Specialization Risks

July 21, 2014

Another informed and influential voice has joined our frequent refrain that sports specialization is rarely in a student’s best interest.

David Epstein, author of The Sports Gene, offered an opinion piece for the New York Times last month that “hyper-specialization . . . is both dangerous and counterproductive.”

Epstein described the results of a three-year study at Loyola University of Chicago that found highly specialized youth had a 36 percent increased risk of suffering a serious overuse injury, including “stress fractures in their backs, arms and legs; damage to elbow ligaments; and cracks in the cartilage in their joints.”

Epstein continued: “Because families with greater financial resources were better able to facilitate the travel and private coaching that specialization requires, socio-economic status turned up as a positive predictor of serious injury.”

“In case health risks alone aren't reason enough for parents to ignore the siren call of specialization,” wrote Epstein, “diversification also provides performance benefits.” He cited “better learning of motor and anticipatory skills – the unconscious ability to read bodies and game situations – to other sports. They take less time to master the sport they ultimately choose.”

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.