Leadership Impressions - #1 (The Double Win)

June 8, 2018

I have tried to treat the staff I’ve hired at the Michigan High School Athletic Association the way I wanted to be treated as a staff member before I came to the MHSAA as executive director. I wanted to be given a job and be allowed to run with it, without interference.

This dislike I have for micromanagement turned out to be a double win. Staff have enjoyed their freedom, and I’ve enjoyed mine. By not spending time overseeing and second-guessing staff, the executive director has had time to work on other matters.

Those other matters have sometimes turned out to be unique and defining features of the MHSAA. For example:

  • The only state high school association to publish an issued-focused magazine, benchmarks.

  • The only state high school association to conduct a face-to-face, multi-level coaches education program anytime, anywhere across the state, the Coaches Advancement Program.

  • The only state high school association to conduct the true sport of girls competitive cheer.

  • The only state high school association to mandate reporting of all suspected concussions in practices or competition for all sports by all member high schools.

  • The only state high school association to pay for concussion care “gap” insurance for all students in grades 6 through 12, at no cost to schools or families.

  • The only state high school association with a Task Force on Multi-Sport Participation.

But at least as often, this time for reflection has helped the association identify areas of weakness that could be turned into strengths. For example:

  • It allowed us to be among the nation’s earliest adopters of concussion protocols, and then to see the need to appoint a task force to address contact/collision exposure during football practice.

  • It allowed us to be among the earliest adopters of regular-season recommendations and postseason requirements for managing high heat and humidity.

  • It allowed us to move from the back of the room to nearly head of the class in terms of state high school association health and safety training requirements for coaches.

It was only because the MHSAA operated with a talented and empowered staff that the executive director could devote time to the NFHS Network during the past five years, serving as the Network board chairman during its first five years of operation. This forward-looking initiative is arguably the most effective platform the National Federation of State High School Associations has ever had for promoting school-based sports and the values of educational athletics.

A hands-off, lead-by-example leadership style unlocks the time leaders need to look down the road and around the corner, to try to separate trendy fad from fundamental trend.

Sports is a slave to defined season and contest starting and stopping points that promote routine. But in today’s world, school sports requires anything but routine thinking. And breaking from routine thinking demands that high school athletic association leaders leave their staff alone and replace as many supervisory hours as possible with opportunities to learn from people in other places working in other disciplines ... and then to disrupt our routines with some of those ideas.

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.