“Welcome to Alcantari” reads the sign at the airport in Sucre, one of the most beautiful cities in Bolivia, and the capital of our country. We are on our way to Potosí. The diverse and the dynamic world of football is full of upheavals. This world reminds me of my high school years at St Benedict’s Preparatory School in Newark, New Jersey, also known to the natives as “The Brick City.” St. Benedict’s Prep is the only school that never closes in the winter. Even if you get ten inches of snow, the school is open and students are expected to attend.
Difficulties of climate and transportation, and tightschedules are experiences I had both as high school athlete in Newark, New Jersey and now as a professional soccer in Bolivia. My high school’s slogan “Benedict’s Hates a Quitter” is constantly on my mind as I see my teammates out of breath after sprinting in stadiums located 13,400 feet above sea level. The low oxygen levels at high altitude cities causes even goalkeepers to experience unique difficulties—the ball moves faster and it bounces differently. In the United States, there are 10 inches of snow and you have to wake up at 4 am so you do not miss the train. Here in Bolivia, players have to go out on the field and compete at almost 13,500 feet above sea level.
Life is about competing to be the best and never quitting. Bolivian professional football players have prepared themselves for adaptation to any situation. At Saint Benedict’s, the monks who run the school are training their students from a young age to adapt to change as well. For the training I received at St Benedict’s, I always say,“Thank you to the monks at the monastery who tell the young students at ‘the hive’ to keep reading and believing the words imprinted in that iconic sign: ‘Benedict’s Hates a Quitter’”.
A professional team from Santa Cruz, has to travel 40 minutes by plane to Sucre and 3 hours by bus to arrive at Potosí to play a game at 7 pm. Most of the players in Bolivia are hard workers who are entirely devoted to soccer, despite the fact that they are in a country where soccer players are unprotected. There is a lack of legal and financial protection, no health insurance, and salaries are paid whenever club presidents say so. When times get difficult or when we are three months behind on our salary, sometimes, in the locker rooms I hear guys messing around and saying, “I should have listened to my mom! I should have gone to school and studied.”
Marcelo Bielsa said, “to be a great soccer player, first you need to be a great person.” To play at the highest stadium of the world, first you need to be mentally prepared and second you should never miss one day of school. Perhaps it is time for you to email or call admission at Saint Benedict’s Preparatory School.
February 11, 2019
Carlos Suarez, MBA, MPA