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A Conversation with Craig Robinson

Posted Mar 21 2010 9:28pm

Head Men’s Basketball Coach at Oregon State and Brother of Michelle Obama

Oregon State Coach Craig Robinson

Oregon State Coach Craig Robinson

Last Thursday morning, as March Madness was getting underway and he was promoting Pizza Hut’s $10 for any size, any topping, I had the chance to speak with Craig Robinson, head coach for the Oregon State Beavers men’s basketball team.

We chatted about his thoughts on the tournament, how he views youth sports and his relationship with his more famous sister – Michelle Obama.

Embrace Your Passion.

That’s the phrase that defines Craig Robinson. He played basketball at Princeton in the early 1980s, was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers, but ended up playing pro-ball in Europe and then became a bond trader on Wall Street for a number of years. But he realized his real passion was for basketball, so he took a chance – and a big pay cut – and became an assistant coach at Northwestern. Six years later, he became head coach at Brown University and then moved to Oregon State where he just finished his second season.

After giving me his Final Four picks – which was dramatically upset Saturday when No. 9 Northern Iowa stunned No. 1 Kansas – I asked him what his relationship with Michelle and the President is like.

“I talk to my sister more than I talk to him [President Obama] just because we both have busy lives and families. I’ve only been there twice to the White House, but my kids have been there numerous times and have gone on vacation with them. I talk to my sister via phone or via email at least once a week.”

He told me that despite it being a tough job, Michelle is trying to give her kids a normal life, which is kind of like, “A practical joke when you say you live in the White House.”

When asked if he plays basketball with the President, he responded, “I don’t play him one-on-one, but we’ve played against each other five-on-five and with each other five-on-five.”

I followed that up with a question about who is a better player – he or the President – and he diplomatically responded, “You have to remember that I played professionally and he played in high school.”

And of course you have to consider that Mr. Robinson towers over the President at six-foot, six-inches tall.

Moving away from politics, I asked him about his view on youth sports.

“For parents, they have to realize that sports are probably the best avenue for teaching kids a whole lot of different things, but specifically sportsmanship and team play and communication skills, all these things that are necessary to be a functioning adult and be able to effectively get your job done at work, instead of trying to get your kid to next level…that’s like buying a lottery ticket. Treat the sport for what it is: a learning experience and not a precursor to a career.”

His advice: “If you’re trying to make your kid a pro, you can’t enjoy the sport or learn the lessons. It’s ok to want your kids to make a lot of money…but do what you love and if you’re good at it, the rewards will follow.”

He rightly points out that many parents try to vicariously live through their kids and manage their kid’s experience, but that actually takes away from the experience. It’s unnatural to think every kid will always win every event all the time.

His last comment to me, “I’m a big advocate of parents being involved with kids in sports, clap for them, but let them figure it out…you’ve got a lot of kids and they’re going to have different strengths and weaknesses and not all of them will be athletes and you want them to feel like whatever they do is important to you.”

Great advice for any parent.

Do you have children who love to play sports?
What is your #1 tip for others?

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