Focus on Fun

Thousands of hours of professional development programs have been devoted to the topic of change and how to cope with what has changed, what is changing and what will change. But I’ve been impressed recently that it is more worthwhile to focus on what has not changed, is not changing and is unlikely to ever change.

John O’Sullivan, author and creator of Changing the Game Project (see changingthegameproject.com), brought this most powerfully to my mind in an article he wrote for the Spring/Summer 2017 edition of Midwest Sports Planner, titled “Some Things Never Change: Applying the Amazon Business Model to Youth Sports.”

While I can think of several things about the Amazon business model that could corrupt youth sports, the point Mr. O’Sullivan makes is based on this answer Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos gave in an interview. Mr. Bezos said:

“I almost never get the question: ‘What’s not going to change in the next ten years?’ And I submit to you that question is actually more important (than what is going to change) because you build a business strategy around the things that are stable . . .”

Mr. O’Sullivan asks: “What if we did the same thing in youth sports? What if we stopped worrying about everything that changes and instead focus on the one thing that does not?”

That one thing, according to O’Sullivan, is why kids play sports. “The answer, according to every piece of research I have ever read, in nearly nine out of ten athletes surveyed, is this: ‘Because it’s fun. I play sports because I enjoy them.’”

This squares with all the research we’ve received at the Michigan High School Athletic Association, and it admonishes local, league and state leaders of school sports to search for and deliver policies, procedures and programs that will keep fun foremost in school sports.

Fun does not mean frivolous or inconsequential. It doesn’t mean there can’t be high standards of eligibility and conduct. It doesn’t mean there are not aches and pains or highs and lows or lessons to be learned.

When properly focused, competitive interscholastic athletics trades in difficult fun, devoted friendships and dedication to fitness throughout life. And we should market ourselves accordingly.


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About the Author

Jack Roberts

Jack Roberts has been at the helm of the MHSAA as its Executive Director since 1986, implementing programs and overseeing tournament administration and regulations for the Association which boasts 1,500 member schools, 10,000 registered officials and 13,000 head coaches.

During the last 45 years, Roberts has spoken to educator and athletic groups, business leaders and civic groups in almost every state and five Canadian provinces. He is one of the nation's most articulate advocates for educational athletics.

Roberts has served on the board of directors of the National Association of Sports Officials (NASO), is in his second term on the board of the National Federation of State High School Associations, and is the first chairman of the NFHS Network board of directors. He has been board president for the Refugee Development Center for nine years, and is a past-chair of the board of directors of the Michigan Society of Association Executives. He is chair of the board of trustees for the Capital Region Community Foundation for 2018.

He is a 1970 graduate of Dartmouth College, where he played defensive safety for the Ivy League's winningest football team during that span, and he sang in Dartmouth's close harmony vocal group.

His wife, Peggy, has retired from a 30-year career in social services, and is serving as president of the board of the Fenner Nature Conservancy in Lansing.