My son’s High School JV Soccer Team never won a game. They had a 0-12-1 record, and thanks to the coaches, administrators, parents – and of course the players – they won in many, many other ways. As a parent, I am thankful for his experience.
Yes, that’s right, his team didn’t win a game and in fact, lost most by more than 5 goals, but I am thankful his positive soccer experience was made possible by coaches who saw beyond the results and a school staff that decided to provide the athletic experience to the players knowing the results would be unfavorable.
The New Community School, a private school in Richmond, VA offers a sporting experience to anyone who wants to play. As their Athletic Director, Eric Gobble, said:
TNCS only has 200 students in grades 5-12, but we’re determined to give kids “big school” opportunities. We’ve never cut anyone from a sport because of experience or ability. As a result, coming out for a team here feels like a safe thing to try. And, is why we ended up with 10 different teams in the fall sports season.”
As over 25 boys expressed an interest in playing high school soccer, The New Community School opted to have both a JV and Varsity boys’ soccer team. There are not typically JV teams with schools this small, and the staff knew finding teams to play against would be a big challenge, often forcing the JV team to play Varsity teams, and thereby basically ensuring uneven results. But thankfully, knowing the team would struggle to win (or as it turned out, even score!) didn’t stop the school from moving forward with creating the team.
Many children drop out of participating in sports simply because they don’t have the opportunity to play on a team they feel any connection to. If TNCS had not opted to have this JV Soccer Team, my son would likely have been one of them. (see postscript)
Instead my son Davis was placed on the JV Team and had a sport experience this fall that reached well beyond the continued losses and struggles when it came to the score line. The exercise he was getting, the healthy friendships he was forming, learning how to lose with equal parts grace and determination, the time away from electronics…all made the experience well worth it.
When I asked Mr. Gobble about their decision to form a second team, he went on to say:
Being on a team is good, but it isn’t enough. We had 20+ players on the varsity roster in 2018 before when there was no JV. At first, our inclination was to pat ourselves on the back for giving everyone a chance. But, everyone wasn’t getting the same chance or the same experience. Being 23rd on the depth chart is different from being in the first 11 (or even the second 11). And it’s not just the end of the bench whose experience is altered by such a large squad. Everyone’s experience is diluted – in things like playing time, practice touches, attention from the coaches – when the squad is large. We chose to move forward with the JV team this year because we wanted more kids to have the full experience regarding being on a school team, things like:
- The struggle to make the starting line up
- The butterflies of the first time in the starting line up
- I better not miss practice because I'll lose my spot in the line up
- The pressure of leading a team
There were some mumbles on the sidelines early in the season from some of the parents as the boys failed to score a goal, lost most games by a slaughter rule, and struggled to combine more than a few passes in a row. There were moments the boys’ heads would hang a bit lower, brief moments of frustration between two players as the stress of a mistake made or a goal scored mounted a bit. But these events were quickly overcome by a shout of encouragement from the coaches or a teammate.
As the mom of one of the players said:
Yes, the numbers weren't stellar, but they don't even begin to tell the story of this team. They came out everyday and played the best they could. They got better every game. They kept a good attitude no matter the score. They played positions they'd never played before. They learned a lot of soccer. They had fun, sometimes the scores just don't matter all that much.”
Importantly, the coaches maintained consistent communication with the parents via email and set appropriate expectations for the season in a pre-season meeting the athletic director had with the parents. As Mr. Gobble explained:
We had a preseason parents meeting, and I was as candid as I could possibly be about what we were trying to do, why we were trying to do it. I told them the “pros” are that their son will feel ownership and that playing time will NOT be an issue with such a small team. The “cons” are they’re going to feel overmatched at times and there won’t be other kids to point the finger at. Those parents seemed to buy in immediately and were supportive all season long. I had only 1 parent approach me at a game to talk about “why the team is so bad.” Turns out, she hadn’t been at the parents meeting. As soon as we talked through it, she was totally on board. Even called her husband as I was standing there to say, “I totally get it now.”
A father on the team, himself an athletic director at a large, local public school said
I have been in high school athletics for 24 years and while winning is usually the goal, there are so many other things that can be experienced through sports. TNCS gave these boys an opportunity…An opportunity that most of them would not have at any other school. They had the opportunity to be a part of a team, experience a great deal of playing time, and gain confidence through their improvement.”
Much credit goes to the coaches for maintaining such a positive environment during continual defeats. It would have been easy for them to take the results personally and start yelling more from the sidelines or, the opposite, just give up and not put as much effort in. Instead the coaches maintained reasonable and high standards during the season and worked hard to facilitate the formation of a strong sense of collaboration and solidarity amongst the boys.
And, as expected, the team improved on the field in measurable ways!
And the game results even improved! The first few games were stopped early for slaughter rule. Eventually, we finished an entire game. Then, we scored a goal in a game. The final game of the season, a rematch with one of the teams that shut us out early in the season, ended in a 3-3 tie. Every player left their field with his head held high.”
A parent from the team summed it up perfectly:
Despite the TNCS JV Soccer team’s losing record as a brand-new team, they won in other ways. They developed leadership and self-confidence on the field, not at first, over time. As importantly, they showed an amazing sportsmanship in the face of the odds stacked against them. Despite knowing they would probably lose, they tried harder each time, improved their soccer skills, and were able to communicate with each other without rancor — true sportsmanship, a quality that will take them far in life.”
The New Community School is a small, private school which in some ways makes them nimble and able to meet the needs of the students with quick decisions and limited administrative burden. My son will likely play four years of high school sports because of his small school and their open door policies. What must we do to provide sporting experiences to students at larger, public schools who would otherwise not make the team? Are intramural sports in high school a viable option? Are there ways we can structure recreational club sports so they are more welcoming at the older ages and there is a stronger sense of belonging?