Ben McBain is a good, driven middle school football player, who is probably better than the quarterback on his Pop Warner team. However, Ben is also on the small side, and the quarterback on his team is also the coach's son. Shawn O'Brien is hard on himself when he does poorly, and Ben tries to make friends with him in order to help him, and therefore the team. This works for a while. Ben visits Shawn's house, where Coach O'Brien ( a former pro football player) has installed a turf field in the backyard, complete with electronic ball catchers, and starts to realize that football is not fun to Shawn. The two work together, even though Ben's teammates think he's not helping his own goal of becoming quarterback by improving Shawn's skills. Ben's parents and his friend Lily are supportive, and this makes it easier when the team loses game after game. Eventually, the team, and Shawn's mood, starts to improve, but the boys realize that in order to win games, they are going to have to convince their Coach to make different choices on the field and to really see where the team's talents lie. While this book has very strong themes of personal identity and conflicts with parents, the play-by-play sports action keeps this book moving along.
This made me understand the emotional importance of winning to young ball players. I also enjoyed the character of Lily, who was a girl who could keep her own with the boys. The parents are also very well drawn-- their appearance adds to the plot but doesn't overwhelm it.