The 3 Conversations Every Athletic Director Needs to Have with their Coaches

develop leaders

Once upon a time, I thought being an athletic director would be a great job for me because I was passionate about coach development. So I applied for the job at the high school I was currently teaching and coaching at, and I went through the interview process. During the interview, I answered questions about fundraising, maintaining and upgrading facilities, dealing with parent complaints, budgeting, scheduling, transportation, organizing volunteers, and fundraising. 

I’m sure I could add to the list, but you get the idea. Not one question was about developing and supporting the growth of the coaches. Heck, this school principal even viewed it as his role to do the majority of the hiring. After the interview, as I walked back to my classroom, I saw our athletic director mowing the grass on the football field in the hot sun. I stopped and asked him why he was the guy mowing the lawn, and he told me not only did it help save the athletic department money, but it was one way he could get away from the stress of the job and the constant barrage of calls, texts, and emails. After that day, it couldn’t have been more clear to me that in the current setup, being an athletic director was not the job for me if I wanted to spend my days supporting and developing coaches. I also gained a greater appreciation for the thankless job of athletic and club directors. 

Last week, I wrote about how every organisation can support their coaches through training, community, and mentorship. I was encouraged by the number of athletic and club directors, as well as associations that reached out and have started to make the investment in using the Transformational Coaching and Culture Certification to equip their coaches and strengthen their coaching community. In these conversations, athletic directors and club directors also asked questions about their role and responsibility in supporting coaches throughout the season. It was encouraging to hear so many directors are enthusiastic to do more to support and develop their coaches.

At TOC, we’ve been fortunate to provide 1:1 coaching and consulting for many athletic and club directors over the years. And if there is one thing above all these directors have done on a personal level to support their coaches in a meaningful and impactful way, it’s been through intentional 1:1s with every head coach in their programme three times a year. So in response to the many directors who reached out recently asking for suggestions on what more they can do, I thought it would be valuable to share the framework we use for these intentional 1:1 conversations.  

Coach Development Plans

The three conversations I’ll share with you shortly are all centered around the coach development plan (CDP), or personal development plan (PDP), as some organizations call it. The coach development plans include the 4 key areas: 

Goals or Aspirations

The aspirations may include goals around the record for the season, but most importantly, they should also include their vision for the team 1-3 years from now. And this shouldn’t be just achieving a certain record or winning a championship; it should include details on the team experience they want to create and the impact they want to have on their athletes. 

Areas of Growth

Areas of growth can be divided into two categories: team and coach.

  • Team: While coaches could include areas related to strategy, skills, or strength and conditioning, they should also include areas related to character and culture development. These areas of growth should align with their goals and aspirations for the team.
  • Coach: Every coach should be clear on what they are working on in terms of their coaching. Some examples of things they could include are: decision-making in games, communication with players and parents, relationship building, more accountability, and being less emotional in the games. One area that is often forgotten, but I encourage it, is their own well-being. While a lot of attention has been placed on the mental health of athletes lately, I believe it’s really important for our coaches to be taking care of themselves and working for more balance and time for families in season. 


After areas for growth have been identified, it’s up to the coach (with your help) to make clear what they will do or stop doing to grow in those areas. Commitments like:

  • Attend a clinic or online course on a certain tactical system.
  • Meet weekly with a mentor or coach.
  • Watch less film and get more sleep.
  • Have a certain number of 1:1s with athletes each week.
  • Send out a weekly team update to the parents.
  • Get weekly observations from an outside coach on a practice. 

Support Plan

What can you, as the athletic director, do to support the coach? How can the school or club support the coach? These are questions you should be asking them. It might be helping to pay for a clinic or a leadership coach, but it can be simply checking in with them on a weekly basis or stopping by a practice every few weeks to observe and give feedback. Every coach will require a different level and kind of support. 

Implementing and executing these CDPs is done through the following three conversations:

  1. Pre-Season Meeting

When implementing a coach development plan, one of the simplest ways to start this process is to give your coaches the template and ask them to fill it out prior to the meeting. This gives them time to consider their aspirations, areas of growth, commitments, and the support they need from you. Other athletic directors prefer a little more collaboration based on the coach's previous feedback and observations. Either way, the coach should be putting thought into these things prior to the meeting and doing the majority of the talking. The athletic director is there to offer support, perspective, and challenge in a positive way. 

  1. Mid-Season Check-In

Rather than wait until the end of the season to get feedback from players, parents, and assistant coaches, many of our coaches do a mid-season coach and culture review. At this point, it’s great to revisit the coach's development plan. Even if you don’t get feedback mid-season, it’s still valuable for the coach to reflect on how they are doing when it comes to their coach development plan and to either recommit or make changes in the plan. The athletic director can offer feedback, suggestions, and any other support necessary to help the coach get the most out of the remainder of the season. 

  1. Post-Season Review and Plan

If the coaches have done a mid-season review with the athletic director, in this last meeting little should surprise the coach. The coach has gotten feedback on what they can improve upon, and so at this point, you are reviewing a few things:

  • What went on this season? 
  • What didn’t go well? 
  • What prevented the coach from implementing the adjustments or enhancements they had promised?
  • What are they committed to doing between now and the next pre-season to set them and the team up for success? 

  If you want to learn more about development plans and how to effectively have these conversations, I recommend checking out Chapters 8 and 11 of The Culture System. One of the most powerful aspects of the TOC Transformational Coaching and Culture Certification is that it does help coaches build effective development plans for their team and themselves as coaches. It doesn’t just help them recognise where they need to grow; it gives them the tools, skills, and strategies to know the next best action to take. Complete this Google Form to set up a call to discuss implementing it within your organization. You can also email [email protected] with any questions.

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