August 5, 2016

Yesterday began my 31st year as executive director of the Michigan High School Athletic Association. When I was asked recently why I’ve served so long, I answered, “Actually, ‘why’ is the reason.”

What we do in school sports is important. How we do it is even more important. But why we do it is most important. And, to quote the last line of the last workshop speaker I heard on July 2 at the 97th Annual Meeting of the National Federation of State High School Associations, “The ‘why’ of our work is an incredible gift we’ve been given.”

The why of our work is the map that connects the dots between all that we do – all the policies, procedures and programs of competitive school-sponsored sports. The why of our work is the gravitational force that keeps what we do and how we do it grounded in the core beliefs of interscholastic athletics – healthy, amateur, local, inexpensive and inclusive programs that benefit students, schools and communities.

The why of our work sees what we do and how we do it as necessary for helping young people learn skills for life as much as skills for sports. The why of our work sees lifetime lessons available in both victory and defeat, and at both the varsity and subvarsity levels. The why of our work sees good sportsmanship not merely as an enhancement of our games but also as a precursor to citizenship in our communities.

When we begin our planning with why, then what we do and how we do it will more likely inspire and motivate others, and keep us in the game long after others have retired.

(Turns out that these ideas aren’t original. Simon Sinek lays out the “Why” premise in one of the top-viewed TED talks of all time. While the NFHS conference speaker was my inspiration, clearly Simon Sinek was his.)

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.