The Limitation of Rules – Part 1

September 2, 2016

From the age of 10 to 20, my position as a baseball player was catcher. Sometime during that decade I was taught to return the ball to the pitcher with authority, with a snap throw from my ear, targeting the glove-side shoulder of the pitcher.

I caught every inning of every game, including doubleheaders. In those years, there was less concern than today for protecting the arms of pitchers, and there was no thought given to the throwing arms of catchers.

Today, the shoulder of my throwing arm is shot; I cannot throw a ball overhand with any force.

But here’s the thing. I didn’t ruin my throwing arm in youth and school baseball; I wrecked it as an adult doing silly things with a tennis ball on the beach with my teenage son. We had a blast for a summer afternoon, and I’ve paid for it the rest of my life.

The point of this brief baseball bio is to demonstrate an example of the limitations of rules.

We can identify dozens of risks to student-athletes and we can promulgate an equal number of rules to help them avoid injuries in our programs; but we cannot protect them against a lack of common sense in our programs or accidents in other aspects of their lives.

Even if we implement new rules to limit the number of pitches by a player, what good is that if, after reaching the limit, the pitcher and catcher switch positions? Do we need a rule to address that coaching decision too?

Do we need rules that prohibit large students from practicing against small, or experienced players from competing against inexperienced? How would we ever monitor or enforce such rules? Where do rules leave off and common sense take over?

Even if we put players in bubble wrap for sports, what do we do about their decisions away from sports, perhaps in vehicles, with their friends and their cell phones? Where do laws and rules stop, and personal responsibility start?

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.