The 2016 Loyola Academy of St. Louis (MO) soccer season was a monumental success, though you wouldn’t know it by the donut hole in our wins column. Yes, we lost every game. Our team was made up of 6th, 7th, and 8th graders, 90% of whom had never seen or played organized soccer prior to this year. We played in an 8th grade league against teams that have grown up around soccer, many of whom even played together for eight years. We struggled to get 11 guys to show up to games against teams bringing small armies of substitutes. Needless to say, we were never “favored” to “win” a “game.”
We were very honest with our boys at the beginning of the season regarding the aforementioned cards stacked against them. They understood that they probably wouldn’t be bringing home many W’s this season. Instead, we focused from day one on the individual development of our players and, most importantly, their ability to work positively as members of one team. Most of our guys were completely unfamiliar with soccer, both tactically and technically, prior to this year. Instead of trying to catch up on eight years of missing soccer fundamentals, we spent much more time focusing on mentality and strategy of the game, allowing our boys’ athleticism and creativity to make up for any lack in technical skill. The result was a really fun style of soccer to play and watch.
Like I said, this didn’t produce much success in the traditional sense of winning games. However, the success we enjoyed transcended the game and is far more valuable. Whether we were losing by one goal or many, our boys literally did not give up once. In school, our principal tells our students “we don’t lose until we give up,” and it was great to see them apply that mentality to soccer. I was regularly overwhelmed by our boys’ ability to stay positive and engaged when it would have been so easy to pout, throw a fit, or give up. When you’re getting beat, it’s easy to turn to the guy next to you and start blaming him for his mistakes. It’s so much harder to pull the ball out of your own goal and start the next play with your chin up. Our boys are hard on each other and even harder on themselves. In other sports at Loyola, especially basketball, our guys are under so much pressure to succeed from parents and society in general. It was wonderful to see them just let loose and have fun playing the world’s favorite game.
The worst part of our season was that it ended. I could not be prouder of our boys and the strength, maturity, and poise they showed this season. It was an honor to be part of this team and to help my boys learn a sport that has meant so much to my own life. I bring a soccer ball out to recess every day. At the beginning of the year, one or two guys would kick it around with me. Nowadays, we get 20 out there playing every chance they get. I’d call that a win.