1Department of Educational Leadership, Ball State University

Corresponding Author:
Nicholas P. Elam, Ph.D.
Department of Educational Leadership, Ball State University
Teachers College 909
Muncie, IN 47306

Nicholas P. Elam, Ph.D is an Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership at Ball State University. His research focuses on athletics leadership in school settings.

Twice as Tough: Perspectives of High School Athletic Directors Serving as Assistant Principals


Purpose – Many school districts are seeking to consolidate their administrative teams. For better or worse, some school districts are doing so by combining the titles of High School Assistant Principal (AP) and High School Athletic Director (AD), placing the demands of both roles on one individual. Extensive research exists regarding the nature of the assistant principal role, and extensive research exists regarding the nature of the athletic director role. However, little to no research exists regarding the unique nature of the dual AP/AD role. This qualitative study addresses this gap in research.

Methods – Sixteen AP/ADs from one Midwestern state participated in this study, offering candid and rich responses during a one-on-one interview lasting approximately one hour. Interview transcripts were analyzed through line-by-line open coding, followed by axial coding.

Results – From these interviews emerged six major themes: Assistant Principal/Athletic Director dual titles exist primarily as a cost-saving measure; Some see themselves as an Assistant Principal-first, others see themselves as an Athletic Director-first; Those who see themselves as an Assistant Principal-first have lower morale than those who see themselves as an Athletic Director-first; Few formal programs are in place to proactively promote academic achievement among student-athletes; AP/ADs rely heavily on their support network to navigate the mental toll and extensive time commitment; Misconceptions exist about the roles and responsibilities of assistant principals and athletic directors.

Conclusions/Applications – Findings of this study imply that AP/ADs need a new type of support, for mental health and practical purposes, that is specifically tailored and formatted for AP/ADs.

Key Words: athletic director, assistant principal, sport leadership


High school athletic directors (ADs) fulfill many responsibilities within a school, including managing the logistics of hosting athletic events, ensuring the health and safety of student-athletes, making accurate and ethical decisions regarding the academic eligibility of student-athletes, hiring and evaluating coaches, growing and managing the athletic budget, communicating and resolving issues regularly with parents, among many other areas. As if these responsibilities were not daunting enough, in some schools, athletic directors are also entrusted to tackle an additional administrative role of equal or greater weight as an assistant principal (AP). This study aims to capture rich perspectives of individuals who have served in an Assistant Principal/Athletic Director (AP/AD) role – possibly the first study ever to directly address this particular dual role.

Limited, but important, research exists to help explain the nature of the athletic director role specifically. This research can provide a foundation for the study at hand, which focuses on athletic directors who also serve as assistant principals. Zdroik and Veliz (9) found that athletic directors use a stakeholder engagement tactic in decision-making and relationship-building. Focusing on mental health, Lee et al. (4) found that job satisfaction, subjective well-being, and mediating emotional exhaustion are important for athletic directors to positively influence the lives of student-athletes. Though previous research (1, 2, 6) had explored emotional intelligence related to teachers, students, and principals, Lee et al. (4) broke ground as the first to examine emotional intelligence related to high school athletic directors. Still, they recommended that further research be conducted into emotional demands and tolls related to high school athletic directors.

Existing research has also addressed dynamics between athletic directors and various other administrators. Through a cultural praxis framework, Kochanek & Erickson found collaboration among athletic directors serves to broaden their perspective and improve their practice (3). Schneider and Stier, Jr. reported that principals who worked with athletic directors found legal and budget/finance knowledge in sport to be the most important area of knowledge for an athletic director to be successful (7). Through the lens of self-determination theory, Sullivan et al. (8) found controlling behavior from superintendents is correlated with diminished job satisfaction among athletic directors, and concluded that setting appropriate goals is important for the morale of athletic directors. They also recommended further research be conducted into the emotional demands on athletic directors.

Little to no research, however, exists specifically regarding athletic directors who also serve as assistant principals, in terms of roles and responsibilities, mental health, serving the needs of student-athletes, or collaboration. This study addresses this gap in research pertaining to the dual role of athletic director and assistant principal. As schools continue to consolidate their administrative teams, specifically for the roles of athletic director and assistant principal, this timely study captures the insights of individuals with firsthand experience who are assigned this dual role. This study is particularly useful for anyone considering an AP/AD position. This study is also likely to be useful to: any educational leader who currently has an AP/AD as a subordinate, colleague, or supervisor; any district-level educational leader or Board of Education member who is considering combining the positions of assistant principal and athletic director into one; any reader interested in furthering their understanding of the nature of the AP/AD dual role.


This study investigated the following research questions:

  1. How do assistant principal/athletic directors (AP/ADs) perceive the nature of their dual roles, and balance their dual roles?
  2. How do athletic directors perceive their ability to directly and indirectly promote academic achievement among student-athletes?

Of the 407 high school athletic directors listed on one Midwestern state’s athletic association directory, 49 were identified who also hold the title of High School Assistant Principal (AP). These individuals were recruited via email, and 16 agreed to participate in the study after completing the associated informed consent form.

This study used a qualitative methodology to gain an understanding of the dual assistant principal/athletic director (AP/AD) experience than might be gained through a quantitative survey. In this study, the 16 AP/ADs participated in one interview lasting approximately one hour. The interview questions addressed a variety of topics, and were developed to build off of the key topics addressed in previous studies related to athletic directors. These topics include: career path, roles and responsibilities, job performance, time management, strategies for promoting academic achievement, interactions with and serving the needs of student-athletes, collaboration with fellow administrators, goal setting, academic and athletic philosophy, leadership and management, morale, insights to others serving or starting in a similar dual role, among others. Nearly all interview questions were open-ended to encourage rich responses. Interviews were conducted via Zoom during the summer of 2021. All interviews were audio-recorded via Zoom, and transcribed verbatim using Otter.ai software.

Transcripts and written responses were first analyzed with structural coding methods through a round of line-by-line open-coding – breaking down qualitative data into discrete parts and comparing them for similarities and differences (5). Then, open codes were grouped into axial codes, or categories (5). Transcripts were then re-examined through axial coding with the defined axial codes. Through the axial coding process, focus was placed on identifying evidence to support the axial codes and ways this evidence may contribute to answering the research questions in this study. The next step included reviewing the evidence from axial coding to determine emergent themes and to identify exemplary excerpts that supported the codes and themes. The identified emergent themes are discussed in the following section.


The following six themes emerged through interviews of AP/ADs:

  1. Assistant Principal/Athletic Director dual titles exist primarily as a cost-saving measure
  2. Some see themselves as an Assistant Principal-first, others see themselves as an Athletic Director-first
  3. Those who see themselves as an Assistant Principal-first have lower morale than those who see themselves as an Athletic Director-first
  4. Few formal programs are in place to proactively promote academic achievement among student-athletes
  5. AP/ADs rely heavily on their support network to navigate the mental toll and extensive time commitment
  6. Misconceptions exist about the roles and responsibilities of assistant principals and athletic directors.

Assistant principal/athletic director dual titles exist primarily as a cost-saving measure

As one might expect, nearly all participants believe their dual title exists as a cost-saving measure. Participant 16: “While I was serving as Assistant Principal, the Athletic Director retired, and instead of hiring a new AD, they added the AD role onto my title.” Participant 15’s experience was nearly a mirror image: “Our school already combined the two positions before I started. But when I talked to my predecessor about it, he said that he was the AD only, then the Assistant Principal left for another school, and they turned it into an AP/AD position.”

Participant 3: “A few years before I started here, they were close to dropping athletics all together to save money. Obviously they ultimately kept the athletic program, but one of the cost-cutting measures was to combine AP and AD.” Participant 9: “I’ll give you one guess why they combine Assistant Principal and Athletic Director, and it ain’t because they want either job done better. It’s to save money, but I understand the decision.” Participant 7 was not as understanding about the cost-saving approach to combine administrative titles: “Basically, what they’ve done is they’ve titled me the AD and paid me an additional $5000. And they pay my secretary an additional $5000 to be the Assistant AD. I’m the cheapest AD in the land.”

All but one participant stated explicitly or implicitly that they believed the combining of titles to be financially-driven. Interestingly, the remaining participant is the only one from a school that is considerably larger (1800+ high school students) than the others. Participant 12 indicated that he was given an Assistant Principal responsibilities and title, on top of his existing Athletic Director title, “because they needed someone else to handle some of the teacher evaluations.”

Some see themselves as an assistant principal-first, others see themselves as an athletic director-first

Some of the participants responded in a way that indicated they clearly see themselves as an athletic director-first, and others responded in a way that indicated they clearly see themselves as an assistant principal-first. They conveyed this through the order in which they discussed their responsibilities, the way they manage their time to fulfill their responsibilities, their enthusiasm and expertise for certain responsibilities, and even implying that certain responsibilities are an inconvenience in interfering with other responsibilities.

Participant 1 is among those who regards herself as an athletic director-first: “My job is 75% athletics…(but also do) all of the student discipline as it comes… I want to come in the office and I just want to be the athletic director, and I don’t want to have to deal with discipline.” Participant 12: “I handle all the athletic duties…Other than that, I have my morning meeting with administrators at 7:40, and occasional counselor and teacher meetings. I handle 25% of the teacher evaluations.” Participant 6: “I definitely enjoy the athletic side more…During the day, I’m usually in the office from 7:30 to about 1:00. Most of that time is just evaluating teachers, and it’s usually the PE teachers.” Participants 2, 4, and 13 also indicated that they regard themselves as an athletic director-first.

Conversely, Participant 7 would prefer to dedicate much more time and energy to instructional leadership and academic responsibilities than on athletic matters:

I like the academic part of it. I like working with students. And I like working with teachers. I like making connections with students – I seem to attract the kids that really don’t have too many other friends, I guess. I’m kind of the outcast catcher. Kids want to come to my office and hang out and just talk and it’s the kids that aren’t the popular kids or the athletic kids. I enjoy that the most.

But Participant 7 laments that he is not able to focus entirely on social climate and academic achievement, and regards many of the time-consuming athletic responsibilities as trivial. Participant 3: “I find the assistant principal role to be much more fulfilling. Building positive relationships with students, supporting teachers – it just feels like my time is much better spent that way…Even though I played sports, coached sports, love sports, the AD stuff feels…tedious.” Participants 5, 9, and 14 also indicated that they regard themselves as an assistant principal-first.

Those who see themselves as an assistant principal-first have lower morale than those who see themselves as an athletic director-first

When discussing their overall outlook toward their dual role, those who regard themselves as an athletic director-first seemed to thoroughly enjoy their job. Even when discussing some of the least enjoyable aspects of the job, they framed them as relatively minor stressors or inconveniences. Participants 1, 2, 5, and 12 conveyed that the least appealing part of the job is the extensive time commitment required to host athletic events, but Participants 2, 5, and 12 also acknowledged that this is balanced out by the extensive flexibility they are granted during school hours. Participant 12 adds: “It took a few years, but I finally figured out how to balance and build in family time.” Participant 1 adds: “if I didn’t have to do student discipline, I would have the best job in the state of Indiana. And here discipline is very minimal.” Participant 5: “Last year was no fun because I had to constantly be the mask monitor. I kept thinking ‘This isn’t what I signed up for when I became an AD.’” Participant 6: “A lot of my (assistant principal) decisions are kind of split-second, but most of what I do is AD stuff, and it’s really helped with stress to learn that I have time to think those decisions over.” When discussing interactions with parents, Participant 1 acknowledges that it can be stressful at times, but that she has the time to be proactive and maintain positive communication and relationships: “We hold seasonal parent meetings, so that parents know the expectations. I try to be as positive and proactive as I can be, to ward off those negative parent meetings.”

Conversely, those who regard themselves as an assistant principal-first conveyed strikingly lower morale. Participant 7 regards parent interactions very differently: “I hate parents. Parents make it so difficult…Parents, especially the athletic end, oh my god, when it comes to sports, I don’t even like to go to the games and I try to hide because I don’t want to listen to parents.” Participant 7 goes on to say how he would spend more of his time if he did not have athletic director responsibilities: “I could be in my teachers’ classrooms more. I could meet with students more. I could actually research some strategies that we are trying to implement. I could better prepare more resources for teachers if they need them.”

Other Assistant Principal-first participants expressed discouragement and frustration. Participant 14: “I feel burnt out and we haven’t even gotten into the meat of the season yet.” Participant 9: “I spend a lot of time reflecting back to a few years ago when they tacked on the AD role to my title. It’s kind of a blur when it happened, but it happened fast. And I wish I had put up more of a fight so that I didn’t get saddled with this.” Participant 16: “What’s my responsibility? (Sigh) It would be easier to say what’s not my responsibility.” Participant 8: “I was given this role because we were trying to save a few bucks and save our athletic programs. Now I’m a halftime AD trying to revive a whole program. I’m putting in twice the time and I don’t feel like I’m doing either job well.” Participant 11: “If I was giving advice to someone who was in line to take on a dual role like this, it would be (extended pause) don’t do it. Resign. I’m serious. Try to find a school where you will only have to do one or the other.”

Few formal programs are in place to proactively promote academic achievement among student-athletes

Participants all expressed the importance of academic achievement among student-athletes. However, even as educational leaders, their impact on student-athletes’ academic achievement was detached and indirect. None of the participants discussed taking a direct part in helping student-athletes with their academics, and very few reported the existence of any sort of school program designed to help student-athletes achieve academically. Participant 3: “As someone with that teacher/academic background first, I hate it. Sure, I monitor academic progress…I celebrate academic success. But can I honestly claim that I’ve played a part in helping a student-athlete achieve academically? No. No I can’t.”

Several participants spoke generally about maintaining a culture that values academics. Participant 5: “We’re a school-first school.” Participant 12: “We have a community that believes in academics first.” Participant 2: “Some ADs might promote athletics as the way to gain opportunities in life. Here, we remind student-athletes that your schoolwork will open the doors for you.” Participant 1: “We just have that expectation that you make your grades and there aren’t any issues.” Participant 7: “The academic culture of our school takes precedence. You know, everyone here is expected to be a good student.” Participant 16: “An AD probably shouldn’t be saying this, but I like the fact that over the last few years our community has become less focused on wins and losses and more focused on academic stuff.”

 Relatedly, participants also discussed maintaining high academic standards. Some spoke generally, and others spoke more specifically about having more stringent requirements than the state athletic association. Participant 7: “It’s instilled in the culture that you just are supposed to (perform well academically). It’s like, do you praise your kid for brushing their teeth every day? No. Maybe at first, when they first start, but pretty soon it’s expected that you brush your teeth.” Participant 12: “The IHSAA guidelines say you have to pass five classes, but we have higher expectations that that. And our kids step up to the plate.” Participant 4: “Our school requires a 2.0 GPA to be eligible, which is tougher than what the state requires.”

Most participants mentioned that their school celebrates the academic success of student-athletes. Participant 2: “We carve out some time at banquets.” Participant 1: “We have academic all-conference teams, that we recognize kids for that, and a lot of kids are really proud of achieving that. Obviously, our coaching association promote academics and name kids to academic all-state teams. So that’s always an accomplishment.” Participant 6: “We do raffles and prizes for good grades, things like that.”

 inally, participants discussed their efforts to maintain communication among coaches, teachers, and parents about academic progress, but programs and efforts to promote academic performance were nonexistent or extremely informal. Participant 7: “I think our coaches do a good job of encouraging kids to do their best. And when kids maybe fail or they struggle, our coaches are reassuring in saying, ‘hey, that’s kind of how it goes, but you don’t quit.’” Participant 6:  “If I know a kid struggling, I’ll talk to him or something in the hall. It’s really informal. Just ‘Hey, how we doing getting your grades up’ those types of things.”

Participant 7: “We have like an activity period, things like that, where kids can go visit teachers, and get some additional help… Most of the teachers are really good at making sure kids are getting their stuff done.” Participant 1: “I don’t know that we have a program in place to promote (academic achievement)…I can’t tell you that we really do anything academically in the high school…When I check up on academics, I do it very informally, in casual conversations with the player.”

Participant 12: “My coaches closely track kids’ academics…I tell them if they might have to miss a practice or two to get their grades up.” Participant 4: “We’ve been talking about getting a really strong tutoring and study tables program up and running for years. I need to just do it. But with trying to manage all the Assistant Principal and AD stuff, I’ve just been stretched too thin.

AP/ADs rely heavily on their support network to navigate the mental toll and extensive time commitment

Some participants described the mental toll that the dual role takes. Participant 3:

A few years ago, I was feeling overwhelmed. My mind was racing so fast all the time and it felt like suicide was the only way to slow things down. I knew I didn’t have my head on straight, so I went to a behavioral health clinic for an initial visit, or interview I guess. I was surprised that I never got a call back from them. But I know (mental health facilities) are overwhelmed, too. And I know other people have bigger problems than I do. So I guess I just sucked it up and moved on. I’m better now.

Participant 14: We had a situation where someone stole money (from admission to a game). That was almost my breaking point. Fingers were initially pointed at me, because I was one of the few people who had access to it. My job was in jeopardy. We were finally able to find on the cameras that it was a second-shift custodian. That was a relief, but then again it wasn’t. My job is hard enough when everyone is working together. To see that there was someone who would try to sabotage all that, and who would have been willing to let me take the fall, I’ve become less trusting since then. And that just makes it all seem even more isolated.

Participant 7: “It’s mentally exhausting. I’m just drained.”

Nearly all participants stated the importance of support from family. However, in some ways the positive effects of family support were counteracted by the demands of the job that necessitated the support in the first place, because participants were being forced to miss time with their family. Participant 10: “The biggest thing that gets me through the day is looking forward to seeing my family at night. But there are a lot of nights where I’m here covering events and don’t get to see them.” Participant 12: “Before you take a job like this, make sure your spouse and your family understand they are going to be missing you an awful lot.” Participant 2: “My wife has been amazing. She says and does all the things that make me feel like she supports me in this job. But the job has caused us to miss a lot of time together. Sometimes I can’t tell if she really means the nice things that she says.”

Participants felt the most effective, unqualified support from those in similar roles at other schools. This includes some full-time athletic directors at other schools, but even more so those with similar dual titles. The support was both emotional and practical. Participant 12: “Other athletic directors and I have a great relationship. We know what each other is going through…So we’re there, we’re always there to support one another. So with athletic directors, it’s fantastic.”

Participant 1: That relationship has been very positive with fellow athletic directors. That’s probably one of the other fun things about the job. It’s kind of a unique fraternity of people, even though there’s kind of a lot of turnovers on a yearly basis. We all understand the issues and pressures and things that we deal with in athletics. So it’s a great support system. One of our fellow athletic directors in the state, when we were in COVID started a weekly Zoom across the state, which was very fun, but it was also informational. And we all got to share our concerns and what we’re doing and learn from each other. So, I think it’s a great network of professionals that we rely on each other a lot, for sure.

Participant 15: I always feel better after the monthly meeting with other ADs in our league. Knowing that someone else is facing the same issues and whatnot is helpful. There are only a couple who also have to do the Assistant Principal thing, so there’s definitely some bonding and venting with them.

Participant 2: “At monthly meetings, one AD can discuss a challenge they are facing, and other ADs are happy to share how they have navigated the same challenges.” Participant 1: “If I’m hosting a home event, I know the visiting AD or principals there. You just know you have that support if there’s an issue, especially with the visiting fans.

Participant 8: “The best therapy, honestly, is making a mistake on the job and realizing there aren’t that many people who notice or dwell on it. Or realizing that someone else has made the same mistake and they still have their job. The world doesn’t stop spinning.”

Misconceptions exist about the roles and responsibilities of athletic directors and assistant principals

Participants addressed a variety of misconceptions that others tend to have about their role. They noted that many generally have misconceptions about their responsibilities. They believe that many do not understand the extensive managerial responsibilities they have, and even those that recognize this side of the role, might not realize the more important leadership aspects of the role. Some participants noted one specific common misconception – that athletic directors prioritize wins and losses over ethics and student well-being.

Participant 12 was among those who discussed the general misconceptions about responsibilities: “They think we show up at the games and eat free popcorn and eat hot dogs…They think, oh, they’re just scheduling games and showing up and managing the officials, when that’s probably the very smallest part where we spend a lot of our time.”

Participant 1: “It looks like a glamorous job – you’re at athletic events all the time. But if you if you don’t have a true understanding of behind the scenes and the paperwork and organization that it takes, it would I think it would surprise a lot of people.”

 Participant 1 continues by discussing a misconception that assistant principals and athletic directors do not face any tough decisions: “Trying to tell (a student-athlete) that he just ran a whole season, but gets nothing for that, based on the academic issue we had…Those are the tough ones.” Participant 6 recalled a situation involving a catastrophic injury as the toughest situation he has faced.

 Participants believed that some people understand they must tackle certain managerial duties, but they might not recognize the extent or difficulty of those duties. Participant 16: “You’ll notice that five or six people come to you with an issue, and each one of them believes that their issue is the most important issue on your plate. But it’s not possible to make every issue Priority #1.” Participant 1: “There’s all kinds of troubleshooting things that go on behind the scenes and organization that people just really don’t understand.”

Participant 7 discussed the constant struggle to hire and retain viable coaches: “People think that people are begging to coach our sports. That just isn’t the case.”

Beyond these managerial responsibilities, participants also discussed some of the overlooked leadership roles. Regarding the assistant principal side of the role, Participant 12 says: “Most people think the assistant principal was just a disciplinarian, and is out to get the kids in catching them always doing what’s wrong. We look at as a trying to change their behavior and give them choices, so they can make better choices in the future.” Participant 1: “We’re considered kind of the mean guy when we’re truly not, so maybe that’s a misconception. We’re just doing our job and kind of have to hold kids accountable.”

Participants discussed more of their athletic director role from a leadership perspective. Participant 12: “We’re trying to mold our coaches to be good people, good leaders. And also just trying to really work with our kids to try to make them leaders in the future.” Even though Participant 12 had implied there are not formal programs in place to directly address academic achievement, he did discuss programs geared toward character education: “We did some training a few years back…trying to have our coaches work with kids and spending time with them on a weekly basis, and talking to them about what a what a young adult should be.”

Participant 6 discussed his ongoing pursuit to improve participation rates, to promote a sense of belonging for students that might otherwise feel left out. Participants also framed misconceptions about athletic directors specifically from the standpoint of prioritizing wins and losses vs. the well-being of student-athletes. Participant 7: “People think we’re just here trying to win a state championship.” Participant 12: “My favorite part of my job is…having that relationship with the kids and, and trying to make them realize that sports isn’t always about winning and losing, it’s all the things that you learn…my goal is not about wins and losses.” Participant 9: “Kids need to understand that they aren’t going to remember the specifics of any particular game. What they will remember are the fun memories, the friendships, the lessons learned, overcoming adversity.”


This qualitative study revealed six emergent themes: Assistant Principal/Athletic Director dual titles exist primarily as a cost-saving measure; Some see themselves as an Assistant Principal-first, others see themselves as an Athletic Director-first; Those who see themselves as an Assistant Principal-first have lower morale than those who see themselves as an Athletic Director-first; Few formal programs are in place to proactively promote academic achievement among student-athletes; AP/ADs rely heavily on their support network to navigate the mental toll and extensive time commitment; Misconceptions exist about the roles and responsibilities of assistant principals and athletic directors.

The burnout and low morale expressed by some of this study’s participants resembles those in Sullivan’s study of individuals serving exclusively as athletic directors (8). Sullivan found exhaustion and cynicism to be the main antecedents of burnout. These factors were also cited in this study by those serving in an AP/AD dual role, perhaps even to a greater extent (exhaustion through the demanding hours; cynicism regarding school leadership’s rationale for combining the two positions). Sullivan also found supervisors’ controlling behavior to be an antecedent for burnout, but participants in this AP/AD study made little to no mention of such behavior from supervisors.

Even though these AP/ADs do not regard their supervisors as controlling in the way Sullivan found (8), the fact that some assistant principals are being thrust into the role of athletic director harkens to a study (7) where principals exhibited a failure to understand and appreciate the preparation necessary to be an effective athletic director, particularly areas of focus found in preparatory programs tailored specifically to aspiring athletic directors. Many of the AP/ADs in this study did not have any such preparation (which focuses on areas such as socio-cultural dimensions in sport, governance in sport, field experience in sport, venue and event management in sport, ethics in sport, leadership/management in sport, budget/finance in sport, legal aspects of sport, etc.), which can lead to feelings of low levels of competence, which is also an antecedent to burnout (8).

Whether because of a lack of time afforded AP/ADs by the nature and demands of the dual role, and/or a lack of preparation for assistant principals thrust into the role of athletic director, and/or for some other reason, it is not surprising that most of the AP/ADs in this study are not following certain approaches that have been previously found to be effective for athletic directors (3, 9), including: including various stakeholders and using a participative decision-making model (combining positions necessarily works against participative decision-making); having a clear written policy for which issues should be addressed by which individual (none of this study’s participants had such a policy); communicating with parents through social media and newsletters, to keep communication positive and proactive (only five of this study’s participants did so); using collaboration time with other athletic directors for the purpose of promoting inclusion and addressing social issues (none of this study’s participants did so; instead, participants are using their collaboration time with other athletic directors as one of their main sources of emotional support).

Limitations of this study include: participants were all serving as AP/ADs in the same state (each state has unique regulations and culture related to athletics, and funding for schools); it is possible that individuals who agreed to participate in this study were those more inclined to voice frustration about the nature of their dual role; interviews were conducted over the summer, which might have affected participants’ ability to recall specific details, particularly from the busy fall and winter athletic seasons; interviews were conducted during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, which might have contributed to feelings of burnout and low morale.


The findings of this study illuminate the demands of the AP/AD dual role for any individuals considering serving in such a position, and/or for any school leaders/decision-makers considering whether to combine the positions of assistant principal and athletic director. The findings of this study also illuminate the importance of support for those serving in this challenging dual role.

A number of factors contribute to a school’s decision to combine the positions of assistant principal and athletic director. However, when combining these positions, and/or when limiting the amount of time an AP/AD has to collaborate with others in a similar position, a school could be missing out on: increased competence (from specialized training and preparatory programs) needed to serve the school and student-athletes; increased competence to prevent burnout; decreased exhaustion to prevent burnout; ability to communicate with parents in a positive and proactive way; ability to promote inclusion and address broader social issues; developing clear written policies to operate more efficiently; involvement of more stakeholders as part of participative decision-making process.

The approach to stop the consolidation of these positions is unrealistic – 13 of the participants in this study indicated their positions had been consolidated within the last 10 years, and widespread educator shortages increase the likelihood still further that such positions will be consolidated.

This phenomenon shifts the focus to providing support to those serving or entering an AP/AD dual role. Support could be focused on mental health or on practical approaches to excelling in the role. AP/ADs could benefit from the formation of a formal support network, specifically for individuals in such a dual role, and tailored to their unique needs. There, AP/ADs would enjoy the mental health benefits of confiding, commiserating, and uplifting others who understand the demands placed on them. Furthermore, they could share and brainstorm practical approaches to excel in the role, including models and programs to proactively promote academic achievement among student-athletes.

Further research related to this topic could explore: AP/ADs serving in other states; the effectiveness of training/support for AP/ADs; superintendents and Board members, regarding their rationale to combine the assistant principal and athletic director positions and their perception of the effects; athletic directors who are serving in a dual role other than assistant principal (principal, central office personnel, teacher, etc.).


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