When the Game Stands Tall



Football biopic has positive messages but doesn't score.
  • Review Date: August 23, 2014
  • Rated: PG
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2014
  • Running Time: 115 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

The movie is full of inspirational adages and messages like: "Don't let a game define who you are, let your lives do that"; adversity teaches more than triumph; football isn't about the score but about the team; "perfect effort" is what makes for a winning team; and being on a team isn't about your personal records but about looking out for the person next to you. These messages will all sound familiar to dedicated athletes, but they're still teachable statements for all kids and teens. There's also a strong focus on faith and its application to teamwork and sportsmanship.

Positive role models

Coach Lad is the epitome of a coach; he's kind, firm, loving, and inspiring. As portrayed, he helps turn immature young athletes into mature, thoughtful young men of honor and compassion. He's also willing to admit when he's wrong and when he can do better. Mrs. Lad is patient and supportive but also speaks her mind when she feels her husband is being short-sighted.


A character is shot and killed, execution-style, by a young man with a gun. A father is abusive toward his son. Two friends get into a shoving match. Football players on the field get into a fight that's broken up.


Young couples briefly hug and hold hands; a guy asks a friend if he's getting it on with his beautiful girlfriend, and the guy says he and his girlfriend are "waiting for the big day." A husband and wife kiss.


Infrequent words/insults include "damn," "lame," "stupid," and "dumb."


Dick's Sporting Goods, Nike, Adidas, Gatorade, Cadillac, and other sports brands.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

The coach smokes cigarettes. Teens drink at a party.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that When the Game Stands Tall is based on the true story of Coach Bob Ladouceur, who has the distinction of coaching the high school football team with the longest winning streak in sports history. This sports biopic -- which is packed with positive messages about teamwork, hard work, and learning from adversity -- is fine for older tweens and teens, though those who know and enjoy the game are most likely to fully appreciate the movie. There's virtually no language or sex (aside from some kissing and references to "getting it on"), but there is some startling violence, including the senseless, execution-style death of a beloved character. Teens drink at a party, and the coach smokes cigarettes. Watch through the credits to see footage of the real Coach Lad (who has a couple of cameos as another coach) saying some of the same lines depicted in the movie.

What's the story?

WHEN THE GAME STANDS TALL is based on the true story of Coach Bob Ladouceur (Jim Caviezel), the head coach of the De La Salle Spartans, the high school football team with the longest-running winning streak (151 games) in the history of the sport. Instead of following the team's winning years, the movie chronicles Coach Lad's tumultuous season guiding the troubled team that ultimately broke the streak. Once the team loses, they also lose their way, while at the same time dealing with a tragedy that strikes one of their most promising recent alums. And at home, Coach Lad must consider the personal cost of committing so much to a team, possibly at the expense of his wife (Laura Dern) and growing kids.

Is it any good?


Even people who don't care about sports usually love sports movies, because there's something viscerally appealing about rooting for an underdog or celebrating the first integrated team or just watching an exceptional athlete beat exceptional odds. But When the Game Stands Tall is a movie about a team that finally loses two games in a row after a 151-game winning streak, which doesn't exactly inspire much investment. There isn't a sports-movie cliche the filmmakers leave unexplored. Soft-spoken but intense coach? Check. Diverse team that includes down-and-out kids hoping for a better life? Check. Long-suffering coach's wife who would love to see more of her husband? Check. Emotionally abusive father who cares about his son's records more than the team? Check? And so on. Of course, without having read the book on which the movie was based, it's not possible to know whether these predictable elements are true to life.

There are occasional touching or powerful moments, like when Coach Lad has a serious stroke or when the most charming player on the team is brutally shot. The acting is fine, too. So then why is this such a boring and predictable movie? Attempts to elevate ideas about faith and adversity are stymied by the weak plot, which -- with the exception of the side story about two former star players -- is really formulaic. The actual football scenes are engaging enough, but the off-the-field drama veers into maudlin territory and has very little humor. If you've exhausted better football flicks, this one will do, but unlike its subjects, this isn't the winningest sports tale.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about why so many sports movies are inspiring. Why do you think there are so many football movies? What are some of your other favorites in the genre?

  • What do you think about Coach Lad's lessons about learning from adversity, putting the team above yourself, and learning to become men, not players?

  • Do you agree that the team made the right call at the end of the movie? Why was what they did a tribute to their coach?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:August 22, 2014
DVD release date:December 9, 2014
Cast:Jim Caviezel, Alexander Ludwig, Michael Chiklis
Director:Thomas Carter
Studio:TriStar Pictures
Topics:Sports and martial arts
Run time:115 minutes
MPAA rating:PG
MPAA explanation:thematic material, a scene of violence, and brief smoking

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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What parents and kids say

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Educator and Parent Written byTeenBoyzDad August 25, 2014

Not a Football Movie

Unless you absolutely hate football, you'll probably like this movie a lot. It's 25% football, but a LOT about values, and about a coach and his family who teach (and struggle with) those values. Highly recommended - even my wife liked it and clapped at the end! ( Be sure to save bladder space for the credits and outtakes.)
Parent Written byDuncanDerund August 24, 2014


A scene has a shooting with a sad funeral. Ages 9+. Very positive
Parent Written byLauraBear September 29, 2014

Amazing story. Excellent message. Great for family!

This film tells an amazing story about De La Salle High School's legacy and the coach behind it all. It has plenty of action and emotions. The message is about commitment, honor, faith and love. It is refreshing to see a film like this instead of the usual garbage that Hollywood aspires to shove down teens and adolescent throats.
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models


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