The sporting world is a golden glimpse of a land of hope and glory, where phenomenal achievements inspire millions, and stories of both success and failure enter the popular culture as legend.
It’s an arena where our most celebrated virtues are drawn out, where a select few that compete for honor somehow come to represent all of us, sharing in their victories and in their defeats.
And it’s a realm for heroes, deserved or not, the men and women who step forward and strive for the impossible.
Those heroes are often leaders, the captains who rally their teams to come from behind against impossible odds, the coaches who inspire new recruits to exceed their own expectations, the visionaries who put together a championship team for the ages.
While the public doesn’t associate those heroics with a college education, the reality is that professional sports organizations need leaders who have worked just as hard academically as physically. Modern leagues are big businesses, facing demanding customers, a changing social and cultural environment, and dealing with issues of safety and justice within their fields.
It’s a set of challenges that organizational leadership degrees are tailor-made to handle.
Sports Leadership May Be the Og Organizational Leadership Role
You don’t have to read very far in any text on leadership before the sporting metaphors start popping up. The words “team” and “coach” are everywhere. In fact, many of the core concepts in organizational leadership could have been drawn right out of the average coaching playbook. And when you think about it, all of the challenges that any organization faces are present in sports teams as well:
And of course organizational leadership at the team level can look a lot like coaching in sports—developing close, interpersonal relationships with team members, assessing their capabilities and strengths, working with them to help them achieve their own personal best.
Ted Lasso could just as easily take over a Fortune 500 company or federal agency as a London soccer team.
While sports teams definitely need leadership on the field, the demands and opportunities extend behind the scenes, as well. Major sporting organizations, whether in the professional arena or in amateur associations like colleges, are big operations in their own right. They have hundreds or thousands of employees, vast facilities and equipment to obtain and maintain, and significant marketing, sales, and customer service responsibilities. Millions of customers have to be attracted and entertained.
And the pressures are huge. Unlike conventional businesses, where money is the ultimate scorekeeper, or non-profits, where altruistic goals can be measured, in sports there is constant tension between profits and wins. Balancing those twin demons is a challenge for even the best leaders.
You need every edge you can get as a leader in the sporting world. And there’s where organizational leadership degrees can help.
Degrees in Organizational Leadership Give You an Edge in Any Sport
Unlike many other professions, there isn’t really a single educational track you follow to get into sports leadership. Some come up through the ranks of players, finding a talent for leadership on the field translates into coaching skills, and later front-office jobs. Others study business, and are attracted to sporting organizations through their hobbies and interests.
But higher education is a common thread. When big money and big decisions are on the line, team owners turn to executives who have put in their time studying the core business and leadership skills needed to make the right calls.
Leadership Degrees for Sporting Professionals Are Available at Every Level
The applications of organizational leadership principles are a natural fit for sporting leaders. You’ll find degrees that offer that kind of training in both OL and in sporting management and leadership majors. And they come at just about every level of college education, so you can find the right fit for you no matter what stage of your career you are at.
Bachelor’s degrees for organizational leadership in sports leadership and management:
- Bachelor of Arts in Business Organizational Leadership with a Sports Leadership concentration
- Bachelor of Arts in Sport Management with a Sport Leadership concentration
- Bachelor of Science in Sport Management and Leadership
- Bachelor of Science in Parks, Recreation, and Sports Management
Typically cost between $37,500 (public schools) to $131,300 (private schools)
Master’s degrees for organizational leadership in sports leadership and management:
- Masters of Organizational and Global Leadership with a Sports Administration concentration
- Master of Science in Sport Leadership
- Master of Sport Management
- Master of Education in Sport Management – Educational Leadership focus
- Master of Science in Management and Leadership in Sport Management
Typically cost $24,820 (public schools) to $53,194 (private schools)
Doctoral degrees for organizational leadership in sports leadership and management:
- PhD in Sport Management
- PhD in Leadership – Sports Leadership
- EdD in Global Sport Leadership
May cost between $49,640 and $106,388 depending on length of program and type of school
If you already have a significant amount of sporting or business expertise, and really want to focus in on developing a few specific leadership skills, then you may find a certificate program a better fit than a full degree. Certificates are less expensive and take less time to complete, usually less than a year. You can find them at every educational level, so you can find the right fit to match your current college experience:
Some examples include:
It’s also possible to pursue a double major in organizational leadership and a sporting management degree. But unlike some other fields, there are many excellent options for getting the right level of expertise in both fields with a single, integrated degree, so concurrent programs are not as common in sports leadership.
Exploring the Curriculum Found in Sports Leadership Programs
Organizational leadership teaching is so compatible with sports leadership that you might not notice much difference if someone knocked you out and dropped you into a sporting administration degree program. Both include essential coursework for professional sporting leaders that includes:
Organizational Communication Methods and Strategies
Great leaders tend to be great communicators. While not everyone can be a Yogi Berra, classes like this one can develop your ability to get your point across in ways that motivate your team and bring clarity to your external relationships. This can also include strategic communication concepts for marketing and public relations in sports.
Training and Coaching
It’s not just athletes who benefit from training and coaching. Everyone in your sports organization can get better at what they do with the right influence and development strategy. You’ll learn how to put together staff and organizational development plans and to implement coaching for your team at every level.
Facility and Game Day Operations
All the preparation, strategic plans, and hard training come down to game day. It’s a subset of the leadership role for sporting execs, but it may be one of the most important. But it’s also about more than just winning. These classes offer sporting leaders a holistic perspective on the game day experience, discussing fan access, amenities, and expectations. You’ll learn the latest in sporting facility design and branding experiences and go through them from an economic as well as experiential angle.
Strategic Planning in Athletic Administration
Big sporting operations have all the same administrative and managerial challenges as any major corporation. But they also have a unique group of employees and a very unusual business environment to accommodate. These courses will cover the opportunities, strategies, and challenges of administering major sporting operations in today’s economic and social environment.
Leadership and Justice in Sports
Like other parts of modern society, the sporting world has had to cope with increasing litigation and changing perspectives on social justice. Leaders are who teams turn to when scandal or crisis strike, so coursework in the field of sporting law and regulation gets you up to speed on your obligations. This can include unique issues like employment law for athletes as well as ethical standards in sporting.
Sporting and Group Psychology
The field of sporting psychology has grown up and expanded at almost the same rate as social and behavioral psychology. These courses will give you a mashup of both, including the latest understandings of performance-boosting approaches and the psychology of team-building. You’ll get a better understanding of the dynamics of teams and tools to use in conflict management and resolution as well as establishing a culture of success.
Learning leadership isn’t a strictly classroom-based activity, though. And in every sort of degree program, you can expect to find various experiential study opportunities that help you get hands-on with the kinds of challenges and solutions needed in sports leadership.
This often comes through internships that are available in both bachelor’s and master’s programs, placing you in a functioning role inside a real sporting organization. That could be right at your college, or with a pro sports team in your area. You’ll get a chance to observe genuine leaders in action, learning from them and analyzing the situations and solutions you see.
At the graduate level, you’ll also have an opportunity to engage in more professional research into leadership in the sporting environment. Master’s and doctoral students each have final papers or capstone projects that round off their studies. These require original research and thinking, and usually serve as an opportunity to focus your studies around the parts of sports leadership you are most interested in learning about.
Choosing the School To Take You on the Right Sports Organizational Leadership Path
Sporting management degree programs have many fathers, ranging from business to recreation to education. You can find leadership programs in sports management offered by departments as varied as kinesiology and business.
That means you aren’t always comparing apples to apples when you are considering which schools to apply to for your sports leadership program. A lot of your decision may rest on the department offering the degree, with whichever unique perspective it offers with relevance to your career. Trainers and coaches may find more value in a kinesiology or athletics approach. Number-crunchers heading for front office jobs might prefer a degree from a business school.
But there are certain things a good leadership education comes with in any form or from any kind of degree. You should always consider the following factors when making your decision:
You can get a leg up on evaluating college quality if the programs you are considering happen to be eligible for a specialty accreditation. While all American colleges hold a general accreditation as a matter of course, specialty accreditations look at specific areas, such as business or education, and evaluate programs in those areas in more depth. If you find a college or program that holds one of these, many of your questions about quality will already be answered.
Eligibility is determined by the role of the school that offers the program, so there isn’t just one accreditation to look at. You might find everything from CAEP, the Council for the Accreditation for Educator Preparation, which evaluates educational degrees, to AACBSP, the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs, which looks at business programs. There may even be more than one specialty accreditor in a field, which is true in both education and business. Check further into the kind of program you are considering to see what specialty accreditations it may have earned.
Online Programs Are Well-suited To Sporting Leadership Studies
You will find degrees and certificates at all levels available now online as well as in more traditional on campus formats. It’s one more decision point you have to take on in your choice of school, but it’s one that offers more options and advantages than ever before.
The sporting world is pretty hands-on by nature, but academic studies in leadership can all be done virtually just as well as in person. And with the fast-paced, hectic lifestyle that comes with sporting leadership, online options may be the difference between putting either your career or your education on hold, or getting the best of both worlds.
Even at the junior level, a lot of sports managers spend a lot of time on the road. There’s no chance to settle down and just go to school for two years. So an online program is a great fit to keep both career and training on track.
And schedules are anything but stable in sports organizations, so you will welcome the ability to stream your class lectures on the team bus or to work on the latest class assignment in your hotel room after the game.
With schools scattered around the country, you can make the best choice for your interests and your career without making sacrifices in your personal or professional life.
Sporting Leadership Jobs Come With All the Highs of Competition but Also Great Demands
Leadership is a skill in great demand at all levels in sporting organizations, from the quarterback to the head coach to the president of operations or general manager. And high turnover is a reality in many sports, a consequence of a world in which not everyone can win all the time.
This opens up a lot of opportunities for leaders at any phase of their career or with any sort of expertise. Sports organizations need executives who are pros at all the conventional kinds of business operations functions:
On top of that, there is a great demand for strategic thinkers who are experts at analyzing the current state of competition, finance, and talent to create plans and a vision for an organization that can win within the rules and constraints of the event.
No matter what job you fill with a sporting organization, you can pretty much bet it’s going to be more interesting and more unusual that any corresponding job in the business world. Not everyone goes to work at a major stadium, or rubs shoulders with some of the most celebrated athletes of our time. But the thrill of victory and the satisfaction of leading a team to greatness is open to every leader in the sporting world.
Not All Sport Leadership Jobs Pay Top Dollar, but All Deliver Top Satisfaction
Just like jobs in sports organizations, salaries come in all across the board for sports leaders. While work in the big-money professional leagues can bring in big paychecks, leaders in the minors or in educational leagues can make substantially less.
But in any sort of management role, a degree in organizational leadership is bound to improve your salary well over the baseline. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, for the category of coaches and scouts, the top ten percent of workers earned more than $80,720 per year in 2021.
The coaches and scouts BLS employment category is forecast to grow at a rate of 20 percent between 2021 and 2031, much faster than the average rate of job growth.
Coaching isn’t the only job in sports leadership. It may not even be the highest paying. But to figure out what the GMs and presidents in sports organizations make, you have to dig a little deeper in the BLS data.
Such jobs fall into the industry category for Performing Arts, Spectator Sports, and Related Industries. Looking at the classification for top executives in that industry sector, you will find a median salary of $112,930… well above the coaching level, and barely scratching the surface of where you can go with the right education to lead your organization to victory.
2021 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and employment figures for Coaches and Scouts and Performing Arts, Spectator Sports, and Related Industries reflect national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed January 2023.