An athletic department is a department in a school that manages all aspects of the sports, recreation, and physical education programs at a school or college. The athletic department offices typically oversee student-athletes, coaching staff, trainers, and firm personnel who work with student-athletes. In addition to managing programs for sports teams and individual students from one or multiple sports, an athletic department may manage intramural or club team programs for non-varsity groups.
When a sports school or college has many different sports, managing a separate athletic department for each sport is common. Sometimes, a school or college may operate multiple departments simultaneously, such as general and fitness departments. Often, though not permanently, the athletic and physical education departments are housed within the same facility.
An athletic director typically designates student-athletes to compete on varsity teams in sports that are sponsored by the school or college’s intercollegiate athletics program. Occasionally, an athletic director is also responsible for organizing those teams.
In addition to the duties of an athletic director, a department head or coordinator may manage the intramural or club teams that are not sponsored by the school’s intercollegiate athletics program.
A student-athlete who competes for a varsity team in an intercollegiate sports program is typically referred to as an athlete. In some cases, though more commonly in lower-level sports and individual sports, a student-athlete may be referred to as a competitor or a participant. In some cases, the college may have one “varsity” season and multiple levels of competition (e.g., first-year student through varsity).
A coach is typically the head of any sports team, maybe a volunteer or paid coach. A head coach, who has full authority over team matters, often supervises other coaches who teach and train athletes for the team. The number of coaches on staff also varies from sport to sport. In some sports, such as football or basketball, an athletic department may have coaches for specific teams, such as quarterbacks or point guards. Sometimes, an assistant coach is called an “associate” or “assistant” coach to differentiate from a head coach. Coaches in these sports are assistants to the head coach (the primary). The head coach typically does not participate in the on-the-field activities of a team to focus on training and developing the players’ skills.
Sports coaches at all levels may use different forms of coaching, including positive reinforcement, praise, statistical analysis, and performance analysis. Coaches at a school or college may have additional responsibilities, such as managing academic support programs or working with sports medicine staff to help prevent injuries.
A trainer is often an employee of an athletic department who provides first aid and other types of care for student-athletes injured during practice or competition. Healthcare professionals, such as doctors or nurses, may also be assigned to an athletic department by a school’s administration or medical services provider.