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.

The Specialty of School Sports

July 24, 2018

(This blog first appeared on on November 18, 2016.)

There is much finger pointing when it comes to sports injuries, and I’d like to point in a direction that is often missed.

Some people blame equipment – it’s either inadequate, or it’s so good that it encourages athletes to use their bodies in unsafe ways.

Some people say the rules are inadequate, or inadequately enforced by contest officials.

Some people say the pool of coaches is inadequate, or they are inadequately trained.

But let’s not miss the fact that risk of injury is inherent in athletic activities, and at least part of the reason injuries occur is because the participants are developmentally deficient. In fact, this may be the fastest growing contributing cause to injuries in youth sports. It’s not the sport; it’s the lack of development, the lack of physical preparation.

When rushed into early and intense specialization in a single sport, youth may not be ready for the rigors of that sport. Lindsay J. DiStefano, PhD, ATC, of the University of Connecticut, has researched the topic among youth basketball and soccer players and linked higher injury rates to lower sports sampling, and vice versa. Exposure to multiple sports during early childhood positively influences neuromuscular control and reduces injuries.

Do we encourage youth to sample several sports and help them learn basic athletic movements and skills? Do we offer opportunities to train and condition and focus special attention on strengthening knees and necks? Do we provide more time and attention on practice than on competition and assure safe technique is taught and learned?

Early and intense specialization, with excessive attention to competition, invites injury. There is a much healthier way for most youth – and that’s balanced, multi-sport participation – the specialty of junior high/middle school and high school sports.