February 9, 2018

Here is one of several gold nuggets from Tom Farrey, executive director of the Aspen Institute, in a piece commissioned by the British Broadcasting Company and published in late December.

A study by George Washington University found that what children wanted most from sport was the chance to play and to try their best, guided by a coach who respects them.

Of the 81 reasons they gave for why sports were fun, “winning” came 48th, “playing in tournaments” 63rd, and “traveling to new places to play” 73rd.

Children’s wishes, however, are not always put first, as parents compete to provide what they believe are the best opportunities.

In the U.S., for instance, there may be no better example of the state of play than the growth of the “tournacation,” a term merging “tournament” and “vacation.”

At one of the nation’s largest children’s football (soccer) tournaments, in rural New Jersey, a drone in flight is best positioned to see the scale of such an event.

Up there, you can see the 75 pristine pitches that will host more than 600 teams of children aged nine to 14, chasing shiny balls, in shiny uniforms.

The cars of thousands of parents mass at the playing fields’ edges.

A two-day event such as this is an opportunity for organizers to make serious money, in this case up to $1,250 per team.

That’s on top of travel and hotel costs of as much as $500 and the $3,000 or more many parents pay each year to their child’s club.

It is an industry built on the wallets of parents, and the chase for opportunities to play in college, perhaps with a scholarship.

What the drone can’t see is how many other children – those who aren’t early bloomers, or whose families don’t have the funds, or time, to take part – have fallen away from the game.

They are often unable to join the best teams, which have the best coaches, training environments, and access to college scouts.

Football (soccer) has declined among those left behind, with fewer children joining either local teams, or playing informal games in the park.

Since 2011, the number of six- to 17-year-olds who play football (soccer) regularly has fallen nine percent to 4.2 million, according to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association.

The number of children who touch a football (soccer ball) at least once a year, in any setting, was down 15 percent.

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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.