Athlete Development: A Career Pathway for Women Interested in a Career in Sports


From the time I was a scholarship basketball student-athlete at the University of Houston, I have been coached, mentored and developed by outstanding women and men leaders who shaped my amazing career in sports. My background and experiences as a lifelong educator and sports administrator have provided me with a unique perspective on the sports industry and insight on how we can work together to help achieve the mission of our universities.

As women achieving leadership positions in sports continue to break barriers and shatter glass ceilings in numerous positions, including broadcasting, management and coaching, they have also become increasingly visible in the area of athlete development. While this has become an exciting new career pathway for women, very little is understood about the term athlete development. What does the position entail? How does one prepare for it? What, if any, are the differences between college and professional level positions? How does one get a job in the field?

Athletics departments and universities have provided academic and support services for college student-athletes for years. Since the mid-1980s, professional sports organizations and player unions have provided various services and resources to promote the personal and professional development of athletes. Leadership at both levels seem to understand the importance of investing in their most valuable asset to fulfill their organizations’ mission, build and maintain public support, secure financial resources to operate successfully and maintain business relationships and partnerships that grow and enhance their brands.

Today’s athletes are keenly aware of their personal brand, value to their organization and capacity for impacting society. Athletes are socially-conscious, politically-astute and personally engaged in their communities. Women athletes, especially, have found their voice and are beginning to take advantage of well-earned opportunities that can broaden the discussion about gender equality and equity in sports. This is a wonderful time in the history of sports to promote and develop the unique attributes, skills and talents of women who are seeking a career in the sports industry.

Visionary leaders have recognized the importance of athlete development as a key function in their organizations. Several have created high level leadership positions and hired women who are directly responsible for designing and implementing innovative initiatives, programs and services that not only advance the personal and professional development of athletes but also contribute to organizational performance and success. Examples include: Annelie Schmittel, Vice President of Player Development, Philadelphia 76ers; Dr. Stephany Coakley, Sr. Associate Athletic Director, Health, Wellness, Performance, Temple University; Stacey Lovelace, Player Development Specialist, NBA G League and Dr. Marissa McNichols, Director of Leadership and Development, Boston University Athletics.

After years of career coaching women seeking to enter and advance in the field of athlete development and recognizing the need for a defined career pathway, my consulting company, Hilliard Solutions, partnered with Scholar Baller, Athletes Think and the Diversity & Social Issues in Sports Graduate Class at the University of Central Florida to create the first-ever Women in Athlete Development Symposium and Networking Event April 1st at UCF. The event is also a result of my over 25 years of experience at the high school, college and professional levels developing elite amateur and professional athletes and training staff at premier institutions around the country on how to provide best-in-class programs that help athletes maximize their educational and athletic opportunities.

The April 1st event is bringing together the country’s leading women industry experts to discuss the history, evolution, current and future state of athlete development. Symposium attendees represent college institutions and athletic departments, professional sports leagues and unions, current and recent sports administration and social work graduate students and entrepreneurs. The goal of the event is to provide education, training, mentoring and networking opportunities in an intimate setting that help prepare women to:

  • Enter, advance, transition into the field of athlete development
  • Identify education, training and experience needed in the field
  • Identify career opportunities
  • Overcome gender barriers
  • Build a network to advance their careers

Event leaders are:

Kim Durand, Senior Associate Athletic Director for Student Development, University of Washington
Corliss Fingers, Director of Strength & Conditioning, BethuneCookman University
Libba Galloway, Visiting Assistant Professor of Business & Sport Law Stetson University
Jessie Gardner, Assistant Athletics Director for Student-Athlete Enhancement, University of Alabama
Ayana Lawson, Director of Community and Lifestyle Services, Oklahoma City Thunder
Erica N. Nelson, Director of Student-Athlete Development, University of Arkansas
Dr. Marissa Nichols, Director of Leadership & Career Development, Boston University Athletics
Dr. Michael Sagas, Professor, Department of Tourism, Recreation and Sport Management, University of Florida
Allison Waymyers, Owner & Founder, Spry Players Group, LLC.

Hilliard Solutions is interested in partnering with educational institutions, graduate programs, sports business organizations and others to continue sponsoring the Women in Athlete Development Symposium & Networking Event. Contact Dr. Janice Hilliard at drj@hilliardsolutions.com for information on this event and Hilliard Solutions’ consulting services.

Janice L. Hilliard, Ph.D. - GUEST BLOGGER

President & CEO of Hilliard Creative Education & Development Solutions, LLC (Hilliard Solutions)

Dr. Janice L. Hilliard is President & CEO of Hilliard Creative Education & Development Solutions, LLC (Hilliard Solutions), a unique consultancy firm that assists educational institutions and professional sports and community organizations with fulfilling their mission of helping athletes maximize their athletic and educational opportunities and preparing them for successful lives after sports. Dr. Hilliard spent fifteen years at the National Basketball Association where she was most recently Vice President of Player Development. She has been a secondary education teacher, coach and counselor in Texas and Michigan, Assistant Director of Minority Affairs at Central Michigan University, an NCAA intern and Associate Director of Athletics at the University of Houston and the University of North Carolina. She earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Health and Physical Education from the University of Houston where she was co-captain of the women's basketball team, a Master’s Degree in Urban Counseling and Ph.D. in K-12 Educational Administration from Michigan State University. She is a graduate of the prestigious Sports Management Institute, Professional Association of Athlete Development Specialists Executive Leadership Academy and Women in The Spotlight Brand Leadership Institute. Dr. Hilliard is a member of the American Counseling Association, Professional Association of Athlete Development Specialists, National Association of Academic and Student-Athlete Development Professionals, National Alliance of Social Workers in Sports and the Michigan State University College of Business Sports Management Advisory Board. She is a recipient of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund Founders Award, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. Community Member of the Year Award, National Girls and Women in Sports Day Award and International Association of Women Woman of Wonder Honoree.