Neighborhood Pressure

June 7, 2016

Of all the forces working to cause adolescent youth to focus on a single sport to the exclusion of others, one of the most insidious and impactful is “neighborhood pressure.” It’s “keeping up with the Joneses” applied to youth sports instead of house, car and boat.

Some parents feel like bad people if they do not only facilitate but also force their child to keep climbing the sports ladder, moving from neighborhood team to select team to elite team, and from a season experience to a year-round commitment, and from local participation to a schedule that requires out-of-town travel for both games and practices.

“If the neighbors do this for their son or daughter, what kind of parent am I if I don’t do this for my child?”

Actually, the answer is that you are the smart parent – one who has read the literature and has learned that early and intense sport specialization is not best for your child’s future in sports or in life. Sport specialization is a less healthy experience – physically, emotionally and socially – for children ages 6 to 12; and it is no more likely to result in success in high school sports or a college athletic scholarship than a balanced youth sports experience.

All the intense specialization is certain to do is cost much more money than a college scholarship is worth, assuage parents’ consciences and give them topics to talk about at neighborhood gatherings.

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.