Sportsmanship in our Bones

January 3, 2013

When my younger son was playing soccer – he was seven or eight years old at the time – he tumbled out of bounds and down a little hill. When he climbed back up the slope to the soccer pitch he was covered in burrs.

As he began to delicately remove the prickly burrs, play resumed – except that one player on the opposing team, the player marking my son, stopped to assist my son in removing the prickers. And he continued to help my son until all the burrs were removed. Only then did the two of them rejoin the game, together.

Observing this profoundly shaped my belief that sportsmanship is not dead. It’s not out of date and it’s not out of style. Good sporting behavior is in our bones, in our DNA.

Even before they can pronounce the word, and long before they can define it, kids know what sportsmanship is.

Change the rules in the middle of a game with six, seven or eight year olds – any card game, board game or sports game – and they’ll shout, “Hey, that’s not fair!”  We must assure that natural instinct is still demonstrative when they are 16, 17 and 18 year olds.

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.