Challenging Change

January 2, 2014

Everywhere we turn, we hear or read that things ought to change because, well . . . “The times are changing.”

How we raise children, how we educate students, how we work and worship . . . everything is subject to change, we’re told, because “times change.”

I suppose if we had evidence that the changes made in previous decades, because “It’s the 80s” or “It’s the New Millennium,” had really improved our world, I might be more taken with change for change’s sake today. But I see little evidence of stronger families, better schools, more fulfilling work or more faithful congregations today than in previous decades. Rather, I see a world in worse shape in many ways, even in the only part of that world where I have any expertise: sports.

One of the problems of youth sports today is the over-programming of our kids. A superficial comparison with youth sports of 2014 vs. 1964 reveals that today we have many more well-organized leagues in many more sports for many more kids than 50 years ago. They have better facilities, equipment and uniforms. They have coaches and officials and even boards of directors to hear the complaints and protests.

By contrast, in the 1960s there were just a few organized leagues in a few sports for a few kids; but even those kids spent most of their playing time in pickup games where they chose up sides, set the ground rules, and made the calls themselves. They settled arguments on the spot. They had to bring their own equipment, and take care of it. And if the ball went out of play, they had to hunt for it until they found it; because a lost ball meant not only that the game was over, it might also have meant the entire season was over.

When did kids learn more from youth sports: in the 1960s world of pickup games they managed for themselves, or in the more recent world of adult-directed travel teams and tournaments and trophies? Just because “times are changing,” should we program out all that was good about youth sports 50 years ago?

Of course not. Which is why those in our schools who want more and more contests for younger and younger grade levels must be cautious. It is possible to get too much of a good thing, and to get a good thing too soon.

Cheering for Sportsmanship

July 31, 2018

(This blog first appeared on on January 8, 2013.)

I try to start each new school year at the Michigan Interscholastic Press Association summer camp at Michigan State University. I talk briefly about who the MHSAA is and what it does; and then two or three dozen high school newspaper editors and writers ask me questions; and in doing so, they give me clues to what’s going on in our schools and what’s important to our students.

Several years ago, when I opened the session to questions, one young man asked: “Mr. Roberts, what’s your job?” I paused, and then said, “I guess I’m the head cheerleader for high school sports in Michigan.”

So then this precocious student asked: “Okay, what do you cheer for?”  With a briefer pause, this is some of what I said:

  • I cheer for sportsmanship that’s not merely good, but great.

  • I cheer for sportsmanship, not gamesmanship.

  • I cheer for playing by the rules, both the letter and the spirit.

  • I cheer for maximum effort to try to win each and every contest.

  • I don’t cheer for winning at any cost; I do cheer for learning at every opportunity.

  • I cheer for losing with grace and for winning with even greater grace, with humility and modesty.

  • I cheer for the lessons of victory and the even greater lessons of defeat.