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“There aren’t any shortcuts, not in soccer and not in life. You have the skills now, though. Unleash yourself. Have fun. Play for the love of the game,” Tig. - The Academy

The Academy

by T.Z. Layton
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Young Leo Doyle is the best soccer player in his small town of Middleton, Ohio. He dominates his YMCA soccer league and dreams of becoming a professional soccer player for the Premier League in England. His dream becomes a reality when Philip Niles, a London Dragons FC scout, invites him to try out for the Academy: the Dragon’s prestigious professional youth development program. With an opportunity to achieve his dream, Leo agrees to go to London for the summer. But he quickly learns one thing: he isn’t the only soccer star at the Academy Camp. 

Things grow dicey when Leo learns that only the best eleven players from the camp’s group of 220 join the Academy. With the pressure mounting, Leo struggles to perform up to expectations, and he fears being cut before the summer ends. Can Leo overcome the odds, the intense workouts, and the mean bullies to prove he’s worthy of being a London Dragon? 

The Academy is an exciting novel about a young boy working to become a professional soccer player. The book focuses on the life of the main protagonist, Leo Doyle, and follows a journal-like style where Leo’s first-person narration is told as journal entries. Leo is an exciting and energetic character to follow. The in-depth descriptions of his changing feelings toward the camp are vivid and genuine, and many readers will relate to Leo’s challenging experience in a new place with new faces. However, the book does recognize that Leo is also a middle-school boy, and it makes Leo’s personality very authentic by highlighting not only his strengths but also his weaknesses, such as his ignorance, quick temper, and childish passions. Leo’s scene with the bully Brock during their one-on-one soccer duel emphasizes his temper when he rashly states, “I’ll quit and go home, whether I make the World Cup or not.” 

The story’s plot and surrounding characters also enhance Leo’s character development. Many of them point out Leo’s weaknesses and encourage him to rise above the summer camp challenges. As a result, the book teaches the valuable lesson of trusting in one’s strengths and not allowing competition to ruin the fun. Leo learns to relieve himself of the pressure of perfection during soccer games and understands “in order to succeed, I had to be myself.”  

The Academy includes plenty of high-paced soccer scenes, where concrete descriptions and detailed play-by-plays will keep the readers hooked during each game, scrimmage, or drill. Although some game descriptions and plays can become too complex for those with little soccer knowledge, the story keeps things interesting by incorporating plenty of internal reflections, blossoming friendships, and courageous victories during its game-time sequences. Overall, The Academy presents an engaging tale about a young kid seeking to overcome the odds to join a prestigious youth development program. With its combination of a compelling protagonist, lovable side characters, and a moving lesson about trusting in one’s talents, The Academy is the perfect book for young and old soccer fans. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 


  • A soccer player on the Columbus Tigers, Ronnie Lewis, trips Leo during a soccer game. Leo falls hard “and gets a face full of grass. It was a dirty, dirty play. My knees and elbows were bleeding.” Leo was not hurt badly. 
  • Brock, a burly kid with a blond crew cut, bullies Leo by making fun of his clothes and his favorite MLS league. Brock says “How lame [his] trackies are” and “We call it Major League Suck over here.” This scene is described over four pages. 
  • Brock jeers at Leo during a soccer game by taunting, “Why don’t you go back to America? That’s where the amateurs play.” 
  • Julian and Brock bully Leo during a soccer drill where Julian “offered [Leo] a hand” and then “retracted it” while Brock sneers, “Loser Yank. Your turn in the pot.” 
  • During a soccer drill, Brock smacked Leo in the stomach as a mean joke by “hitting [Leo] so hard with his hips that it knocked the wind out of [him].” Leo wasn’t hurt. 
  • Brock nearly drowns Leo at a local pool. Brock “yanked [Leo] down from behind and held [him] underwater with a hand on [his] neck.” Although Leo wasn’t hurt, it caused other boys, like Leo’s friend Alejandro, to “shove Brock hard in the chest, causing him to fall on his back in the water.” This scene is described over five pages. 
  • Brock trips Leo during a soccer scrimmage, and “the fall knocked the breath out of [him] and left [his] mouth full of grass.” 
  • When Brock finds himself on the losing side of a soccer match with Leo, he shouts, “I’m gonna kill you, Yank,” toward Leo. 
  • Brock and Leo engage in a soccer match where there’s constant shoving, tripping, shirt tugging, teasing, and slide tackling. At one point, Leo acknowledges that he didn’t “know how long we fought for that last goal. It seemed like hours. Both of us heaved with exertion, bleeding in half a dozen places from hard falls.” This scene is described over eleven pages. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Robbie, Leo’s roommate at the soccer academy, gives Leo some ointment called “Icy Hot” for his cramps to “rub on [his] legs tonight and in the morning.” Leo uses Icy Hot repeatedly throughout the story. 


  • There is some name calling including idiots, jerks, doofus, and loser. For example, Leo calls the kids on the Columbus Tigers soccer team “rich jerks.” 
  • On three occasions, someone is told to shut up. For example, Leo tells his sister, Ginny, to “shut up” when she gives him a command. In addition, Brock tells his friend Julian to “shut up” after his rude remark toward Leo.  
  • Leo’s friend, Carlos, utters “what the crap” and calls Leo a “fart-breath.”  
  • Leo mutters, “geez” because of Robbie’s poor attitude. 
  • Brock calls Leo a “Yank” throughout the story because Leo is from the United States. 


  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • When Leo gets to participate in a FIFA tournament, he exclaims, “Have I died and gone to heaven?” 
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“There aren’t any shortcuts, not in soccer and not in life. You have the skills now, though. Unleash yourself. Have fun. Play for the love of the game,” Tig. - The Academy

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