School Sports’ Influence

June 20, 2017

As I sat a year ago in an audience consisting of my colleagues from across the U.S., I shared the general frustration – or perhaps it was exhaustion – when a veteran member of our national sports medicine advisory committee discussed the role of high school sports leaders in addressing what he said posed the greatest threat to students.

That threat was nothing we had been working on so very hard for so very long. It wasn’t heads, heat or hearts. Not extreme weight loss in wrestling or, increasingly, in other sports. Not communicable diseases, especially in wrestling. It wasn’t specialization. Not performance enhancing drugs.

He reported that the greatest threat is accidents. Away from the practice and competition venues, and especially traffic accidents. He wondered what our role should be.

He acknowledged much we’ve done regarding so many issues in the past, and all the newer issues – such as opioid addiction, depression and suicide – that are pressing for our attention; but he said it was the same issue today that it has been for decades that most threatens students. Accidents. Especially automobile accidents.

He admitted that the time and place of this threat was not under the control of athletic coaches and administrators. But his point was that the time and place is still under the influence of coaches and administrators.

Say all you want that school sports is irrelevant in this age of video games and ubiquitous non-school sports. This physician knows the score. He knows that school sports still matters mightily to kids, and that those in charge of local school sports programs still yield great power over young people.

Pick a problem – almost any problem – and people want school sports to address it. From bullying to bulimia, from obesity to overuse injuries. It is unfair to ask us to do all this, especially when funding for school sports is considered a frill in so many places.

But it’s a heck of an honor to work in an area where people think we’re the solution, or at least a deterrent. So we keep trying.

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.