Redefining Winning (and Losing)

There’s been much media attention given to a boys basketball game in another state that turned into a brawl led by adult fans and resulted in suspension of both schools’ seasons and dismissal of both schools’ teams from the state basketball tournament.

From a thousand miles away, I can’t comment on who’s at fault or whether the penalty fits the crime. However, I shout a hearty “Amen!” to what that state’s high school association executive director had to say, according to one of the state’s major newspapers.

“We have too many people putting too much emphasis on winning, or on the wrong definition of winning. Their definition of winning is on the scoreboard only. It’s become a very big problem, and it’s not the (state association’s) definition of winning.”

He continued, “Sportsmanship has been eroded. We’re supposed to be teaching ethics, integrity and character to these kids . . .”

Spot on!

The biggest challenge we face in school sports administration across the country is communicating amidst the clutter of contradictory messages that the definition of winning – the meaning of success – is very different in student-centered, school-sponsored competitive athletics than in most other popular brands of sports.

This is educational athletics. It’s about learning far, far more than about winning, which is an important goal but nowhere near the highest objective in interscholastic athletics.

If we lose this perspective, all is lost.


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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.