Soldiers To Sidelines honors U.S. Navy Veteran Eric Stelzel the August 2023 Soldier Coach of the Month Award for his absolute selflessness and laser focus on improving the lives of young athletes in his community.
Eric started coaching 10 years ago and committed to improving his life so that he can improve the lives of others. He currently teaches 5th Grade Social Studies at Gateway College Prep in Texas. He serves as the 7th Grade Basketball Head Coach,7/8th Grade Lacrosse Head Coach, JV Lacrosse Assistant Coach, and Varsity Lacrosse Assistant Coach
For Eric, coaching is not about wins or losses or even the level he coaches. For him, it is all about positively influencing the kids, and that brings him sheer joy. Coach Stelzel had this to say when we reflected on his coaching journey:
STS: Tell your story about how and why you into coaching. Discuss how coaching has impacted you as a person.
Coach Stelzel: “Coaching has impacted me drastically over the years. From personal development of skills such as communication, timing and patience, coaching has helped to shape me to be a better husband, father, son, coworker and of course coach. When my time in the service was cut short due to injury, coaching became my new platform for service to something bigger than myself. My initial dive into coaching came in the form of directing and coaching kids in action sports for the Texas Ski Ranch’s Summer Camps and after school programs. That led me to recreation league coaching of my kids’ sports teams and led me to seek a degree in recreation administration from Texas State University via the GI Bill, so I could further develop my knowledge of how to effectively run programs. I moved my family from New Braunfels, Texas to Georgetown, Texas to potentially work for the City’s Parks and Recreation Department but Covid Pandemic had other ideas. All city jobs were closed for hiring so to provide for my family that I had uprooted, I began night stocking at a grocery store to make ends meet and start my teaching certification. My oldest son started a new school because of the move and decided to try lacrosse, it seemed like the closest thing to hockey we could find. After the first couple practices, I was hooked and felt like the program director, Ryan Disque, had created a great team culture and I wanted to be a part of it. So that first year I became a middle school lacrosse head coach with aspirations to grow my abilities and become a helpful piece to Disque’s program’s success. The program is based out of a public charter so we really focus on ‘growing them from day one’ and gosh do we mean it. From kindergarten through their senior year of , we grow their love for the game, playing abilities, personal growth and game IQ. It is a huge task but an even bigger honor to have the privilege to work with these kids and staff.”
STS: How has your military experience influenced you as a coach?
Coach Stelzel: “Beyond the stereotypical lessons learned like, attention to detail, you earn everything you get and , I learned to make connections. I served as a mass communication specialist in the Navy, to effectively tell the story of the Navy and its sailors, I was taught to find the personal connection in the subject. To bring out the personal connections in a topic makes the message so much more powerful and that is one of the things Soldiers to Sidelines drove home again.”
STS: How has Soldiers Sidelines impacted your life?
Coach Stelzel: “Soldiers to Sidelines has impacted my life in ways I have trouble even expressing. The work of Harrison, Scott, Brady, and the rest of the Soldiers to Sidelines Team and the countless volunteer speakers and coaches have had a huge impact on my life. Coaching and tools they provided me oftentimes became the beacon of light in really dark times. Like many veterans I had and have struggled with my mental health at times, that combined with feeling like I had lost my focus and purpose made for a really trying time. Coaching reengaged that internal fire and showed me that my new mission was to empower people through sports. I am eternally grateful for what they have provided me.”
STS: Describe a coaching interaction with a player, or group of players, that has a special place in your heart?
Coach Stelzel: “There have been so many great moments from making the Texas High School Lacrosse State playoffs, to seeing 7th grade B team basketball players ready to make the 8th grade A teams. Seeing the growth of the athletes is everything, including personally not just athletically. Having some of my middle school athletes go out of their way during ‘meet the teacher’ night and walk to the 5th grade classrooms just to say, ‘hey Coach S’ and give me a high five was awesome. You knew they were there to show me how much they had grown over the summer but being middle school boys, they would never dare to outright state it but instead mask it in a fist bump. It’s the connections with the athletes and staff that make it all worth it. It’s the little things.”
STS: What are your aspirations in coaching?
Coach Stelzel: Just like we tell our athletes that they are scholar athletes, I hope I am a good teacher as much as I strive to be a good coach. I know it sounds cliche, but my aspirations are to be 1% better at this craft every day. Some of my coaching goals are to become a Highschool Head Coach and work my way to possibly working on a college program staff someday. I want to continue to grow the game of lacrosse at my campus and keep providing quality, well rounded lacrosse, and basketball players for the next level whether that is Junior Varsity, Varsity or even College. I also aspire to become a hockey coach and grow the sport as well.
STS: What was the most difficult challenge you have experienced in coaching and what have you learned from that experience?
Coach Stelzel: Pacing. That has been the biggest and at times most challenging thing to learn. From being able to read the tempo of the game and what level my players are responding , to how to develop a practice plan, pacing is key. I have learned that staying in tune with my team, staff, and the game mirrors perfectly the situational awareness that is taught to us in the service.
I would be delusional if I thought I could try and be the best coach that I can be if I didn’t acknowledge, beyond the help of Soldiers to Sidelines, the people that make it all possible. Ryan Disque, Lacrosse Program Director for Gateway College Prep School, has not only been a huge mentor for me in the lacrosse world he has really become a great friend and brother. His commitment to the program here and drive to be a positive role model for the athletes is admirable and contagious. My campus support from the rest of my campus leadership team (athletic director, Head of School, Team leads and Principal) is why I get to learn from Ryan. Also, last but by no means least, my support system at home. I literally could not do it without the support and understanding of my wife Briana and 3 kids. She understands and helps facilitate my drive for service over self and desire to positively impact this athletic program. The understanding for late nights, running late to dinner, weekends filled with clinics and games, she takes it all in stride and simply hands me my next clean coaching and asks, ‘how can I help you?’. Knowing that she has the ‘home team’ under control allows me to focus on my athletes. For example, there has been many a bedtime I have missed during certain times of the year, but I also know I can expect a facetime call or video message on my phone with a ‘good night daddy, I love you, see you at school tomorrow’ from my kids that she has recorded for me. And as a dad what more could I ask for?