What You Can Do In College To Shape Your Future In Athletic Administration
Front Office Sports is proud to have sat down with Jeff Mitchell, senior associate athletic director at Santa Clara University.
Jeff was gracious enough to have offered up his time and insight into the perfect mix of experience and education, being able to wear many hats and creating meaningful relationships with those you work with on campus and in the community.
Jeff recently served as the interim athletic director, which helped reinforce the importance of being prepared for every situation. He also oversees a very successful internship program that has prepared law students at Santa Clara for positions in Athletic Administration.
Here are a few tips he has for being able to land a career in professional sports.
On The Importance Of Education While Pursuing A Career In College Athletics:
"I believe that quality education is the first part. Getting substantive experience is the second part. "Educationally, I've focused on the study of social interaction, organizational behavior, management theory and law. I find all of those areas relevant in higher education and athletic administration. "Participation in athletics (as a player, coach, and administrator) has been a significant part of my life. I learned many valuable leadership skills by playing sports. Having the opportunity to play baseball in college was a blessing. I'm comfortable being a part of a team working with other individuals to achieve a common objective."
On The Importance Of Getting Involved As A Student:
"The ability for a student to say, 'Look what I've done,' or 'Look what I can do,' will take him or her far. In my story, I was able to demonstrate strong work product through four years of undergraduate service. "That led to my first job in athletics administration at Millsaps College, which helped me get my foot in the door in Division I Athletics at Ole Miss. That experience qualified me for a job at Santa Clara at a place where I had zero contacts. "Although I was diligent in developing a network on the West Coast, if it weren't for those experiences and accomplishments of developing work product in college and in graduate school I would have been challenged more in getting a job. It's imperative to get experience, and doing so in college or in grad school is a perfect way to do so."
On Making Vertical Moves Within The Industry In A Short Period Of Time:
"It's neat, and I'm very fortunate. In conversation with my wife after being offered the Interim AD position, we reflected on the fact that in fewer than nine years, I had advanced from volunteering at Santa Clara to serving as the athletic director. "I'm quite grateful to Santa Clara. We have an enlightened staff and talented student-athletes. I've been very loyal. I've worked diligently. I've developed cooperative relationships across campus and within the community. "Being able to be an advocate for student athletes, coaches, and the university in multiple ways is really important in today's landscape. That strength has resonated within our community and helped me grow. The focus has always been on developing our programs, our student athletes, coaches, and our institution. That's the philosophy of how I work."
On The Average Day As An Associate Athletic Director:
"In a dynamic organization, the day-to-day flow of operations is never consistent. There is constant motion and activity. As I help oversee our daily operations, I typically start the morning by checking my list of what needs to be accomplished. "You're checking off small victories with every task completed. I like to start my days with accomplishing several tasks. Whether it's writing a thank you note, responding to important emails or talking to a colleague, it's always good to establish a winning streak! "I like to hold meetings in the middle of the morning, and I try to touch base with my staff. I often have lunch with a coach, colleague or donor. "I come back in the afternoon and look to put out fires that have popped up, or hold other meetings. When you are in the middle of the season you have competition at night. You try to take care of business by mid-afternoon to shift attention to getting ready to host fans. "On other days, I like to use the afternoon to go to practice and check on teams and visit with the student-athletes. I want our student-athletes to know we care for them, and we are advocates for them. I want us to be visible to them. I try to touch base with the head coaches of the sports I supervise on a daily basis."
On Lessons Learned During Four Months As Interim Athletic Director:
"I've always valued preparation, and I believe that I honed that skill as Interim AD. When you are leading an organization you have to be as prepared as you can. There is no excuse for you not to be. "We managed to accomplish a lot during my time as interim AD. We partnered with Nike for a multi-year all sports apparel deal. We partnered with The Aspire Group to improve ticket sales and enhance fan engagement. We made some strategic hires and put in motion a new operations structure that we are using to help grow and manage the department. We were able to substantially increase our budget for all of our sports. "On the whole, we lifted morale. Another goal was to continue to create and enhance relationships across campus to make us successful long term. All of this came after intense preparation, and I embraced the opportunity to be prepared to move our organization forward. I'm very thankful for our staff, too. We did a lot together during the transition."
On Networking And Creating Relationships:
"I think it's important to approach networking in this manner: You've always got something to learn and you'll always need a coach. "When you are in a position to reach out to individuals you think you can learn from, be open to the fact that they may say yes and they may say no. When they say yes just listen and learn. "Every summer I go home to see my family but also I visit athletic directors, coaches and other athletics administrators at universities in the area. The idea of those conversations is to ask how things are going, learn about new developments in terms of how they manage and lead, learn about ongoing or future projects and inquire about the positives and negatives of decisions that are made. "I think it's important to be a genuine conversationalist and express interest in what others do. Be engaged in the conversation you are having. But just by reaching out means that the person is important to you."
Some Parting Wisdom:
I believe this is an exciting time to work in athletics administration. To be sure, we all have an eye toward the legal and legislative issues facing us today, but at the end of the day, we are in the education business.
We are working with talented men and women who are in a prime position in their lives to grow. As a university, we are the beacons in our respective communities. We need to be mindful that our role is to develop those around us.
As long as we maintain this focus, I believe careers in athletics (within the proper framework of higher education) will continue to thrive. We are fortunate to work in this profession, to be in the position to grow others and to provide fun and rewarding experiences for our communities.