What Is an Athlete Development Specialist?What Is an Athlete Development Specialist?What Is an Athlete Development Specialist?

Athletes of all ages and abilities benefit greatly from individualized coaching — and the need is strong and growing for highly trained experts who understand how to help athletes excel in their sport.

Students interested in working with athletes to help them balance their training, nutrition, and lifestyle in ways that help enhance their performance may be drawn to a career as an athlete development (AD) specialist. Professionals who choose this career path use their knowledge of the physiological and physical impacts of performance to help athletes create well-rounded lives on and off the field.

The first step toward becoming an athletic development specialist is to learn the professional foundations that define the field. Completing a baccalaureate degree, such as a bachelor’s in sport business management, can help prepare graduates with the in-demand skills to market themselves to potential clients.

An athletic development specialist shows a young athlete how to carry a football.

What Does an Athlete Development Specialist Do?

The primary role of AD specialists is to help athletes enhance their performance. For example, in addition to helping athletes improve their speed and agility, they may also help improve athletes’ strength and on-field decision-making. Additionally, they may help manage clients’ athletic careers, including professional development, media literacy, and brand management. Although the exact duties of AD specialists vary based on the clients they work with, common duties include the following:

  • Developing training programs and workouts
  • Demonstrating exercises
  • Conducting private and group training sessions
  • Monitoring athletes’ progress
  • Building relationships with athletes
  • Helping athletes manage challenges
  • Helping with nutritional, health, psychological, and maturation issues
  • Helping athletes develop professionalism, fiscal responsibility, and other skills
  • Helping athletes develop their careers and transition in and out of sports

Athlete Development Specialist Skills

Students interested in working as an AD specialist will be well-served by developing a variety of skills and competencies. Below are a few of the in-demand skills that aspiring athlete development specialists should focus on.

  • Attention to detail: Athletic development specialists need to pay close attention to verbal and nonverbal cues they receive from the athletes they work with. Individuals with a refined attention to detail are best able to pick up on subtle changes in athletes’ performance and endurance.
  • Compassion: Athletes striving to become faster, stronger, and more agile can often become frustrated during training. AD specialists should be sympathetic toward athletes who are struggling with their performance.
  • Listening skills: Professionals who choose this career path should know when to push clients harder and when to dial back. Refined listening skills are needed to ensure athletes’ feedback is being heard.
  • Decision-making skills: Individuals working in this field need to understand how various types of training can affect athletes’ performance. Strong decision-making skills help AD specialists choose the best and most appropriate training modules for their clients.

Athlete Development Specialist Salary

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not track athlete development specialists as a standalone category but includes them in the blanket profession of athletic trainers.

As of May 2020, the median annual wage for athletic trainers was $49,860, with those in the top 10th percentile reporting annual earnings of more than $75,810, according to the BLS. Salary ranges can vary widely based on several factors, such as experience level, education level, employer, and location.

How to Become an Athlete Development Specialist

Aspiring athlete development specialists come from a wide variety of backgrounds. Having experience as a professional athlete is not a prerequisite, but some athletic experience is often preferred.

Additionally, job candidates typically need at least a bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as psychology, business, or sport management (like the online bachelor’s in Rawlings Sport Business Management from Maryville University) to be considered for employment.

The coursework within Maryville’s dynamic online program is designed to provide the specific foundational knowledge and sport business skills to excel in this career path. In addition to covering topics such as finance, marketing, and management, students also have an opportunity to gain professional experience through competitive internships.

Pursue a Career in Sport Management

BLS data projects that employment of athletic trainers, including athlete development specialists, will grow by 23% between 2020 and 2030. This is much faster than the 8% predicted for the labor market as a whole. The BLS expects the demand for athletic specialists to be robust within sports programs for all ages.

Students interested in becoming AD specialists should start by developing the right skills. Are you ready to take the first brave step toward your goal of becoming an athletic development specialist?

Discover how earning an online Bachelor of Science in Rawlings Sport Business Management from Maryville University can help prepare you with the strong footing to embark on a career helping athletes achieve their best.

Recommended Reading

A Future in Sports: Pursuing a Business Degree vs. a Sports Management Degree

Social Media in Sports: Does Tech Help or Hurt Sports Culture?

How to Join Esports: A Look Into Collegiate Esports


Professional Association of Athlete Development Specialists, Who We Are

Professional Association of Athlete Development Specialists, Work in Sports

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Athletic Trainers

Welum, Athlete Development Specialist

Be Brave

Bring us your ambition and we’ll guide you along a personalized path to a quality education that’s designed to change your life.