Eighth-grader Nate Osborne plays forward for his U-14 soccer team, the Strikers. Nate lives for the game of soccer, and his team is very competitive. Every game, every practice, and every P.E. running challenge provides Nate with a chance to practice his skills and become a better player. The Stikers’ game against their rival team, the Monarchs, is fast approaching, and Nate’s team wants to be ready.
When their first game against the Monarchs finally arrives, there is a moment during the game where Nate must choose between continuing to play—and possibly even scoring a goal— or pausing after a player from the Monarchs is injured. In an act of good sportsmanship, Nate sends the ball sailing out of bounds, much to the chagrin of his other teammates, particularly his friend Sergio. After the game, Nate struggles with his decision, but with the help of his Aunt Lizzie, an accomplished soccer player herself, Nate learns that playing fairly and to the best of one’s ability is what makes a true athlete.
What is special about this book is that the referenced examples of excellent sportsmanship actually happened. Aunt Lizzie emails a video to Nate showing how a professional soccer team allowed their opponent to score in order to make the game fair; this occurred in 2006 in the match between AFC Ajax and SC Cambuur. Fred Bowen, the author of this story, used other real-life examples as inspiration for the theme of the book. For example, during the 2014 World Cup qualifying rounds, the United States kept Mexico’s dreams of making it to the World Cup alive when the U.S. played their hardest against Panama, despite already qualifying for the World Cup themselves. The next day, Mexican newspapers ran headlines that thanked America for not giving up.
Teamwork and sportsmanship are two lessons that kids can take with them through the rest of their lives, and this book teaches that, above all else, it is best to win fairly rather than to take advantage of an unfortunate situation. Bowen gives excellent color to this lesson and truly exemplifies what it means to be an athlete.
Check out the rest of the Fred Bowen Sports Stories here.