Vincent Minjares is a PhD candidate studying coaching and pedagogy in New Zealand. Vincent’s research work is focused on sports and teams, and we were excited to speak with him about this unique topic.
Vincent has loved sports since his childhood, which greatly influenced his career path. His family enjoyed watching the Los Angeles Lakers and UCLA basketball together. Additionally, Vincent’s dad played in a local basketball league and spent 10 years as a league director. Vincent was constantly surrounded by the game; players would stay at his house and practice in his backyard. Through all of this exposure, he fell in love with the game and would wake up at 6 am to play before school. He even memorized his favorite players’ birthdays. It can be easy to underestimate the importance of children’s hobbies, but as Vincent explained, “I directly link the work that I’m doing now to the way that I grew up and the love of basketball that I found through playing with family and friends.” This demonstrates how a casual hobby can become so much more.
Vincent’s work, while related to sports, is also closely attached to education, human development and, especially, pedagogy. He previously worked as a skills trainer, and during this time grew interested in theories of learning. Vincent was also troubled by the trend of young athletes struggling academically, despite performing well athletically. In the U.S., this is an especially problematic issue for urban communities where basketball and football predominate and the allure of a professional sporting career can overtake the high school experience. Vincent found that many of his students loved learning about basketball, but did not have the same interest when it came to school. That experience motivated him to study sports through an educational lens.
As a result, Vincent decided to pursue a master’s in education at the University of California Berkeley. His program concentrated on ‘Cultural Studies of Sport in Education.’ Most of the discussion in his classes focused on how sports intersect with issues of race, class, gender, culture and education. The discussion often revolved around college sports in the U.S. At the same time, Vincent had a job where he provided academic support to NCAA Division 1 student athletes. This gave him hands-on experience to apply to his coursework and after graduating, he began doing this full-time.
This position brought interesting challenges because in the U.S. there is a lot of negative press around the academic motivation and the legitimacy of scholarship student-athletes. In his work, Vincent often faced the stereotype that his job only existed to keep students eligible for sports. However, as an academic counselor, he gained access to scholarship athletes in a way that is largely invisible to the general public. Together, he and his students explored how their sporting lives intersect with their academic coursework. Although this work occurred entirely off the court, this aspect of Vincent's career extended his interest in building relationships with competitive athletes and supporting them holistically.
Vincent next decided to pursue a PhD in coaching and pedagogy. Vincent was inspired to focus on coaching because, throughout his life, coaches have always been an extension of his family. His dad was his first coach and in middle and high school his coaches regularly drove him home and fed him. About 10 years ago, Vincent took on a coaching role when he started a basketball academy. Here, he dedicated mornings, evenings and weekends to work with more competitive players who had aspirations to play in college. In the middle of the day, he studied sports psychology, strength & conditioning, pedagogy and youth development. This sparked a love for human development work that led to his PhD project.
For his dissertation, Vincent is studying athlete learning and the cognitive demands of competitive sport. As he explained,
“Anti-intellectualism towards sport shows itself in dumb-jock stereotypes and the tendency to explain sport performance through genetic superiority or natural talent. However, as theories of learning make their way into sport coaching, we are learning how athlete decision-making is not a fixed ability but improvable through discovery, experimentation and play.”
Over the course of 15 months, Vincent immersed himself in the basketball ecosystem of a senior boys team in Auckland, New Zealand. In his exploratory case study, he used a participatory approach to probe the ‘tactical’ learning experiences of a mid-level program. Specifically, he traced how the team dealt with novel problem situations that demanded innovation in play. Vincent focused primarily on emergent issues in player decision-making that could not be planned for or easily resolved and thus called for deeper inquiry and experimentation. In a participant observer role, he became a part of the team in order to stimulate discussion and support the sense-making process. This included advising the team on how to design the training environment, modeling feedback, and talking through issues with players and coaches. By diving into the learning experiences of athletes, Vincent hopes we can improve our understanding of how sport challenges young people to problem solve collectively in the face of novelty.
As Vincent begins the final stages of his project, he has begun to think about his career moving forward. He plans to explore academic jobs, but he also has a passion for designing learning programs and providing direct services to coaches, athletes and other stakeholders in sport and education and would like to pursue this. For the long-term, Vincent’s ideal job would be to lead a consulting agency that conducts action research with competitive sporting organizations. This would merge his dual interests in supporting on-the-ground practice and advocating for change through research.
To close, we asked Vincent what his favorite and least favorite things about working in this field are. He replied, “As someone who loves basketball, enjoys working with young people and finds joy in learning, I feel lucky to be able to earn a doctorate in this area. It combines all of my most cherished activities and interests.” His major concern about sport coaching and talent development is the overemphasis that is placed on the pedagogical method and quantitative methodologies. Learning is not simply a matter of how a coach runs a training. This is but one piece of a much larger puzzle. He views athlete learning as a function of inquiry and thinks this should be more widely recognized.
We really enjoyed our conversation with Vincent, because his research is so unique and involves a topic which is relatable to so many. We know he has an amazing career ahead of him where he will be able to positively impact the lives of many athletes and coaches. At Conseris, we love supporting these types of researchers and helping them to make their research more efficient. Want to learn more? Visit our website today.