October 18, 2011

The phrase “throw in the towel” comes from the sport of boxing.  It recalls a manager throwing a towel into the ring to stop a bout in which his boxer is getting badly beaten.

Over the years I watched a lot of administrators of schools and school sports throw in the towel as they’ve watched their ideas and ideals get bruised and battered, and as they suffered constant and frequently unfair criticism.

Criticism is a fickle thing.  It can be motivating or maddening.  To some people criticism is one or the other; to other people criticism sometimes has a positive effect, sometimes the opposite.

Criticism from a well-informed source who has tried to see the matter from multiple perspectives and who delivers the opinion privately will almost always have two positive effects.  First, it will influence future thought processes and decisions.  Second, it will establish a closer relationship – even a good friendship – between the parties.

It is criticism based on bad information or from a biased viewpoint delivered by gossip or in group settings that is least productive to the cause and most poisonous to the community.

But even bad news badly delivered can be motivating.  While sometimes it may give rise to brief thoughts of “why bother?”, it more often motivates me to work harder, to serve better, to think wider and deeper, and to give more.  This reaction is a result of many life experiences, including school and college sports participation.

Those of us who played competitive athletics were subject to much criticism throughout our playing careers.  Sometimes it was unfair, and we learned to rise above it.  But usually the criticism was from a coach who knew his or her stuff, who thought we could do better, and who was giving us the information to become better.  While some people merely survive criticism, competitive athletics can teach us how to thrive on it.

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.