Outside View

October 4, 2011

Steve Jobs’ departure from Apple and then his death on Oct. 5 has caused just about every newspaper and business and technology magazine and online newsletter to provide its take on what Jobs meant to Apple, and to the world we live in.

Among the analyses I’ve read that could be most helpful to those in leadership of school sports is that of Cliff Kuang, before Jobs' death, in the October 2011 issue of Fast Company.  In “What Steve Jobs Can Still Teach Us,” Kuang comments on Jobs’ “ability to see a company from the outside, rather than inside as a line manager.”

Over his career, observes Kuang, “He (Jobs) became less enamored of tech for tech’s sake.  He blossomed into a user-experience savant.”  He took the “outside view of a user.”  Ultimately for Jobs, “usability was more important than capability.”

I suspect it would do us all well to take the same approach to school sports at the local and state levels; that is, to keep thinking about how the programs appear from the outside.  How they appear to the end-user.

It’s all well and good that our rules are correct in their philosophy; but if they don’t make sense to end-users or don’t work in practical application, we may have problems.  Same is true for our events, and for our technology.

It is impossible to expect complete understanding of all the policies and procedures of school sports or to avoid all controversy when the competing interests of partisans are involved as is the case in athletics.  Remembering, therefore, that the task is not to please but to serve is a necessary mindset, because service in this work often means saying “No” or citing violations and requiring forfeits.

But even as we do these necessary but unpleasant things, which we know in advance will not be universally understood and supported, it is good to be mindful of how it all looks from the outside.  It is most important that those in the necessary positions of doing these things be professional and consistent, with a steadfast commitment to apply policies and procedures uniformly.  When people view the organization from the outside, even if they don’t fully understand or agree with a decision, they must see that each rule is applied identically to every school, without favoritism, and that rules are not just made up as we go along to relieve a pressure point or grease a squeaky wheel.

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.