Your guide to graduate degrees in athletics administration

You’re passionate about athletics. You live and breathe competition, you believe there are winners in all of us, and you enjoy coaching students to reach their athletic potential. You know that athletic administration is more than just working with athletes, you’re building formative relationships through the teaching of sportsmanship.  

Just like you do with your students and athletes, you want to push yourself to do more. One way to kick up your potential? Earning a master’s degree in athletics administration. This can give you the skills and experience needed to manage athletics programs at varying educational levels, while balancing responsibilities like maintaining institutional integrity and keeping student-athlete development your primary goal.

As you begin your research, you’ll need to carefully weigh your options as well as your motivations for pursuing this type of degree. Whether you are looking to coach, direct an athletics program, or lead a team of student athletes, a graduate education in athletics administration can help you add more points to the scoreboard.

Is an advanced degree in athletics administration right for me?

There are many points to consider as you look for the right graduate degree program. In this section, we want to help you understand whether an advanced degree in athletics administration specifically makes sense for you. Let’s start with two major factors:

  • Your personal/professional interests
  • Your personal/professional goals

Does a master’s in athletics administration align with your personal and professional interests?

  • Do you have experience playing sports?
  • Do you follow sports teams religiously?
  • Do your powerful memories of influential coaches continue to help shape the person you are today?
  • Do you enjoy leading a team through individual coaching and strategic visioning?
  • How often do you daydream about hoisting a championship trophy, surrounded by the hardest working team of players and coaches?

Do athletics administration master’s programs align with your personal and professional goals?

  • How will you impact your community through deeper knowledge of athletics administration?
  • What matters more: growing your role as a visible face in the community or as a behind-the-scenes leader? Perhaps both?
  • Do you possess the conviction to uphold the integrity of student athletes?

These are great questions to start—your interests and goals are unique, so make sure you ask yourself the most relevant questions.

How do I choose an athletics administration program?

Explore available “athletics administration” programs. We’ll show you what’s available and talk other important factors to help you make decide about a program.

An important note: Because administration is in the title, many folks consider advanced athletics administration programs as degrees for people who will stay in the back office away from the field. This is not always true. Many athletics administration programs prepare you for the demands of complicated roles that often require direct interaction with developing athletes, as well a a range of administrative duties that range from tough budget decisions to long-term planning.

Athletics administration program titles

Throughout our guide, we reference “athletic administration” because it’s a recognizable name for the category of programs. Athletics administration graduate programs go by a few different name depending on the institution’s specific focus.

Here is a list of common program titles:

  • Athletics administration
  • Coaching and athletics administration
  • Recreation and sport administration
  • Physical education administration

What are the differences between sports administration and sports management programs?

Good question. Typically, master’s athletics administration programs are geared toward primary, secondary, and post-secondary athletics programs. Sports administration programs, on the other hand, are usually oriented toward professional sports franchises and business. This tip is a general rule of thumb—program titles differ among institutions. It’s important for you to research each program’s curriculum to understand the nuances.

What kinds of athletics administration master’s programs are available? And what will I learn?

Common coursework in athletics administration programs

Regardless of program title, degrees under the athletics administration category include courses to enhance your understanding of the issues facing physical education and athletics program leaders. From planning your sports medicine approach to crunching the numbers for your annual facilities budget, your coursework should provide a strong balance of classes that prepares you for real-world scenarios.

Here is a sampling of coursework common to most graduate athletics administration programs:

  • Facility management: Learn to deal with the maintenance of large athletics facilities, plus the planning that goes into ensuring your events are safe, clean, and well attended.
  • Athletic organization: A firm handle on the ins and outs of how athletics programs are organized at the institutional, state, and national level is vital to a career in athletics administration. These courses prepare you to navigate professional relationships while keeping the best interests of your students and program in mind.
  • Sports medicine/strength training: Finding it hard to keep up with the latest and greatest in training and recovery methods? These courses guide you on the basics for maintaining a strong, healthy team of athletes. You will learn to work closely with other athletics professionals, including physical therapists and sports medicine specialists, to develop and deliver a system of care appropriate for your athletes.
  • Decision making. Learn to strategize, plan, and make decisions in the short and long term for the good of your organization. From coaching moves to big picture negotiations, strong, clear-headed decision making is a definite requirement for any position in athletics administration.

Variations in coursework amongst athletics administration programs

The variety in curriculum is based on the intended goals of the athletics administration program. In addition to cost, time to completion, and other variables, actual coursework must be a significant factor in your decision. Make sure you research the actual courses to find the most relevant program for your goals!

What’s unique about each graduate athletics administration program? Outcomes regarding learner demographics and the student’s workplace settings are common differentiators:

  • Student demographics: Coursework typically focuses on high school or college level administration (and in some cases, primary school). How do you encourage your team to continue battling as the underdog? Where do you find inspiration for a star athlete sidelined with an injury? These types of questions require different responses and emotional support. You will develop more intricate knowledge of age- and maturity-related factors that constitute players’ mental and physical capabilities.
  • Workplace settings: Imagine planning for a football game against your heated rivals. How many people do you see in the stands? Hundreds? Thousands? Tens of thousands? Where you work determines a large part of your responsibilities. For example, preparing security detail is very different for one hundred fans than for one thousand. Certain knowledge is applicable no matter the setting; other times, you need to develop skills specific to your intended goal. Make sure you are aware of the potential challenges you could face and choose the program that adequately prepares you for the role.
  • Management vs. leadership: There are many similarities and differences between managers and leaders. We’re not saying one is better than another; rather, we want you to be aware that these two ideas should not be used interchangeably. If you’re looking for more leadership training, look for a program with leadership-centric coursework.

Career opportunities for athletics administration master’s graduates

Who employs master’s in athletics administration graduates? And what jobs are available?

Athletics administration master’s programs benefit professionals looking to work with athletic programs at a range of different levels. Here are some industries to consider as well as in-demand jobs available to graduates.

Education: preK-12 schools and universities/colleges

Schools of all types benefit from trained athletics educators with an administration background. Employers include preschools, elementary, middle, and high schools as well as higher education institutions and career colleges. And prospective professions are just as varied:

  • Director/Supervisor of Athletics 
    • Job description:
      • Establish rules and guidelines for athletics education and team sports at the school
      • Implement and manage upkeep of various athletic facilities
      • Lead and consult with faculty and staff in the development of athletics curriculum
      • Lead and consult with athletics administrators at the state and national level, as needed
  • Assistant or head coach 
    • Job description:
      • Develop individuals and teams to succeed in scheduled games and events
      • Design training schedule and consider modifications for injuries as needed
      • Tailor and tweak training approach to meet the needs of individual student athletes and the team at large

Businesses, nonprofits

Working with a corporate organization devoted to increasing employee health and activity can be an interesting way to use your athletics administration degree. You may also create a physical education program for a nonprofit that wants to serve its base with high quality physical activity.

  • Corporate trainer/instructor 
    • Develop and deliver training and workshops to increase physical health and introduce everyday athleticism into corporate life
    • Teach and lead teams through athletic activities designed to help bond work teams and build trust and engagement
  • Director of physical activities/education 
    • Work with a nonprofit to design and deliver quality athletic programming for the clients that the nonprofit serves
    • Teach and/or coach classes and team practices
    • Work with nonprofit leaders to fulfill mission of the nonprofit through athletic engagement