A Different Language

January 16, 2015

Every other year my wife and I are able to spend the December holidays with our son and his wife who are international school educators, but we must journey to the other side of the world to make that happen. In crossing both the international dateline and the equator to see them in Australia last month, I learned a helpful lesson for those of us who try to communicate about school sports.
For two weeks I attempted to be a follower of Australia's "national pastime" -- cricket -- but try as I might, I could not grasp a passable understanding of the sport. On the surface, cricket seems a lot like baseball; but there are far more differences than similarities to the sport many North, Central and Latin Americans grew up with and know so well. I watched cricket on television and read the extensive newspaper coverage every day; but even after studying the rules and listening to and questioning a local expert, even the most basic rules, strategies and language of cricket remain mysteries to me.  
For a while at least, my struggle with cricket may make me more understanding of some parents and others who are so quick to criticize high school sports. Possibly I’ll be more purposeful and patient to explain our policies and the philosophies behind them.
Many of today's parents and spectators have never played the sports their children now play. They don't really know the rules and strategies of the games that were not a part of their upbringing, and they tend to be more unreasonably critical of decisions by coaches and officials in those sports.
Competitive cheer, gymnastics, lacrosse, ice hockey, soccer and other sports seem "foreign" to those who never played those sports. But it's true that in all sports we are likely to experience the most criticism, and the most unjustifiable complaints, where there is the least understanding or appreciation. That's true of a particular sport’s playing rules, and it's also true of the policies and procedures that govern all school sports. And in both cases, this demands extra effort on the part of coaches and administrators to communicate the rules and the reason for those rules.

Cheering for Sportsmanship

July 31, 2018

(This blog first appeared on MHSAA.com 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.