The best athletes make their performances on the field look effortless, though this success results from rigorous training and repetitive practice. Sometimes their off-the-field pursuits—like becoming a leader among classmates and learning financial proficiency—require preparation as well. For the first time, the Wharton Sports Business Initiative (WSBI) and the National Football League delivered a three-day program to give elite high school student-athletes the instruction they need on these skills.

This summer, the NFL-Wharton Prep Leadership Program brought 36 rising seniors to the Philadelphia campus to learn about leadership style, management principles, college admissions, academic success, goal setting, social media and networking. To be accepted, all participants had to demonstrate academic success, remarkable leadership records and athletic prowess.

“I think we got a very strong group of very highly talented students and also very talented athletes,” Derrick Heggans, managing director of the WSBI, told Wharton Magazine.

The program included traditional classroom lectures as well as activities that got them talking to each other and out of their seats. In the session “A Champion Does It Differently,” student-athletes practiced vocal warm-ups and learned about the importance of body language. In another session about negotiation led by Kenneth Shropshire, Wharton’s David W. Hauck Professor and faculty director of the WSBI, students paired up, one serving as buyer and one as seller, and worked to make a deal.

“This actually taught me a lot about myself,” one of the students said afterward.

During a team-building exercise in the session on personality styles, Daria Torres, an adjunct faculty member at the School, gave students each a picture card and instructed them to decide as a team how to arrange all the cards to tell a story. The students completed the task in about three minutes. Most groups of executives attempting the same exercise average more than seven minutes, Torres said.

Whether or not they become professional athletes and earn multimillion-dollar contracts, the students, who consisted of both girls and boys across various sports, will benefit from the financial literacy courses. When he learned about the new prep program, Robert Luna, WAM’11, a financial advisor whose clients include NFL lineman Levi Brown, noted the “gruesome” stats of pro athletes: for instance, how a high number of NFL players are bankrupt within two years of leaving the league. Other leagues’ stats are not far behind.

“There’s a lot of bad advice out there,” said Luna, CEO and chief investment officer at SureVest Capital Management.

Just as relevant, the athletes learned from each other. Heggans reported that a number of students voiced appreciation of the opportunity to meet their peers— kids also striving for positive academics, athletics and post-school goals.

Photo credit: Tommy Leonardi