Leading with Heart

June 26, 2018

“I hope you have thick skin.”

Those were my mother’s first words when I informed her in 1986 that I would become the executive director of the Michigan High School Athletic Association. Mother spoke from experience, being married to the executive director of the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association from 1957 through 1985. She witnessed how consistent and cruel criticism can be toward those administering a competitive enterprise which almost daily declares winners and losers by virtue of time, distance or score.

The past 32 years have shaded my hair and softened my waist; and while the years have also toughened my hide, they have not hardened my heart. From the very first days until now, I’ve led with my heart and exposed my passion and convictions.

I do not apologize that I’ve placed greater importance on character building than skills development. On team over individual. On the needs of the 99 percent of participants over desires of the one percent of elite athletes. On subvarsity programs. On junior high/middle school students.

On practice, more than competition. On the regular season, more than postseason tournaments. On multi-sport participation. On leadership training. On sportsmanship. On coaches education, especially with respect to health and safety.

There will always be calls for more ... longer seasons, additional games, more distant travel, larger trophies. More necessary are the voices that recall the mission of competitive sports within schools, recite the core values of educational athletics, and work to reclaim the proper place of sports in schools and of school sports in society.

I believe that under-regulated competition leads to excesses, but properly conducted and controlled competitive sports is good for students, schools and society; and I believe a life devoted to coaching or administering such a program is a life well lived.

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.