My Time with Kobe

As the author of this article reveals, having a superstar athlete on one of your teams will stretch your time management skills to the limit. The good news is that is can also make you a bona fide expert in the field.

By Tom McGovern

Tom McGovern, CAA, is the Athletic Director at Lower Merion High School, in Ardmore, Pa. Current NBA star Kobe Bryant attended the school from 1992-1996.

Athletic Management, 13.2, February/March 2001,

As an athletic director for many years, I had always prided myself on my organizational skills. I consistently felt in control of my time and I never let any important department work slide.

That is, until 1992, when Kobe Bryant became a freshman in our program at Lower Merion High School. The time demands for an athletic director in that situation are monumental. If you are not well organized, everything takes a hit: the classroom (if you teach), the rest of the sports program, your office staff, and even your home life. I immediately learned this—I had to either figure out how to manage my time better, or get buried, daily.

The crunch really began in Kobe’s sophomore year, when he started drawing widespread attention. By his junior and senior years, things were almost out of control. Reporters, TV crews, photographers, college coaches, pro scouts, and tournament directors all wanted access. There were also constant requests to film Kobe in the school setting.

And that’s not all. Virtually everyone who sensed that something special might be happening here wanted a piece of it. They wanted to talk, visit, watch, photograph, or just listen to Kobe Bryant.

The student body, of course, loved all this attention and wanted to become the backdrop for every video or photo. But the administration and faculty expressed concern that the constant interruptions and the growing hysteria were a distraction to the academic life of the school.

So the athletic office became the gatekeeper for access to Kobe. It took nanoseconds, however, for us to realize we were ill equipped to handle the volume of tasks suddenly demanded of us. I quickly found myself smothered with time-consuming details that needed to be addressed with several different interests in mind.

I was staying at work later and later and yet continued to fall further behind. Throughout all of this I still had my normal workload of scheduling, budget preparation, equipment orders, filling coaching vacancies, and teaching my sophomore English class.

It helped immensely that Kobe was a strong student and a terrific school citizen. I still marvel at the tremendous poise he maintained throughout the entire experience. For someone at 16 and 17 years old to remain unfazed and relaxed in the face of the hysteria around him, especially the media hype, is remarkable. Not having to worry about his grade point average or his discipline record relieved me of even more work.

And, yet, the craziness didn’t end when Kobe graduated. It took at least two years for things to get back to normal. The requests for pictures, videos, and autographs were constant.

By now you can begin to understand the demands placed on the athletic office if fortunate enough to have a talent like Kobe attend its school. But, extra demands and all, I would gladly do it all over again. Those years became the most exciting and profitable years of professional growth I could have imagined. Yes, they were filled with pressure and some craziness, but they taught me how to overcome all sorts of difficult situations, including how to best organize my time.

Most of the time-management survival lessons I learned during that time are entirely applicable to the daily tasks of any athletic office. In the following, I share those points along with other lessons I have learned through experience in athletic administration over the years.

Use People to their Fullest
One of the hardest things for most athletic directors to do is delegate. “No one will do the job as thoroughly as I can,” is the common rationale. But, as I learned with Kobe, it’s wiser to use anyone and everyone around you to the best of their abilities. Here are my thoughts on how to make the most of those you work with:

Delegate as many tasks as you can to competent people. If students or parents offer to volunteer a few hours a week to work in your office, say yes to them. Keep a folder of tasks for them to accomplish that are simple and non-confidential, like filing or photocopying.

For example, I maintain a file cabinet drawer of vendor catalogs that are organized by sport. The loads of new catalogs that arrive weekly are put into a pile so that a volunteer can search through the file drawer for an existing older version of that catalog, remove it, and insert the new one.

Another example: although I primarily use the computer for scheduling, I still like to have a large desk calendar in front of me with the season’s entire athletic schedule written on it in pencil. So, every season, I ask a student volunteer to take my computer schedule book and transfer the information to my desk calendar.

Refuse to accept ownership of problems that are not yours. For example, at our school, the girls’ and boys’ varsity basketball coaches both prefer to have afternoon practices in our main (full size) gym, even though there are two smaller gyms available that one of them could use during the same time slot. Instead of facilitating negotiations between them, I simply tell them to work out a mutually agreeable schedule that is fair to both coaches (and satisfies Title IX mandates).

If they can’t, and need to bring the problem to me, they know I will probably just split the time down the middle and publish that as the practice schedule. They have always managed to work out an agreement.

Contact local colleges that have athletic administration programs and offer to host an intern. I have done this often and have had great success with it. However, it’s important to thoroughly interview any such candidate to be sure he or she is an industrious self-starter who will be an asset to your operation, not more work for you.

Frequently, a college requires students to complete a long-term project as part of the internship. I have used interns to help develop a college orientation night for student-athletes, to begin to collect and organize information on a student-athlete code of conduct proposal, and to work with parents on an annual awards banquet. The key is that the time required for supervising the intern should be considerably less than the time and effort required for you to do the job yourself.

Say no to great ideas that others come up with and want you to implement. If the idea has some merit, but you can’t afford the time for it, give the responsibility back to the originator. Have that person form a committee, chair it, and develop a proposal for you to review or react to. If the originator declines to do this, file it or forget about it. Discriminate between projects you ought to be involved in and those you shouldn’t.

Make coaches responsible for their team’s equipment. This usually starts with decentralizing your equipment storage areas as much as space and security will allow. If you are able to find secure storage areas where individual coaches can maintain control of their own equipment, it will save you hours of issuing and collecting equipment each season. Coaches are still required to turn in season inventories for your record keeping, but they can assume much of the burden of handling the equipment.

Establish good relations with all those around you. Your greatest time-savers sometimes stem from the goodwill and trust you establish with others. More than anything else, athletic directors need to be PR people with parents, coaches, teachers, administrators, the community, transportation, operations, and so on. Then, don’t be afraid to call in the favors when they will help you do your job better.

For example, when attempting to decentralize my equipment storage area, I was able to locate alternate areas where equipment could be stored, but the security was inadequate. My district’s operations department changed locks, constructed walls, and helped me create secure storage areas quickly. The cooperative work relationship I had established with operations prior to this point allowed this work to happen when I needed it.

Hire a secretary. There is no doubt that the greatest asset any athletic office can have is to be blessed with a terrific secretary. I am most fortunate to have such an assistant. If you have one, do all you can to provide the tools and workspace needed to do the job well. A secretary in a high school athletic office should be someone who:

• possesses mastery of computer applications;
• is a quick, accurate typist;
• is highly organized, particularly with regard to filing;
• has a pleasant, professional telephone demeanor, even on bad days;
• is proactive in seeing problems and acting to solve them, especially when you are not available;
• remains calm, even when others are falling apart.

Embrace Technology
The amount of technology now available can be somewhat overwhelming. The key is to not feel intimidated by the choices. I’ve found that a little research into new technology has reaped many rewards. Here are some ideas in this area:

Get all the tools and support you can to make your job easier and more efficient. If you’re at a school with a tight budget, try a two-step process. First, attempt to convince upper-level administrators how a certain new tool will help you to do your job better. If this strategy fails, find money wherever you can in your budget to add essential equipment. Then:

• Use the computer as much as possible for the majority of your athletic office tasks.
• Use computer programs that effectively network your entire league.
• If you are not already connected to the Internet and using its vast array of resources, get online.
• Use e-mail whenever possible. Individual and group e-mails are quick, cheap, and convenient. If you can’t get through to another athletic director because the line is busy, you can send an e-mail that might be read, and even responded to, while that other AD is still talking on the telephone.

If you don’t have voice mail, get it. Once you have it, use it to your advantage. When you are really pressed for time, activate it and turn down the ringer volume so you are not distracted by incoming calls. (However, do this sparingly, since it is frustrating for callers to deal with voice mail when they need to talk with a person.) If you are fortunate enough to have a secretary, you can select messages that your secretary can respond to and those that you need to deal with.

Find new uses for existing technology. For example, my school district has a bubble sheet scanner for reading teacher’s scanable grade sheets. Recently, I had all of my state association eligibility information transferred to a bubble sheet and a program for reading that information developed by the company who supplies our scan machine. The cost for doing that was fairly high. But now I can ask an entire set of season athletes to fill in the bubble sheets on the first day of the season. I can then run the sheets through the scanner in about 15 minutes.

From that file, an ASCII file is created, which my secretary immediately converts to an Excel file and the entire season’s eligibility information can be up and running (and printed out, if needed) before the first day of practice is over. I can ask the computer to identify birth dates earlier than a given date to quickly find over-aged players. I can also create team lists and alphabetical lists by grade or school. I can search and find information in many data fields quickly.

Subsequent late arrivals or changes are simple to insert into the Excel database by hand. This saves my office at least two weeks of work every season and is well worth the one-time expense.

Purchase a voice recorder. These are small, wafer-thin voice recorders that use a computer chip to record and play back about two minutes of voice messages. I carry one with me when I am out of the office, particularly when I am on the fields or in the gyms. Often I will bump into people who need me to do something when I get back to the office. I record short phrases or single words as reminders of things to do, such as “change soccer bus time,” or “new tennis net,” or “call Ms. Jones.” I even keep it with me as I am driving in the car or working out in the weight room to capture ideas that pop into my head.

Get a copy machine in the athletic office. Although this generates lots of traffic in and out of the office, the pluses of time and convenience far outweigh the minuses.

The above are some of the time-saving tips I have developed over the years in both normal and unusual circumstances. As with many other aspects of life, necessity dictates solution.

Routing the Requests
During Kobe Bryant’s sophomore year at Lower Merion High School, his exploits on the basketball court continued to exceed all expectations, and we realized the number of requests for him would only get more out of hand. To minimize these potential disruptions, we needed to figure out a strategy. The goal was to develop a systematic approach to the mayhem and distribute the workload while keeping all essential individuals in the loop.

Together with Kobe’s parents, his basketball coach, and the school administration, we developed a plan to deal with the flow of requests associated with Kobe. We set up criteria for what Pam and Joe Bryant wanted directed to them, as well as what ought to be handled by the coach or the athletic office. We also established guidelines for media access to Kobe during the school day.

While figuring out this strategy was important, the athletic office was still bombarded with extra work. We purchased a fax machine with a telephone-answering device capable of recording 100 messages. But, between the time I left the office at the end of the day and returned the next morning, it was routinely saturated. Have you ever tried to return 100 phone calls?

Of course some didn’t want a return call, but left requests that required more time and effort to complete. “Please fax me a copy of your schedule, a team roster, directions to your school, the name and phone number of your coach, and all current stats on Kobe Bryant.”

I quickly realized that, in addition to receiving calls and requests all day long, I was getting them all night long too. So the machine was turned off at night and used during the day as a phone call-screening device.

None of my AD colleagues could get in touch with me concerning last-minute schedule changes because my line was always busy. I used to have to go into other school offices to make important calls because my office phone literally never stopped ringing. A second private line would have been the way to go so that I could continue to do other athletic office business more efficiently, but I didn’t get one at the time.

Part of the mania of those days were the never ending requests for Kobe’s autograph. People I had never heard of before (or since) were calling me and talking to me as if we had been close friends for years. They invariably wanted either tickets to a game or Kobe’s autograph. During his senior year, I asked Kobe to sign so many items on behalf of a myriad of teachers, administrators, coaches, friends, and fans that I should have slipped in a contract naming me as his agent and had him autograph that!