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Coaches Corner: Academic Achievement and Service Learning Drive Success on the Field

Coaches Corner: John Burke

Both are difficult to pull off, but sustaining a high level of achievement over many years is much more difficult than having one brilliantly successful season. Two powerful influences during our run of five straight and twelve total state titles have been service learning and academic achievement. 

First, a bit about our service learning . . .The three days I enjoy most during the season are the days when my players give away championship trophies. The willingness to give away trophies earned in the past creates new capacity and desire for future success. So, three times a year, following one of the best traditions I’ve ever been a part of, my players give their own championship trophies to children with special cognitive and/or physical needs. 

We have been running TOPSoccer—Waukesha at Catholic Memorial since 2003. Between 2003-2016, we have served over 100 children with special medical needs. Our TOPSoccer athletes are talented, courageous, dedicated, spirited, and focused on improving their skills. We thoroughly enjoy coaching our TOPSoccer team on Saturday mornings, and my most memorable moments as a coach have occurred on the field with them. Interestingly, some of the most service-minded high school soccer teams are also some of the most successful: to name a few, Lucas Kollross’s DC Everest team, John Ziperski’s New Glarus team, Todd Hardy’s Kenosha Tremper team, and Jesus Torres’s Waunakee team. A team certainly can win championships without service-minded players and coaches, but winning is intensely satisfying when it occurs alongside doing service for others, especially when that service includes giving back to the game that we love. 

The second influence, academic achievement, is no less powerful. When players work hard in the classroom, their academic success often facilitates achievement on the field. The last two valedictorians from Catholic Memorial were key members of our championship teams, and on our team GPA last season was over 4.0 (we have weighted honors classes). Players who do well in the classroom walk on the field with more confidence and less stress in their lives. We have helped each other be successful in the classroom by creating opportunities for teammates to tutor each other. We learn more by teaching, and the camaraderie, trust, and appreciation that develops during tutoring sessions significantly improves team chemistry. 

Some often say that it’s not the Xs and Os but the Jims and Joes, and there is some truth to that. However, I think that the bonds initiated and cemented during times of service and study transcend the importance of tactics and individuals. 

My two recommendations for the good of our Wisconsin game are these: 

  1. Let’s make it a statewide goal to lead the nation in the number of HS NSCAA Academic All-American teams. Pursuing this goal with intensity will help our players, teams, and the quality of soccer in our state. Here is the link for eligibility (an updated form for 2016-17 will be out soon):

  2. Let’s make it a statewide goal to create soccer programs based at high schools all around the state for children with special cognitive and/or physical needs. Here is a link to more information about how to create a TOPSoccer program at your school:

Written by Catholic Memorial girls soccer coach John Burke, who has guided the Crusaders to 12 WIAA state tournament appearances in the last 13 years, including nine championships, with titles from 2012 to 2016.

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