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The professionalisation of the school sports director

| October 29, 2013 | 0 Comments

By Ivor Blumenthal

In these changing times it is no wonder that jobs in the school environment are changing as rapidly as those in the conventional workplace. In the private school sector it is common for a school to employ a sports director on a full-time basis. That person is required to head up a department of full- and part-time coaches, coaching assistants and even health and nutrition counsellors and specialist practitioners.

Those who are not employed on a full-time basis in such a department would certainly be contracted on retainer during the respective sporting seasons. Basically, school sport in the independent school sector is an entire industry in its own right.

The school sports director must be a senior manager The irony is that the best coaches are seldom the best sports directors, just as in other industries, such as the motor industry, where the worst managers are often ex-motor mechanics; or in hospitals, where the worst directors are ex-social workers or doctors. Management is an operational practice on its own and any business, especially a school, runs a great risk when assuming that the best sportsman, coach or even teacher automatically has divisional director skills.

Having said that, though, it is not unheard of for an excellent coach to be properly trained to become a superb director. However, this is currently the exception rather than the rule. A school sports director is essentially a senior manager with superb human resources, finance and event and project management competencies. This person is a process engineer and extremely systems-focused and driven.

The sports director has oversight
This person manages staff who are accountable for the operational elements of each sport. A sports director is accountable for the smooth management, implementation and evaluation of an annual, ongoing player recruitment drive; practice calendars; team event calendars; interschool event calendars; teacher liaison, coach recruitment, liaison and training activities; school management committee activities.

The sports director must also liaise with other schools and the Departments of Education and Sport and Recreation on a local, provincial and national basis. This person has no time to coach sport or give nutritional or health advice to learners. In terms of the optimum qualification a person should have to be a school sports director, there is no question that a management qualification and experience in managing people, resources, budgets, events and activities is first prize. Project management is the essential skill of any sports director.

Experience and expertise essential
The successful applicant should have at least eight years of working experience before being appointed to the post. Why eight years? Conventional wisdom has that it takes a minimum of three years to begin to understand the world of work, another two to begin to master the competencies required to thrive in that environment and at least three more to be afforded the opportunity for promotion and acknowledgement of professional competencies.

Anything less and that sports director is going to be learning from subordinates and those subordinates are going to be regularly covering for that sports director. In employing a person to the post, employers (i.e. schools) should be paying attention to their qualification. Ideally they should have certification from the Project Management Institute of South Africa, or the Institute of Directors of Southern Africa.

The school sports director is not there to teach
Many of you reading this article will ask why I do not mention that school sports directors should have knowledge of coaching, nutrition and teaching. While each of these three are ‘nice-tohaves’, they are not essential competencies for the job, just as secretarial skills are not. These competencies should manifest in the people who report to the sports director. Can a coach, a nutritionist, a teacher or a secretary aspire to being a sports director? Only if they acquire management competencies and experience.

Is offering a sports programme a luxury? The simple answer is no. It is a necessity. To fully round school learners off into mature young adults, schools need to focus on their holistic development, specifically the academic, cultural and sporting components required to become a well-rounded matriculant. If any of these three aspects are missing, that matriculant will have had a superficial and deficient schooling experience. Finally it should be noted that a good sports director could very well eventually become principal material, if the correctly qualified and experienced person is selected and appointed to the job at the very beginning.

Dr Ivor Blumenthal is currently the owner of Ark-Consult. He was previously CEO of the Services Sector Education and Training Authority (Seta). This article f irst appeared in The Star Workplace as part of ‘The Evolution of Work’ series on 10 April 2013, and appears here with the author’s kind permission.


Category: Summer 2013

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