UW-Madison's Peter Miller working at intersection of education and athletics


More than fun and games: Miller working at intersection of education and athletics

Like most faculty members, UW– Madison Professor Peter Miller spent thousands of hours during his young adult life in a classroom, first earning an undergraduate degree in sociology at the University of Notre Dame before receiving a master’s in teaching at the University of Portland, and a Ph.D. in educational leadership and policy from the University of Utah in 2005.

It was time spent outside the traditional classroom setting, however, that Miller points to as being among the most influential in his life.

“Being a student-athlete at Notre Dame was undoubtedly my signature learning experience of my entire education career,” says Miller, who played men’s basketball for the Fighting Irish for four seasons, co-captaining the 1996-97 team. “My coach was John MacLeod, a former NBA coach who was this font of wisdom. He approached coaching as a way to prepare us for life.”

Peter MillerMiller is an award-winning teacher, mentor and academic with the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis (ELPA) whose research focuses on leadership, collaboration and organizational change in complex environments. Much of this work centers on education in contexts of homelessness.

In recent years, Miller has also started to explore the intersection of sports and education, while becoming increasingly involved with the UW Athletic Department and its work with 900 student-athletes across campus.

Miller is currently a member of the UW Athletic Board, and also serves as a university faculty representative to the Big Ten Conference and to the NCAA, college sports’ governing body. He also writes about leadership and reform in youth and intercollegiate athletics, and leads two classes, “Coaching Athletics — A Critical Analysis of Leadership Practice in a Sporting Society,” and “Critical Issues in Contemporary Sport.”

The ELPA 940 “Coaching Athletics” course was offered for the first time this past fall and featured guest speakers such as UW Athletic Director Barry Alvarez, and coaches from high school and college teams. Interestingly, one student in the class was first-year Badgers hockey coach Tony Granato, who was wrapping up his bachelor’s degree at UW–Madison during the 2016-17 academic year.

Miller says one focus of ELPA 940 was on the concept of the sporting society, and how sports are not a peripheral or trivial thing in American society.

“Many lives in America are lived through sports in various ways,” says Miller. “Sports can bring communities together. Think about how people in Wisconsin come together around the Badgers or Packers. So sports are more than fun and games. It’s a really substantive area of inquiry worth thinking about.”

Miller also notes how high school and college students bounce around to numerous classes each day, often changing teachers and professors at the end of a semester.

“But with a coach, you often build a longitudinal relationship with that person, often over four years, and that can have a significant influence on a student — good or bad.”

This class also examines leadership practice and the role of coaching. As Miller stresses, this is not a class on how to teach a 2-3 zone in basketball. Instead, it takes a closer look at the leadership roles of coaches in schools and communities, and analyzes what coaching could and should be.

“We have many students in our teacher education programs and graduate-level students across the School of Education who are already working in the schools and involved with sports in some way,” says Miller, whose first job after graduating from Notre Dame was as a teacher and basketball coach in Montgomery, Alabama. “I think these classes are important whether one wants to go into the coaching profession, serve on the local Little League board or better understand how sports and academics can work together to positively shape young people’s lives.”

© 2017 Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System • Please contact the School of Education External Relations Office with questions, issues or comments about this site.