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Bonus Editorial

The Simple Beauty of Checklists

A checklist seems mundane, but it can be a powerful tool to help you accomplish the profound.

By Dr. David Hoch and Dan Cardone

    David Hoch, EdD, is the Athletic Director at Loch Raven High School, in Baltimore County, Md. He is the former Athletic Director at Eastern Technical High, also in Baltimore, and was named the Maryland State Athletic Directors Association's Athletic Director of the Year in 2000.

    Dan Cardone is Athletic Director at North Hills High School in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Most athletic directors are overloaded, overtaxed, and hence, have faulty memories. We are prone to making mistakes in anything we do, from ordering uniforms to organizing parents' meetings to canceling a contest because of the weather. When this happens, it's usually because too many things need to be taken care of at once, and it's almost inevitable that something slips through the cracks.

How can athletic directors lessen detail overload and minimize mistakes? One solution is to prepare and use checklists. Checklists are a great way to organize our sometimes mundane, routine tasks so that we can save our time and mental energy for more important things such as planning, mentoring coaches, and developing our student-athletes.

Checklists are more than just guards against disaster and time-savers. Used thoughtfully, a list is a powerful organizational tool, a written guide to help you carry out your duties well. Checklists may be prosaic, but they are vital to helping us do our jobs better.

Where to Get Them

We don't have to reinvent the wheel. The simplest way to take advantage of checklists is to simply borrow them. Once you have one in hand, you can alter, revise and edit it to fit your setting and situation. Fortunately, there are some excellent resources available.

A good place to start is other administrators. Within your own school district -- or even your own school -- there may be someone who uses checklists that can be tailored to the needs of the athletic departmentment. All you have to do is ask -- just be sure to offer thanks and give credit where it is due.

Athletics administrators at other schools may be able to help, too. A few years ago, three high school athletic directors in southwestern Pennsylvania realized they had many duties in common and began sharing checklists and guidelines. The idea spread, and now the 140-school Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League has compiled and published two sets of commonly used checklists for administrators and coaches. The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) saw the lists and now wants to make them part of the administrators' handbook for the entire state.

Another source is formal athletic administration career-development organizations. Most of the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association's leadership training courses typically include excellent checklists. Among the lists we've encountered through these courses are ones on maintaining venues, interviewing coaching applicants, running preseason coaches' meetings, and making decisions. You are required to sign up and complete the course to obtain the checklists, but it's well worth it.

Do It Yourself

Even though there are excellent outside sources for helpful checklists, don't be afraid to create your own, either for your personal use or for your coaches. You can think tasks through and break down each step into a checklist. Or, you can think chronologically about what needs to be done when -- before fall, winter, and spring seasons, for instance -- and break them down in logical order. Whenever you face an annual task or event that will occur periodically, create a list so that you don't forget any step or detail, and you'll also be prepared the next time the event rolls around.

Maintenance and Keeping Up to Date

Be sure to save checklists on your computer for ready access and updating as needed. An athletic director sent opposing schools step-by-step guidelines for visiting teams. These instructions included where to drop off the athletes, how to enter the building, and even where the bus should park. It was well done and very useful. If you develop a similar list, be sure to save it as a document on your computer, and you'll be ready to go next year -- with updates if needed -- with a ready-made checklist to help visiting teams.

Periodically review your checklists and update them. One way to do this is to simply write down what extra tasks each group of duties requires, and then add a line or section to your checklist. It's a way of analyzing your duties and examining what else you could and should do. It can also help show your superiors how much you're contributing to the organization.

Don't stop with tasks for yourself, however. Checklists can be a great help for your coaches, too. Even the most experienced coaches will occasionally need a reminder to complete their responsibilities correctly and on time. The checklists also help each coach focus on key areas.

Some Examples

Here are some checklists we have found useful for ourselves as athletic directors and for our sport coaches. Note that underlined text in this section represents a link to an example of the checklist:

Monthly checklists: These comprise running lists of routine athletic director duties organized by month. They serve as key reminders such as when football tickets should go on sale, or when to order equipment for spring sports.

Cancellations: In many parts of the country, spring weather is extremely unpredictable and can lead to daily cancellations. Thus the athletic director has to, under considerable time pressure and with little margin for error, cancel officials and buses, and notify opponents and those responsible for field preparation. In the ensuing mass confusion of postponing multiple contests, it is inevitable that one important phone call can be forgotten because of constant interruptions. This list ensures nothing is forgotten.

Emergency procedures: This checklist offers a rundown of what the athletic director and coach are each responsible for in terms of preparing for an emergency.

Coach's Checklist: An all-time favorite, this all-around list should outline the basic responsibilities of a head coach. These include emergency management of injuries, generating eligibility lists, ordering buses on time, gathering athletes' completed eligibility forms, and calling in scores. These are listed by preseason, in-season, and postseason.

A similar list is a coaches' administrative checklist, which outlines paperwork and related administrative duties. It's a great way to help coaches plan for and remember those little -- and not-so-little -- off-field duties that have to get done for a program to operate smoothly. It's especially helpful for new coaches, but even veterans can benefit from it.

As working with parents has become a more important part of coaches' jobs, it can be a good idea to provide coaches with written direction on this duty. Although they are not exactly checklists, consider these two documents: Guidelines for Preseason Parents' Meetings and Guidelines for Dealing With Difficult Parents.

Thinking Broadly

It's easy to think of checklists as merely glorified to-do lists, but take a closer look and you'll see they can be much more. They are a way to put our expectations into writing--for athletic directors and those who answer to us.

A great example are the checklists we've obtained from Richard Borkowski, the Pennsylvania athletics safety consultant who has written extensively for Athletic Management. An example is in his article about basic safety supervision for coaches. His lists allow us to think ahead of what needs to be taken care of, get it done, and go forward with the confidence that we're prepared. But at the same time his lists convey the general attitude and responsibilities that coaches must take toward safety. This double duty is the beauty of good lists.

Because it puts expectations into writing, the checklist format also works well as a tool for managing people. The Coach's Checklist discussed earlier is an example. It includes some concrete chores such as foolproofing the final schedule, but it's also a way to put our expectations into writing. If a coach misses a deadline, check the incomplete item and place a copy in the coach's mailbox or e-mail him or her a copy and keep one for your files. The copy becomes a tool for accountability and a useful aid in preparing annual evaluations. You can total the missed deadlines and responsibilities from the checklists on file, and you have a source of documentation to support your evaluation.

Checklists won't win awards. They're nuts and bolts. But by keeping those nuts and bolts in place, you'll gain confidence and mental energy you can devote to more important tasks -- like improving the experience for your student-athletes. After all, isn't that what we're all about?

David Hoch and Dan Cardone have written extensively for MomentumMedia magazines on athletic administration at the high school level. To see more of their contributions, enter "Cardone" or "Hoch" in the search window at the top of this page.

© Copyright 2005 MomentumMedia. All Rights Reserved.

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