NAECAD offers first certification program for esports leaders

Formalized training through the association can enhance the careers of coaches and professionals, while helping school districts and organizations vet potential job candidates.

The National Association of Esports Coaches and Directors (NAECAD), an advocate for professional development for K-12 and higher education schools, has launched an esports Certification Program that is believed to be the first of its kind in the world.

The program will offer quality learning opportunities and formalized training for those looking to either get their start in esports or enhance their position in the field. NAECAD says it will offer both online and in-person instruction, with some courses being offered for as little as $30, or in some cases free, for members who pay the $150 initial fee to join.

“While many sessions are tailored to esports coaches, directors, and administrators, there are sessions that benefit the individual who knows nothing about the sport,” says Dr. Jay Prescott, Executive Director for NAECAD and Esports Director at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa. “Compared to other sports, esports is considered to be in the infant stages, with only a limited number who have experience serving as a coach or director.”

The certification program, known as NAECAD-CP, not only will help competitive esports leaders gain knowledge and track their learning, but it also will assist organizations in hiring high school, college, and professional level esports coaches and directors.

“Oftentimes schools are looking for potential candidates, and organizations are having to rely heavily on personality and playing experience,” Prescott says. “Understand, there is much more to the role that is needed. The certification program allows an organization to see a person’s knowledge and commitment, increasing the confidence when the hiring occurs.”

Equipping coaches to lead

Experts within specific fields have created curriculum and assessment development for course offerings, with an emphasis on “Equipping to Lead”, according to Prescott. One of the major caveats of the program – and something missing on the esports scene – it will offer formalizing certification levels to be recognized within the competitive esports ecosystem.

“Learning from others is a powerful resource that is often times under-utilized, and the certification program centralizes this process,” Prescott says. “Organizing one’s learning and demonstrating proficiency continues to be needed, especially when administration and stakeholders are still uncertain of the benefits competitive esports brings to their campus and community.”

The CP assures that esports coaches and directors attain a level of demonstrated expertise and proficiency in four core competencies:

  • Program Philosophy
  • Organization and Administration
  • Player Growth and Development
  • Student Success.

“They have been designed to ensure a person’s learning is all-encompassing, yet broad enough to tailor to personal interest and needs,” Prescott says. “The goal is for these individuals to be successful in their sport and with their student-athletes.”

Program participants can distinguish themselves by demonstrating proficiency in specific areas in Learning Levels, completing each stage with 10 credits. They will be able to select courses within the four competency categories and can take three different paths to achieving those credits, “eliminating any possible barrier that might exist which prevents learning,” according to Prescott.

How certification works

Each session contains a presentation, a form of guided notes, and an assessment to ensure a minimum level of proficiency has been met. A dedicated learning management system will house and track each participant’s progress.

There are three ways to take sessions through the program:

  • NAECAD is offering a library of sessions that address leading an esports program, both at a macro and micro level.
  • At regional clinics and national conventions. Attendees at these shows – which include NAECAD’s national convention and the Academic Esports Conference and Expo – will feature accelerated learning for participants, who can also track completed courses and credits online. Prescott says “these events also provide increased networking and learning opportunities that will grow awareness to competitive esports as a sport and profession.”
  • Serving in leadership roles. Individuals can receive credit simply by serving in a leadership role within an esports program at a high school, collegiate, or professional level.

“Nothing replaces the learning that occurs through a year’s worth of experience, encountering anticipated and unanticipated needs and challenges,” Prescott says. “Leadership experience provides direct insight on areas specific to a given role and allows the leader to tailor their personal development in a great way.”

The mission of NAECAD, which was launched in 2019, has been to provide a formal structure of quality education for its members and those in leadership positions, both in schools and within the industry. Its new CP offers a pathway to give participants the necessary content, tools, and guidance to lead a successful program.  Prescott highlights three areas he says are difference-makers with the program: Life-Long Learning, Learning All in One Place and Validating Proficiency.

“There is always room for growth in learning,” he says. “The purpose of the certification program is not only to fill the gaps of each individual’s knowledge but to allow leaders to stay up to speed with current trends within the industry and competitive esports landscape. Learning from others continues to be a main resource in development, especially when you are learning from top leaders within a specific field.”

For more information on NAECAD and its certification program, log on to

Chris Burt is the Esports Editor for District Administration and the Program Chair for the Academic Esports Conference & Expo. He can be reached at


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