Veterans and service members can have meaningful and lasting impacts on others through athletics. For our December Rally Point, we explore this powerful combination with Harrison Bernstein, Founder and CEO of Soldiers to Sidelines. Learn how this organization provides a renewed sense of purpose for Veterans, service members and military spouses to become character-based coaches who serve their communities.
The Soldiers to Sidelines story is about turning a passion project into an efficient organization poised to achieve enormous impact for our Veterans and communities for decades to come.
Soldiers to Sidelines(STS) was founded as a project in 2014 based on a single question. What knowledge would be required to become the ultimate coach? Prior to 2014, founder and Executive Director, Harrison Bernstein, had been coaching football and sports performance in high school, NCAA, and the NFL for 14 years. For seven of these years, he taught in the master’s program of exercise science at George Washington University. From 2005 to 2011, he studied and wrote curriculum based on the sciences that support the many facets of coaching.
In 2011 after leaving the Washington Redskins, Harrison began coaching high school football in Washington, DC at a time where many service members and veterans were looking for a new purpose after returning home from the wars. Two years later, a coaching colleague suggested that they invite some veterans to practice so they could involve them in coaching. His suggestion escalated to the idea of starting a non-profit organization named Soldiers to Sidelines led by Harrison. Initially Harrison resisted so he could continue to pursue his own coaching career.
In 2014, Harrison realized that the inherent training and experience of veterans was the perfect foundation to perform as an impactful character-based coach. At the same time, the veteran population was hungry for a new purpose to serve their country as a coach. At this time the STS non-profit project began.
Walter Reed Hospital in Bethesda, MD learned about this new project and donated a classroom to STS to host their first ever coaching seminar for aspiring football coaches who served in the military. Six people attended, and everyone who participated experienced a profound feeling of hope, direction, purpose, and inspiration, including the STS instructors. One of the six original attendees, Randall Finley, eventually earned a college football coaching position at Brevard College in NC. Randall accomplished this with no coaching experience prior to the STS coaching seminar.
STS continued as a project over the next six years while Harrison furthered his football coaching career. All the while, STS was gradually expanding its impact. Each year STS hosted one football coaching seminar averaging 25 participants and expanded to one lacrosse coaching seminar per year.
As more STS certified Soldier Coaches shared their profound stories about how STS saved their lives from depression and suicide, Harrison decided in 2019 to resign from coaching football to dedicate 100% time and energy into scaling this impact to thousands of veterans through multiple sports.
Then in 2020 the COVID pandemic rocked the world and reshaped public perception of virtual learning. This was the perfect opportunity for STS to scale through virtual coaching certification seminars. 2020 proved to be a reformatting year for STS, which culminated in a new 2021 inaugural year of coaching development services for service members, veterans, and military spouses. 2021 was the first year STS operated as a fully staffed and effective non-profit VSO benefitting hundreds of veterans and thousands of athletes. The STS story is just beginning, and with your help, we will provide a new purpose for thousands of veterans influencing millions of athletes for future generations.
Founder & CEO, Soldiers to Sidelines
Harrison Bernstein serves as Founder and CEO of Soldiers to Sidelines (STS). STS is a nonprofit VSO that provides purposeful work for service members and Veterans as character-based coaches in their communities. Before founding Soldiers to Sidelines, Bernstein served as a football and sports performance coach in the NFL, NCAA, and at various high schools. He wrote and published a book titled “The Everyday Coach: Harnessing the Magic of Influence,” which illustrates how we are all coaches every day in all aspects of our lives, whether we realize it or not. It is based on Bernstein’s decades of experience as a coach and a teacher at George Washington University.