The 76ers have hired Annelie Schmittel to be the team’s vice president of player development, a role in which she will oversee programs that help players both on and off the court in their personal and professional lives. She becomes the highest-ranking female basketball operations executive in the Sixers organization.
The position is a new one, created with the intention of linking multiple departments within the franchise and implementing a more holistic approach to player development.
Alex Rucker, the Sixers executive vice president of basketball operations, who hired Schmittel, said that on-court player development or skill acquisition — what people usually think when they hear “player development” — is a narrow portion of the overall player development department.
“On any given day, there’s probably three hours of focused team activity whether it’s game, practice, film, or something else,” he said. “My view is that the other 21 hours of the day and 365 days a year is an opportunity for the organization to focus on player development across a broad spectrum of basketball life.”
That includes everything from mental health support, financial literacy and planning, continued education, family dynamics, and any other service that the team can provide to help players.
“Whether you make $30,000 a year or $100,000,000 a year, life experiences still happen,” Schmittel said. “There’s deaths in the family, relationship issues, financial problems; there’s all of it. Anything you or I would experience, professional athletes experience it as well.”
The Sixers already had people working in most of these realms, but they weren’t necessarily linked or working in a synergistic way. That’s where Schmittel comes in. The goal is to make it seamless when a player needs help with something and have better communication between development departments.
Originally from Germany, Schmittel came to the United States when she was in high school on an exchange program and ended up staying to go to college. She ran track at Winona State University, but injuries forced her to stop competing in her junior year. She found that transitioning away from sports and competing was more difficult than she expected, so she started working at the collegiate level to help other athletes dealing with the same type of transition.
Becoming more interested in research surrounding player development, Schmittel went to the University of Florida, where she earned a PhD in sports communication. Most recently, she spent three years working with the Oakland Raiders as a member of their player-engagement staff, helping players transition into or out of the NFL and with any experience in between.
Being a woman in a male-dominated industry is not always easy, but Schmittel said that having more women in roles in professional organizations keeps the athletes grounded in what is real. It’s not like they are going to leave the NFL or NBA and be in a locker room full of men for the rest of their lives, so their work life shouldn’t be that way either — it should be balanced.
“If the organization doesn’t reflect what the real world looks like, then how are you doing athletes a favor? I think having females in this role can only be helpful,” Schmittel said.
Rucker said that he received more than 550 applications for the position and that Schmittel stood out. Her being a woman, Rucker said, had nothing to do with hiring her. It was Schmittel’s history of developing programs and getting players, their families, and their agents to buy into those programs that made her a star candidate.