Graduate Certificate Programs in Sports Leadership and Administration – Campus and Online Programs
Updated: November 18, 2022
Sports and athletics is an industry that is both robust and diverse, encompassing college athletics, professional sports leagues, and the coordination of celebrated sporting events ranging from the NFL playoffs to the Olympics. As a result, sports leadership goes beyond athletics coaching and mentorship, and incorporates business acumen, organizational leadership principles, athletics marketing and public relations, financial management and fundraising, and an understanding of contemporary issues and challenges in the sports industry across both the domestic and international arenas.
Graduate certificate programs in sports leadership prepare students for the aforementioned responsibilities, empowering them to step into roles such as head coaches, athletic department directors, and sports event managers. In general, these programs are designed for professionals who are already working in athletics or an adjacent field, such as roles in business development or team leadership, and who want to hone their leadership skills and knowledge of the sports industry. Courses in these programs tend to cover both foundational and advanced concepts in coaching theories and psychology, team and staff management, leadership strategies within corporate and organizational settings, and diversity and social justice in the sports industry.
Sports Leadership Explained
Sports leadership is a broad field that is generally defined as leadership and administration principles and practices that help athletes, teams, and athletic organizations to succeed and grow. It encompasses everything from athlete mentorship and training plan development to negotiations of sports program funding and the expansion and/or management of university athletic departments. Sports leadership and administration requires a strong grasp of traditional and innovative coaching tactics; business development concepts; sports ethics and policy at the institutional, local, state, national, and/or international levels; public and stakeholder relations management; and the importance of social justice and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the practice and promotion of sports.
Sports and athletics is an enduring industry and one that is experiencing steady growth, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. It is estimated that athletic coaches and scouts alone will experience a job growth rate of 20% between 2021 and 2031, which is must faster than the national average in the United States (bls.gov). While athletes, teams, and coaches often receive the majority of publicity, there are many, more behind-the-scenes roles in the sports industry that are instrumental to the success of the field. These include athletic department directors, heads of sports marketing and/or business development, sports team managers, and directors of sports programs.
Identifying and Classifying Graduate Certificate Programs in Sports Leadership
Due to their emphasis on organizational leadership and business development through an athletics lens, graduate certificate programs in sports leadership are generally offered through joint collaborations between schools of business and departments of athletics at accredited colleges and universities. However, some graduate certificate programs in this space are offered through schools or departments of education, while others are housed in departments of interdisciplinary studies or professional and continuing education. Depending on the specific university/college department or school that houses the graduate certificate program, students may be able to transfer graduate course credits from their certificate to a master’s degree in athletic leadership, an MBA with an emphasis in athletic administration or entrepreneurship, or a master’s in organizational leadership.
Graduate certificate programs in sports leadership are distinct from professional certifications in athletics and athletic leadership. Graduate certificates are academic programs offered through accredited institutions of higher education, and therefore they confer graduate-level course credits that are often transferable to a full graduate degree program in the same or a related field (depending on the school and program in question).
In contrast, athletic certifications and sports leadership certifications are credentials granted through professional organizations, such as the National Interscholastic Athletics Administrators Association (NIAAA), that signify an individual’s qualifications in a particular area of sports leadership. Graduate certificate programs in sports leadership are also distinct from training modules, bootcamps, and other educational materials and resources that these professional organizations offer to their members.
Sports Leadership Graduate Certificate Coursework
Graduate certificate programs in sports leadership are typically comprised of 12-15 course credits, or four to five graduate-level courses. Course titles, content, and sequencing vary by school, but in general these programs consist of classes that cover athletics coaching leadership principles, coaching pedagogy, individual and team mentorship, organizational leadership strategies, staff development, sports regulations and law, sports-related ethics and social justice, and contemporary issues, challenges, and opportunities in the athletics and sports industry.
Below are examples of courses that may be included in a sports leadership graduate certificate program:
- Coaching Leadership Principles
- Theories and Principles of Coaching Pedagogy
- Leadership and Diversity in Sports Leadership
- Contracts and Negotiations in the Sports Industry
- Sports Law, Policy, and Ethics
- Marketing and Public Relations in the Athletics Industry
- Sports Event and Facility Management
- Business Development for Athletics Professionals
- Collegiate Sports Business Principles
Online Sports Leadership Graduate Certificate Programs
Sports leadership graduate certificate programs are generally designed for working professionals. As a result, these programs tend to either offer evening (or weekend), in-person courses, or make use of online learning technologies to enhance scheduling and geographical flexibility. While some graduate certificate programs in sports leadership and administration, particularly those at universities with a robust athletics program or well-known athletic teams, may require students to come to campus to experience hands-on training in sports event administration and high-level coaching, there are also online graduate certificate programs that provide quality training for students and professionals who may not live near a campus that houses an in-person program.
Online graduate certificate programs in sports leadership offer several advantages to students. In addition to allowing students in rural areas to access programs that they would not otherwise be able to without relocating, online programs give students more ownership over their learning schedule, as they can complete course requirements from anywhere as long as they have a suitable computer and internet connection.
Online graduate certificate programs in sports leadership use learning management systems, or LMSs, to deliver course content and facilitate interactions between students and instructors. LMSs are interactive, multifaceted online platforms that allow students to log in and attend course lectures, complete course modules, fulfill assignments and class readings, and discuss concepts and group projects with course peers. Through these platforms, faculty and instructors can utilize asynchronous instruction, synchronous instruction, or a mix of both instructional modes.
Asynchronous instruction includes all course elements that students can complete on their own time, such as course modules that they can access 24/7, assignments and exams that students complete independently on their own schedule (as long as they abide by appropriate deadlines), and discussion boards to which students can contribute at any time for participation credit. Asynchronous instruction is highly advantageous for students who need maximum scheduling flexibility, and who are disciplined and organized enough to stay abreast of their program’s course requirements without the structure of a traditional in-person college course with weekly lectures.
Synchronous instruction is inherently more structured than asynchronous instruction, as it comprises all course elements that students must attend or complete in real-time. Examples of synchronous instruction include live video lectures that students must attend on a certain day and at a particular time, examinations that all students take concurrently on a set date, breakout discussion sessions that students complete in collaborative video spaces, and group projects that students work on simultaneously using remote communication. Most courses that incorporate synchronous instruction schedule live sessions either in the morning or the evening so that students can attend before or after work.
Synchronous instruction is beneficial for students who want an academic experience that more closely emulates traditional, in-person instruction that affords opportunities for real-time interactions with professors, instructors, and peers. However, synchronous instruction is more demanding from a scheduling standpoint, as students need to carve out time in their weekly schedule for live lectures, discussions, and other course obligations.
Examples of Online Graduate Certificate Programs in Sports Leadership
Creighton University offers an online Sports Leadership Graduate Certificate through its Department of Interdisciplinary Studies that prepares students to engage in organizational leadership and transformational change practices through a sports lens. This program is comprised of 15 credits spread across five courses that focus on the foundations of sports leadership, failure in leadership practice, contemporary issues in sports leadership, Ignatian philosophies in sports leadership, and insights from exceptional sports coaches and athletes. The credits students earn through this program can be applied to Creighton University’s Master of Science in Organizational Leadership. To learn more about this program, please refer to Creighton University’s website at www.creighton.edu.
Drexel University offers an online Graduate Certificate in Sports Leadership through its School of Education, which is designed for coaches who want to increase their skills in organizational leadership, athlete mentorship, and optimizing communication with stakeholders. This certificate is comprised of 12 credits divided across four courses in coaching psychology, coaching theory and principles, pedagogical strategies in coaching, and team and coach management. Students can complete this program in as few as four quarters, or one academic year. For more information about this program, please visit Drexel University at online.drexel.edu.
Lasell University offers an online Sports Management Certificate in Leadership through its School of Graduate and Professional Studies that combines foundations of sports team management with corporate leadership processes and principles. This program requires the completion of 15 course credits divided across five courses. These five courses consist of three core courses that cover the history and foundations of leisure and recreational behavior, sports and recreation leadership for the future, and executive and strategic leadership for the sports industry, followed by two sports management electives of students’ choosing. To learn more about this program, please visit Lasell University at www.lasell.edu.