A Meaning-Driven Brand

June 5, 2012

One of the apparent conclusions of the MHSAA online “Have Your Say” opinion poll conducted five years ago that continues to guide us today, is that the character of school sports is key to the appeal of school sports.  This is true for both sponsoring school personnel and for those participants and spectators regularly involved in school sports.  This suggests that to keep our core customers, we must preserve our core characteristics.  That whatever changes occur in school styles and structures, we must maintain by our policies and programs the features and values which our core customers have experienced and both want and expect to continue.

It may sometimes feel that we are swimming against the current of public opinion when we enforce rules that define student eligibility or the limits of competition and travel, but the development and implementation of such restrictions might be essential to the expectations of our core constituents for the experience they remember for themselves and want for their children or team.

Just because schools change, it is not necessary that rules of school sports change as well.  Sometimes, perhaps.  But not always or even often.  Leadership must always consider the program without a rule before we do away with the rule.

It is not too strong to state that schools seek MHSAA membership precisely because there are rules.  In fact, schools formed the MHSAA to be their vehicle for making and enforcing rules.  Just as participation by students is more valuable to them and their schools where standards of eligibility and conduct are higher, so is membership by schools in an organization more valuable where such standards are developed and enforced.

The Culting of Brands is a good book with a bad title in which author Douglas Atkin writes about the success of “a meaning-driven brand.”  He says, “The product carries the message and then becomes it.”  These kinds of brands, he says, are really beliefs.  “They have morals – embody values.”  They “stand up for things.  They work hard; fight for what is right.”

Ultimately, it is exactly this that is expected of the high school brand of competitive athletics in Michigan.

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.