Athlete Development Professional Certification Program

Program Overview

Player engagement — a key role inside most sports organizations — requires more than a passion for players; it requires management and leadership skills to work effectively with athletes, their families, and other stakeholders.

Wharton's Athlete Development Professional Certification Program offers a unique professional development experience targeted at those directors looking to build up their management and strategic skills, especially if they have not had traditional business school training.

Designed by Wharton faculty and National Football League insiders through the Wharton Sports Business Initiative, this program consists of a four-day in-person module and a hands-on small-group project.

Program Experience

Highlights and Key Outcomes

In the Athlete Development Professional Certification Program, you will:

  • Develop essential management and leadership skills, including critical thinking and decision-making, negotiation, influence and persuasion, finance for the sports professional and collegiate athlete, and crisis and media communications
  • Hone your personal and professional leadership skills to motivate and engage peers, players, staff, and league decision-makers

Experience & Impact

Julia Martin from the University of Pennsylvania talks about the camaraderie and community that develops in the Athlete Development Professional Certification Program.

Sports player–engagement directors know the stakes are high for sporting organizations, especially when the public spotlight turns to a team or an individual player. They need to be prepared for the unexpected, equipped with the leadership training to handle any situation, and a solid and trusted resource for player development.

Wharton faculty, led by Ken Shropshire, faculty director of the Wharton Sports Business Initiative, apply their field-based research and the latest strategic insights to help participants strengthen their management skills and ability to effectively influence players and others. Shropshire worked closely with the NFL to design an executive education program that meets the needs of these sport player–engagement directors, many of whom are former professional athletes themselves. Now they can gain additional skills they need to be successful by enhancing their critical thinking and decision-making, crisis communication, and leadership capabilities.

Emphasizing the importance of strategic and personal leadership, this program presents a comprehensive approach to leadership and business acumen development to help participants serve players with clarity, consistency, and credibility, which, in turn, will position them for long-term success.

Session topics include:

  • Working Across Organizational Boundaries
  • Building a Learning Community
  • Management Negotiation Workshop
  • Critical Thinking and Decision-Making
  • Leading with Emotional Intelligence
  • Making the Most of Your Communication Style
  • Playing to Your Strengths

Chic Ejiasi, Tennessee Titans

Through highly interactive lectures and group application projects, both in the classroom and in smaller work groups, this certification class will equip participants with the ability to be a stronger leader by knowing their strengths and how best to communicate with and influence others.

Upon completion of this program, participants will better understand how to enhance a player’s growth and have the skills and confidence needed to create, lead, and manage effective player-growth strategies. In addition, they’ll develop a strong network of program graduates and colleagues across sports leagues and college and university athletic departments.

During this program, participants will:

  • Stay engaged and connected with colleagues in between sessions through online content and action learning projects
  • Apply classroom discussions and newly acquired professional skills to real challenges facing themselves and their colleagues through hands-on, small-group projects
  • Handle high-profile leadership moments and crises while guiding players through the process
  • Better understand how to enhance a player’s growth and have the skills and confidence needed to create, lead, and manage effective player-growth strategies

Who Should Attend

The Athlete Development Professional Certification Program is designed for professionals currently in the athlete engagement or player engagement role in either professional or collegiate athletics, with a minimum of three years’ experience. The program also is ideal for professionals currently in the sports industry management field in either professional or collegiate athletics looking to move into the athlete engagement or player engagement role.

The NFL and Wharton will jointly review applications and determine acceptance to ensure diversity of experience within the group. Faculty tailor the program content to address the most pressing leadership issues facing this group, so participants enjoy a learning experience that truly resonates with them and meets their learning needs.

Participants leave the program with an expanded peer network, plus specific tools and frameworks they can use to make a meaningful strategic impact on the players they serve and the overall sports organization.

Fluency in English, written and spoken, is required for participation in Wharton Executive Education programs unless otherwise indicated.

Plan Your Stay

This program is held at the Steinberg Conference Center located on the University of Pennsylvania campus in Philadelphia. Learn more about planning your stay at Wharton’s Philadelphia campus.


Kenneth Shropshire

Kenneth Shropshire, PhDSee Faculty Bio

Academic Director

David W. Hauck Professor Emeritus of Legal Studies and Business Ethics, The Wharton School; Adidas Distinguished Professor of Global Sport and CEO of Global Sport Institute, Arizona State University

Research Interests: Antitrust, contracts, negotiation and dispute resolution, the sports industry

Anne Greenhalgh

Anne Greenhalgh, PhDSee Faculty Bio

Deputy Director, Wharton Leadership Program; Adjunct Professor of Management, The Wharton School

B Cade Massey

Cade Massey, PhDSee Faculty Bio

Practice Professor, Operations, Information and Decisions, The Wharton School

Research Interests: People analytics, judgment under uncertainty, organizational behavior

Greg Shea

Gregory Shea, PhDSee Faculty Bio

Adjunct Professor of Management; Senior Fellow, Wharton Center for Leadership and Change Management; Adjunct Senior Fellow, Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics, The Wharton School

Research Interests: Leadership, leadership of change, organizational innovation


Jacques McClendonLos Angeles Rams

China JudeQueens College

Dwight HollierNFL

Allison VenellaVillanova University

Parys HaralsonSan Francisco 49ers

Having the opportunity to partake in the Wharton Athlete Development Professional Certification Program was instrumental in so many ways. This program offered the chance for continual learning by providing better insight into the ever-evolving business of organizational development in professional sports. In the area of player engagement, it is important to have the wherewithal to communicate with players, coaches, and management; the Wharton program really helped provide valuable tools beneficial in enhancing the ability to effectively do so. While it was extremely helpful to me, anyone interested in periodic professional growth and development would benefit from this certification program.”

Tina TuggleNFL Director of Player Engagement, Tennessee Titans

The teaching at Wharton’s Athlete Development Professional Certification Program helped me identify valuable traits in my leadership style that I had overlooked in the past. I was able to feel more comfortable ‘selling’ myself in short conversations with key shareholders within my organization that gave key personnel a better understanding of the value I bring to the organization as a whole. I developed the skill of packaging my passion in a way that communicates genuine concern and accountability to our club’s vision.”

Harry SwayneNFL Director Player Engagement, Baltimore Ravens

I would recommend the NFL/Wharton Athlete Development Professional Certification Program to anyone who has a passion for developing athletes at the youth, collegiate, or professional level. The program included presentations by industry experts as well as engaging discussions led by my peers. It challenged me to critically evaluate my business skills, especially in negotiations, and I have been able to implement some of the best practices in my day-to-day operations.”

Katie DouglassNFL Director of Player Engagement, Kansas City Chiefs

Thanks to the NFL/Wharton Athlete Development Professional Certification Program, I’ve experienced a significant difference in my ability to work in group settings productively and efficiently. The curriculum in the program has also improved my ability to speak publicly with an increased comfort level. One of the added benefits to that point is the marked improvement in my negotiating skills, which allows me to leverage opportunities on behalf of my organization. Anyone who intends to strengthen themselves professionally and maximize their personal growth should take part in this program.”

Karen GerstleNFL Players’ Assistant, Philadelphia Eagles

Date, Location, & Fees

Session Information TBD

Download the program schedule, including session details.

Download Schedule

Hotel Information

Fees for this program include accommodations and meals. Prices are subject to change.

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