Focus on Fun

June 2, 2017

Thousands of hours of professional development programs have been devoted to the topic of change and how to cope with what has changed, what is changing and what will change. But I’ve been impressed recently that it is more worthwhile to focus on what has not changed, is not changing and is unlikely to ever change.

John O’Sullivan, author and creator of Changing the Game Project (see, brought this most powerfully to my mind in an article he wrote for the Spring/Summer 2017 edition of Midwest Sports Planner, titled “Some Things Never Change: Applying the Amazon Business Model to Youth Sports.”

While I can think of several things about the Amazon business model that could corrupt youth sports, the point Mr. O’Sullivan makes is based on this answer Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos gave in an interview. Mr. Bezos said:

“I almost never get the question: ‘What’s not going to change in the next ten years?’ And I submit to you that question is actually more important (than what is going to change) because you build a business strategy around the things that are stable ...”

Mr. O’Sullivan asks: “What if we did the same thing in youth sports? What if we stopped worrying about everything that changes and instead focus on the one thing that does not?”

That one thing, according to O’Sullivan, is why kids play sports. “The answer, according to every piece of research I have ever read, in nearly nine out of ten athletes surveyed, is this: ‘Because it’s fun. I play sports because I enjoy them.’”

This squares with all the research we’ve received at the Michigan High School Athletic Association, and it admonishes local, league and state leaders of school sports to search for and deliver policies, procedures and programs that will keep fun foremost in school sports.

Fun does not mean frivolous or inconsequential. It doesn’t mean there can’t be high standards of eligibility and conduct. It doesn’t mean there are not aches and pains or highs and lows or lessons to be learned.

When properly focused, competitive interscholastic athletics trades in difficult fun, devoted friendships and dedication to fitness throughout life. And we should market ourselves accordingly.

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.