Sportsmanship in our Bones

When my younger son was playing soccer – he was seven or eight years old at the time – he tumbled out of bounds and down a little hill. When he climbed back up the slope to the soccer pitch he was covered in burrs.

As he began to delicately remove the prickly burrs, play resumed – except that one player on the opposing team, the player marking my son, stopped to assist my son in removing the prickers. And he continued to help my son until all the burrs were removed. Only then did the two of them rejoin the game, together.

Observing this profoundly shaped my belief that sportsmanship is not dead. It’s not out of date and it’s not out of style. Good sporting behavior is in our bones, in our DNA.

Even before they can pronounce the word, and long before they can define it, kids know what sportsmanship is.

Change the rules in the middle of a game with six, seven or eight year olds – any card game, board game or sports game – and they’ll shout, “Hey, that’s not fair!”  We must assure that natural instinct is still demonstrative when they are 16, 17 and 18 year olds.

Posted in: Sportsmanship


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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 44 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 seven years, and is a past-chair of the board of directors of the Michigan Society of Association Executives. He is vice chair and secretary of the board of trustees for the Capital Region Community Foundation.

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.