, or work­ing on detailed projects. I can acci­den­tal­ly go for a while with­out any mean­ing­ful dia­logue with students. 

But, as every­one knows, coach­es and kids have a dif­fer­ent con­nec­tion. We spent hours togeth­er every day for sev­er­al months straight. I got to know the kids and their fam­i­lies much bet­ter than I ever would have as just the AD

I got to know the kids and their families much better than I ever would have as just the AD.

I was able to get a pulse on what was going on in their lives, in the school and in my ath­let­ic depart­ment that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

Appre­ci­ate the com­mon chal­lenges coach­es face. 

As a coach this year, I went through my fair share of dif­fi­cul­ties, just like any coach in any sport. We all have to work with the same groups of peo­ple — par­ents and guardians, boost­er groups and, most impor­tant­ly, the student-athletes.

Of course there were the chal­lenges that come with rebuild­ing a pro­gram from the ground up. But on top of that, this year was the raini­est Maine has seen in a long time. Many coach­es weren’t able to use their fields and we all had to adapt. I had to coor­di­nate with all our spring sport coach­es to share what facil­i­ties were avail­able, like our gym­na­si­um, weight room, turf field, and even the school park­ing lots.

My coach­es appre­ci­at­ed the fact that I was in the fox­hole with them, deal­ing with the same coach­ing issues they were. And it helped me give them even bet­ter guid­ance. I’m not just the admin­is­tra­tor — I’m one of them.

Give your­self a break.

Even though doing two jobs at the same time is more work and under­stand­ably more dif­fi­cult, it gave me a break from the dai­ly grind of my ath­let­ic direc­tor role. 

This was a dif­fi­cult school year in many ways and know­ing I had a cou­ple hours each day to step away and coach gave me an out­let. Coach­ing kept me sharp and it alle­vi­at­ed the frus­tra­tion that can build being an AD. To me, it was almost like a dai­ly ther­a­py session.

I can hon­est­ly say this one of the best expe­ri­ences of my pro­fes­sion­al life. It total­ly changed my think­ing on how to approach run­ning a strong ath­let­ic depart­ment, and over­all made me a bet­ter ath­let­ic director. 

If you’re an ath­let­ic direc­tor and have the abil­i­ty to coach, believe me — you won’t regret it.


James Cof­fey attend­ed Endi­cott Col­lege in Bev­er­ly, MA where he got his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Sport Man­age­ment. He has spend the last four­teen years as an ath­let­ic direc­tor at three dif­fer­ent high schools. Cof­fey was named the Mass­a­chu­setts Sec­ondary School Dis­trict A Ath­let­ic Direc­tor of the Year in 2012. He has also spoke about the pos­i­tive effects of social media on ath­let­ics at sev­er­al New Eng­land conferences.