U.S. Marine Corps. Maj. (Ret.) Marcus Carlstrom Earns November 2023 Soldier Coach of the Month 


Soldiers to Sidelines is excited to award Marcus Carlstrom the Soldier Coach of the Month honor for his steadfast patience and persistence to master the art of coaching.  Coach Carlstrom is in the very beginning of his coaching journey yet growing rapidly.  He recently transitioned form the U.S. Marine Corps but began honing his coaching skills while on active duty to prepare for his transition.  He found Soldiers To Sidelines and executed the system exactly as intended.  He quickly demonstrated tremendous aptitude and earned a volunteer coaching position with the UNC football team.  We asked him a few questions as a reflection on his experience. Below you can learn more about his incredible journey. 


STS: How long have you been coaching?  


Coach Carlstrom: Almost 2 months (since Aug 28th) here at UNC, but have coached youth football, basketball, and baseball for 4-5 years before my current position. 


STS: Tell your story about how and why you go into coaching. Discuss how coaching has impacted you as a person.  


Coach Carlstrom: Ever since I began playing football at age 8, I have been intrigued with coaching – the strategy, the game planning, trying to outsmart your opponent, etc.  I was a three-sport athlete throughout high school – football, basketball, and track – so the desire to teach, coach, and mentor others has never waned.  Immediately after high school, I attended college at the Virginia Military Institute on a 4-year NROTC (Marine Option) Scholarship.  While at VMI, I played club football and basketball.  These experiences continued to stoke my fire to coach.  After graduating and commissioning in May 2008, I went on to serve on active duty as a Marine Corps infantry officer for just over 15 years.  This included three deployments: Afghanistan (2010), and Okinawa/South Korea (2015 and 2016).  In May 2022, I attended an STS virtual football coaching seminar and became a certified Soldier Coach.  In Sep 2022, I enrolled in the STS Membership Development Program where I worked one-on-one with Harrison Bernstein and Del Smith on the art and science of coaching football.  On August 28th, I checked in at UNC as a volunteer defensive assistant.  Throughout all my experiences in high school, college, the Marine Corps, and working with STS, my yearning to coach has grown stronger and stronger.  Ultimately, I have a burning desire to help others.  At first, the military was my way of doing so.  Now, I have chosen sports (football, specifically) to serve as the vehicle to do so.  Throughout my entire life, I have had coaches who have influenced my life directly and drastically.  Some of these coaches were great, while others were not so great.  Regardless, I have learned countless lessons from all my coaches on how to communicate effectively, how to treat others with dignity and respect, how to prepare for the upcoming competition, how to help others navigate life and strike a balance between playing sports and whatever else they are going through personally, etc.  


STS: How has your military experience influenced you as a coach? 


Coach Carlstrom: As a Marine Corps officer, I was put in a leadership position/role everywhere I was assigned.  My experiences as a leader in the Marine Corps further reinforced my aspirations to coach, while also helping me to hone my leadership and coaching skills.  Much like the coaches I have had, I had a mix of good leaders/commanders and ones I did not care for.  I was able to learn invaluable lessons from each.  These lessons have enabled me to fine-tune my leadership style, which directly lends itself to my coaching style.  I have learned that coaching is all about leadership – the two are inseparable. 


STS: How has Soldiers To Sidelines impacted your life? 


Coach Carlstrom: The impact STS has made on my life is almost indescribable.  STS has served as a critical support network for me from teaching me the basics of coaching to placement here at UNC through their personal relationships and professional network.  They have stood in my corner since the very first day of the virtual seminar I attended and continue to do so to the present day.  They have made themselves readily accessible for any questions or concerns I have, are always there to provide suggestions and recommendations, and have been open to any feedback and updates I have for them. 


STS: Describe a coaching interaction with a player, or group of players, that has a special place in your heart?  


Coach Carlstrom: In addition to assisting the defensive support staff, I work for the Cornerbacks Coach when we break out into position groups.  In my opinion, there is not a better man and coach for me to learn from and emulate on the UNC staff.  He has been phenomenal in my journey, welcomed me warmly, displays great patience with me as I navigate this experience, and has demonstrated what it means to coach young men – in many instances when the topics have nothing to do with football. 


Additionally, a few members of the defensive support staff have been extremely helpful throughout my journey.  I will be eternally grateful to them and for them. 


Lastly, a couple of cornerbacks have dealt with personal and mental health issues throughout the season.  Being a part of the conversations with them and the Cornerbacks Coach has been inspiring and immensely educational because I have been able to observe how to handle those types of conversations.  These interactions have allowed me to build close, personal relationships with those players and the Cornerbacks Coach, and have provided me with invaluable experiences on ways to handle similar situations in my coaching future. 


STS: What are your aspirations in coaching? 


Coach Carlstrom: I am still unsure of what level of football I want to pursue, but so long as I can have a platform from which to help young people learn valuable life lessons through sports, I will be content.  I do have aspirations of gaining coaching experience on the offensive side of the ball – specifically, with QBs – and one day becoming a head coach.  I remain open-minded to whatever opportunities I can find, but also place a high priority on being able to strike a relative balance with my family life. 


STS: What was the most difficult challenge you have experienced in coaching and what have you learned from that experience? 


Coach Carlstrom: Two challenges come to mind: 


  1. My first day was the Monday before our season opener against South Carolina, so I had to hit the ground running about learning as much as I could as fast as I could, to add value to the team without getting in the way.  This challenge has taught me how to be agile in my learning process, be judicious in when to ask questions and ask for projects that I know will help me learn more, and to be patient and trust the process.  I have learned that I have a ton more to learn and need to give myself some grace when I get frustrated that I have not learned as much as I would have liked to by this point. 
  1. Being away from my wife and kids has been a challenge.  Not a challenge that is foreign to me, but a challenge nonetheless.  I cannot say I have learned anything new from this experience since I have a ton of reps at being away from them, but it has reinforced the necessity to make sacrifices to achieve this dream of mine.  Having a strong and independent wife and agile kids has allowed me to make this sacrifice. 


STS: Is there anything else you can share with us about your coaching story? 


Coach Carlstrom: I have undoubtedly been able to leverage my military, leadership experiences and skills, even in my short time with UNC, to help individual players and coaches, and the team as a whole.  As I continue to build my knowledge and experience as a coach, my confidence level will grow too, and will be able to make an even larger impact on the individuals of the team.