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Soldiers to Sidelines founder on a mission to help veterans and give back to the community

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Harrison Bernstein has long had aspirations of coaching football at the professional level. In 2019 and after more than a decade of work, he got that opportunity. But Bernstein’s passion for coaching had evolved into something else. 

He would sacrifice that dream in order to give back to a community that made the decision to risk the ultimate sacrifice. 

Bernstein is the president and founder of Soldiers to Sidelines, a veteran charity organization whose mission is to provide a renewed sense of purpose to members of the military community through coaching while also serving the youth community. 

Speaking to Fox News Digital, Bernstein said that the idea for Soldiers to Sidelines came about in 2010 after his time with the Washington Commanders, where he served as an assistant strength and conditioning coach for three years. 

“I was coaching high school football and a colleague of mine was adamant about helping out service members in the area get involved in coaching football, because the news was just riddled with people coming back from the Middle East looking for purpose, looking for a way to reconnect and to find some renewed happiness and purpose,” Bernstein explained. 

“And so it was actually a colleague who suggested that we bring some of the local veterans out to high school football practice and make them part of the team and teach them how to coach football.” 

Harrison Bernstein

Bernstein admitted that he wasn’t initially interested in the idea. He was working on perfecting his own coaching technique with the hopes of returning to the NFL. 

“The intent at that moment was for me to go back into the NFL and become this incredible defensive backs coach, right? That’s what I thought I wanted to do.” 

But after much persistence, Bernstein obliged and held a seminar that just six people attended. To his surprise, Bernstein’s plans for his future had shifted at that moment and Soldiers to Sidelines was born. 

“The inspiration wasn’t a flash for me. This was something that evolved within me, and now has become my life’s work.” 


solider coaches

“Once I started connecting with the veterans and service members and started to see how much it changed their life, you know, hearing stories – I mean, some stories were really deep where folks were struggling with the ultimate bad decision and to bring them out of that and understand that they had a renewed sense of purpose really affected me. So much so that I gave up a career in coaching football at the highest level to spend all my time doing this.” 

Over 1,800 “soldier coaches” have now been certified through the program across eight different sports. Veterans make up 38% of certified coaches, while retired and active duty make up another 25% and 27%. 

The program is free and is available to veterans, service members, military spouses, and gold-star families. After completing the certification process, Soldiers to Sidelines offers continued learning with online coursework, webinars, workshops and more. 

Those who have completed the certification process have gone on to coach at all levels – high school, collegiate, and even the professional level. But for Bernstein, the most impact can be seen in those who coach at the youth level. 

Soldier coach at LSU

“Our country is suffering a shortage of coaches, and we’re also suffering a shortage of quality coaches. Most coaches are volunteer-based, there’s no formal training, and unfortunately, many of the civilian coaches are self-serving – they’re doing it for personal reasons rather than just investing into the kids. Some are, many aren’t. But our soldier coaches, who are used to selfless service, are really pouring into the kids. Our vision is to create an army of 10,000 character-based soldier coaches influencing millions of kids per year.”

Another goal of Soldiers to Sidelines is to ensure that the U.S. military remains an “all volunteer force,” as Bernstein puts it. 

“The U.S. military is suffering a national security crisis because recruiting is lower than it’s ever been, and the propensity to serve is lower than it’s ever been. And why that’s important is, right now we have the luxury of an all-volunteer force… Soldiers and Sidelines is here to ensure the future of the all-volunteer force. And we can do that by having the most inspirational motivational leaders, our soldier coaches, in the community showing kids that a life of military service is a good thing. And you will also grow as a person, as a leader, you will be fit, you will learn how to problem solve, you will serve your country – so we’re bringing those values back.” 

Soldier coaches

Bernstein’s hope is that Soldiers to Sidelines will grow to work with every major sports league, but more importantly, that more will be encouraged to join the program to become soldier coaches and, in turn, impact their communities in a positive way. 

“We’re on a path to 10,000 soldier coaches influencing more than a million kids per year. Just think about that impact. It can literally change the fabric of our country.” 

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