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The Will to Win
An underdog football team of 5th and 6th graders won an astounding come-from-behind victory with the SportsLeader program to support them.

The St Aloysius team, beaming after their come-from-behind victory.
The St Aloysius team, beaming after their come-from-behind victory.

July 25, 2008. Louisville, KY. St Aloysius Catholic School’s football team had never won a championship in the six years of its existence. For years, the little team had been more of a participant than a serious competitor in archdiocesan football matches. But this year, Coach Scott Berger decided to implement the SportsLeader program, which teaches athletes about virtue and willpower as well as game strategies.

The payoff was immediate and dramatic.

The boys faced their first major challenge in the Trinity High School 7-on-7 Tournament on Saturday, July 19. The tournament pitted 9 teams against each other in a series of games lasting from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Each team had only 7 players on the field at a time, so as to encourage passing and teamwork. In other words, there was nowhere to hide: each team member had to give his best all of the time in order to stay ahead.

To make matters even tougher, the boys played in 95 degree heat—which reached up to 105 degrees on the playing field turf.

Building Momentum

The first game was a close call. The boys, four 6th graders and six 5th graders, fought for their victory against teams of larger opponents mainly made up of 6th graders. They fought for every touchdown, barely outrunning the larger boys. And much to their surprise, they won and ended up being the number one seed.

That was only the beginning. Game after game, their momentum increased.

As the team went from field to field during the competition, other coaches looked somewhat surprised at the underdog team’s sudden show of strength. Coach Berger said, “We would be talking and there would be a 3 or 4 second pause. Then they would ask, ‘What are you doing over there?’”

They were doing SportsLeader, and its particular coaching style came into play just when the boys needed it most.

“Coach, my feet are burning.”

It was the last game of the match, and the boys were exhausted. The heat and the constant exertion of hour-long games had been taking its toll. It was 4:00 in the afternoon and they were at the halftime mark in their last game. If they won this game, they would win the championship. But it was no easy battle.

“Coach, my feet are burning,” said one of the players. The boys looked wiped out. It had been a long, grueling day.

It was then that Coach Berger turned on the SportsLeader approach. Right there at halftime, he started telling the boys about the importance of using their willpower to overcome adversities.

“If you use your willpower and have the courage to go out there and compete, anything can happen,” he told them. He encouraged them to tackle the odds with daring and bravery, to believe and to give their best.

Then they knelt down in prayer, asking God the Father and their school’s patron, St Aloysius, to help them through the second half. They prayed to play as well as they could, and to accept the outcome. Then they returned to the game.


An Astounding Performance

The team they were playing against was physically stronger, older, bigger in size. The little 5th graders were up against a big challenge. But, to Coach Berger’s astonishment, they began to outrun the other team, showing more fighting spirit and tenacity than anyone else on the field.

“I was overwhelmed by the way they played that last game, because we played in the heat of the day. Our kids did not give up a score in the last 3 games. None of the other teams had even a touchdown in the last 3 games. In the second half, we scored 16 unanswered points and they didn’t score at all,” said Coach Berger.

This is unheard of in a 7-on-7 match. But it happened.

“I could tell there was something else at work that day, something more than my coaching or anyone else’s input,” said Coach Berger.

“It was a testament to their will and to their hanging in there. They were trying to do something that was above them,” he said. “And in fact, the 5th graders did the most to win the game.”

A Well-Earned Victory

After their victory in that last, grueling game, the boys received their championship trophy with elation. They knew they had earned it. “The boys were jumping around, so happy. They told me, ‘Coach, this is the first trophy we’ve ever gotten in football.’”

The tide had turned, and a SportsLeader lesson had proven its power.

“You have to have the will to win, the will to take on a difficult situation and make it work,” said Coach Berger.

And that is a lesson for life.

To read more about SportsLeader’s positive impact on athletes, coaches, and families, click here.


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