Practice Makes Perfect?

May 19, 2013

For years, leaders of educational athletics have been critical of sports specialization, citing the physical, emotional and financial price that is often paid by young people and their families as young athletes (or their parents) chase unrealistic dreams.  The weight of evidence I’ve seen has made me conclude that sports specialization is good for some, but a multi-sport experience is better for most young people.

Recently I’ve read about a new challenge to the sports specialization myth.  It’s called “interleaving.”  It posits that “mixing things up” is a better way to train; that brains and muscles get a better workout by mixing tasks.

This is getting national attention at which chronicles a 30-something commercial photographer, Dan McLaughlin, who quit his job in Oregon with the goal of becoming a top-level professional golfer.  He had read in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers that 10,000 hours of practice would gain him international expertise.

Along the way on this quixotic journey, Dan McLaughlin not only has been testing the 10,000-hour theory, he’s been testing interleaving – mixing lengths of putts during putting practice, mixing different types of shots on the driving range, etc.

Time magazine reported in April that this has the attention of UCLA’s Learning and Forgetting Lab which is testing the Florida State University theory popularized by Gladwell, and is searching for “the biological sweet spot.”

FYI:  McLaughlin has not yet qualified for the PGA tour.  But on the other hand, he still has about 4,000 practice hours to go.

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.