Reserve Lessons

January 26, 2018

Nothing prepared me for coaching more than the time I spent sitting on the bench. I hated it. And when I started coaching, I couldn’t forget how much I disliked sitting on the bench, and I did everything I could do to get every player in a game every week on some level – 9th grade, JV or varsity.

So I get it. Not starting hurts. Not playing stinks. And while many coaches are brilliant in their tactics to share playing time, some coaches do a miserable job of getting reserves into games.

But having said all that, I must add that too many people undervalue the importance of reserves, of the practice players who work hard to make the regulars better. Many champion wrestlers and tennis players earned their titles because of practice partners who pushed them to be better day-in and day-out. Many championship teams achieved their success through arduous daily competition in practice all season long. Many times it has been a so-called “backup” player, who worked hard in practices and who was often worked into games by caring coaches, who steps in after a starter is injured and saves the season.

There is much to be learned as a reserve, including what it means to be a loyal teammate ... a team player ... and what teamwork and sacrifice and loyalty and dedication really mean.

I have said often in speeches that it’s my wish that every student would have the opportunity to be a starter in one sport and a substitute in another because the lessons to be learned from each are different and so vital to developing the whole person.

It is a shame that students have somehow gotten the message that it’s a waste of their time to be a part of a team where they aren’t a starter or even the star. They get this message from adults ... sometimes it’s coaches, but more often it’s parents who criticize coaches and/or transfer their children to schools where they have a greater chance for athletic success.

As the benches get shorter on our school sports teams, the lessons learned get fewer.

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.