The Importance of Play

September 9, 2016

In the usual post-Olympic sports news coverage there was the predictable commentary about over-commercialization of the Olympic movement and corruption of the Olympic ideal. Is this really what the Greeks intended?

Of course not.

But really, what do we do today that has any resemblance to what we intended a century ago when the “modern” Olympic movement was resurrected, much less to what was intended 27 centuries earlier when the ancient Olympics began?

But at least one thing with ancient Greek roots remains unchanged. It is this.

Plato, student of Socrates, mentor of Aristotle and founder of the “academy” in Athens during the heyday of the ancient OIympics, wrote that more can be learned about a person in an hour of play than a year of conversation.

That has not changed.

And that is one very important of very many reasons why play of a competitive nature – not mere recreation – matters, just as much today as 28 centuries ago. In fact, in this “modern” world of nonstop electronic conversation, the hour of physical engagement between people may be our most revealing communication.

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.