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How to Become a Sports Administrator: How One Faculty Member Broke Into Sports Leadership

Industry Advice Leadership

Having a passion for sports can extend far beyond a hobby—but that doesn’t mean becoming a professional athlete is the only way to turn your interest into a career. There are plenty of opportunities in the sports industry that combine an interest in athletics with professional skills like leadership and management. If you have always wondered how to turn your love of athletics into a professional career, consider breaking into the world of sports leadership.

Here, we explore what sports leaders do, the common careers in this field, and advice from Dr. Pamela Wojnar who built a successful career in sports leadership.

What Do Sports Leaders Do?

Sports leaders inspire and motivate people within the world of athletics. They’re responsible for leading staff, strategic planning, creating a vision, and facilitating the achievement of organizational goals. 

As the North American sports market generated 69.14 billion U.S. dollars in revenue in 2017 and is forecasted to reach more than 80 billion dollars by 2022, it’s easy to see why talented leaders are in such high demand. 

Effective sports leaders must have excellent problem-solving, critical thinking, and decision-making skills to succeed in the industry. In addition to being leaders, they must become motivators and organizers for their teams, and work to help their teams accomplish their goals both as a whole and on an individual basis. 


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Common Careers in Sports Administration

There are many opportunities available for those looking to pursue a career in sports leadership. Some of the most popular careers include:

1. Head Coach

Head coaches oversee all activities of a sports team, from assisting athletes to reach their highest potential to planning training and determining game strategy. Additionally, head coaches must be familiar with the rules and regulations that govern their specific team to ensure compliance with all relevant policies. 

Salary.com reports that the average salary for head coaches of major sports is roughly $77,550, but can range from $62,368 to as much as $105,260 depending on a variety of factors. 

2. Athletic Director

Athletic directors at the collegiate level are responsible for a range of activities including, fundraising, public relations, ticket pricing and distribution, and equipment procurement. In a college setting, the athletic director supports the entire athletics department and develops overarching strategic goals and objectives for the department. 

College athletic directors earn an average salary of $114,900 each year but can earn as much as $155,300 annually, according to Salary.com.

3. Sports Information Director

Sports information directors play a vital role in the communications efforts of university-level athletics teams. Professionals in this role act as liaisons between the organization’s athletics department and relevant media outlets. The day-to-day activities of sports information directors often involve coordinating interviews, media access, press releases, and fundraising events, as well as collecting and analyzing information on competitive programs and games. 

Although sports information directors typically earn between $33,322 and $55,072 or more annually, the average salary for this role is roughly $41,049 per year.  

4. Gameday Operations Director

An incredible amount of hard work goes on behind the scenes to make sporting events possible. Gameday operations professionals are responsible for planning, setting up, and managing gameday events in a sporting facility. In order to be successful in this role, it is crucial to have strong leadership, communication, and organization skills. 

General and operations managers in the field of spectator sports earn an average annual salary of $118,980 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

5. Compliance Officer

Athletic compliance officers are responsible for developing procedures and policies to ensure compliance with all NCAA and conference regulations for a university or college athletics program. In this role, professionals must act as liaisons between coaches, the organization, and all governing bodies pertaining to the athletics department.

Data from Salary.com shows that assistant athletic directors for compliance typically earn an average salary of $70,611.

6. Public Relations Manager

Although public relations managers are important in any field of business, there is an increasing number of PR professionals working exclusively in sports. Public relations managers in the sports industry are charged with shaping public perception and increasing awareness for an athlete or team. Daily responsibilities often include preparing press releases, arranging news coverage or interviews, and creating promotional campaigns. 

According to the BLS, public relations and fundraising managers working in the spectator sports industry earned an average annual wage of $120,420.

Career Outlook

The sports industry is already a multi-billion-dollar field, and the BLS reports that employment for entertainment and sports occupations is projected to grow 10 percent from 2016 to 2026—faster than the average for all occupations. Employment for coaches and scouts specifically is expected to grow 13 percent over the same timeline. 

Increasing participation in high school and collegiate-level athletics has been a driver for this growth over recent years, as well as the demand from the public for professional sports as a form of entertainment. Sports-related organizations and businesses all over the country require skilled professionals to manage day-to-day operations. Sports leaders are vital components of the industry, and talented leaders with extensive experience in athletics are in high demand. 

Sports Management vs. Sports Administration

In addition to “sports leadership”, the terms “sports administration” and “sports management” are often used in discussion around the sports industry. 

Although sports management and administration are often used interchangeably, it is important to distinguish the differences between the two. Both terms refer largely to the same professions; however, there are subtle differences in the skills required and daily functions of each respective career path.

Sports management is more focused on the business skills required for managing athletics teams, such as marketing, financial management, and public relations. On the other hand, sports administration is more aligned to the development of athletes and teams, including training and optimizing performance. Sports leadership is needed in both of these disciplines and focuses on the skills needed to become an effective leader in a higher-level managerial or administration role. 

If you are looking to further your education to start a career in one of these fields, it is important to understand the differences between management and leadership focused degree programs. Sports management and administration programs provide specialized training in the operations of a sports business and serve as a great pathway to enter the industry. Conversely, enrolling in a sports leadership program can be a great opportunity for mid-career professionals who are looking to advance their careers. 

Breaking Into Sports Leadership: How Dr. Pamela Wojnar Built Her Career

Dr. Pamela Wojnar

Dr. Pamela Wojnar has been teaching in Northeastern’s Master of Sports Leadership program since 2012 and has worked in higher education for more than 25 years.  She spent the first 20 of these years in college athletics, holding positions such as athletic director, sports information director, head women’s basketball coach, assistant women’s volleyball coach, and compliance officer.

How has her career evolved, what leadership lessons has she learned, and why does she tell students it’s so important to volunteer? We spoke with Dr. Wojnar to learn more about how she broke into sports leadership and the advice she gives to aspiring sports leaders.

A Lifelong Passion for Sports

Dr. Wojnar grew up with a passion for sports. “Because my dad was in the Coast Guard, we moved around a lot when I was growing up,” she said. “Sports were my entry into things and a way to meet new people. I knew I could pick up a ball and be good at it. It gave me confidence.”

Prior to becoming professionally involved in sports leadership, Dr. Wojnar had a background in English and public relations. When she began volunteering as a basketball coach for young girls in her county, she realized she could turn her passion for athletics into a career.

Changing Careers to Become a Sports Administrator

She describes her decision to switch careers: “I wanted to give back, so I volunteered to coach eight- to 10-year-old girls in the league in my county. A county employee, who also coached tennis at a local college, recommended me an assistant basketball coach position at the school. After a year, I thought, ‘Someone will actually pay me to coach basketball full-time?’ So, I switched careers. Now, I tell students all of the time to go volunteer. You never know what you’ll learn or who you’ll meet.”

Lessons in Sports Leadership

As Dr. Wojnar advanced her career in sports, she learned many leadership lessons.

“A big lesson I learned [early on] as a student-athlete advisor was that you have to let things happen and not always take over. Your job is to catch students if they fail—not to fix things for them. People learn by doing. So it’s important to facilitate and support whomever you are leading, not just tell them what to do. Different situations require different approaches. You have to be able to blend these approaches.”

Through these experiences, she learned what it takes to not only be a successful sports administrator but how to be an effective leader both on and off the field. 

She says, “The biggest thing I’ve learned [throughout my career as a sports leader] is not to be afraid to say, ‘“I don’t know’” or to take someone else’s advice. When I was coaching, I found that I might be trying to get players to run a certain defense, but as a leader, it’s important to recognize when it’s better to ask the team what play to run, and listen to them.”

Advice to Aspiring Sports Administrators

Now, Dr. Wojnar has devoted her career to education as a full-time faculty member for Northeastern’s Master of Sports Leadership program. 

Some of the most important advice she offers to students is to take advantage of every opportunity to learn. She says, “I tell students to keep their eyes and ears open and pay attention because they will learn from everybody—even the worst teammates, colleagues, or bosses. Also, you have to be passionate. The hours are long and pay is not always great in the behind-the-scenes jobs, which are most of the jobs. Not everyone gets that big Division I contract. So if you don’t love it, you probably won’t survive.”

Becoming a Sports Administrator

If you see yourself becoming a dedicated leader in the field of sports administration, there are steps you can take to prepare yourself for a successful career in sports leadership. As Dr. Wojnar suggests, volunteering can be a great way to refine your skills and learn from others in the field.

Additionally, earning an advanced degree, such as Northeastern’s Master of Sports Leadership, can equip you with the skills necessary to break into the industry. Northeastern’s unique approach to experiential learning offers students the opportunity to learn from professionals who are currently active in the field. These faculty members serve as mentors and advisors, bringing their experiences to the classroom to help students develop the real-world skills needed in the industry. 

 


Prepare for a Successful Career in the Sports Industry

Learn how Northeastern’s Master of Sports Leadership program can accelerate your career.

EXPLORE THE PROGRAM