Ned McMahon is hanging up his cleats after 10 years of coaching soccer, six of which he spent at the helm of a girls' travel team called the Trumbull Strikers.
During this period, McMahon spent his early mornings and afternoon hours at the intellectual property law firm of Ohlandt, Greeley, Ruggiero & Perle in Stamford. He finished up in time to get to Trumbull for daily 5:30 p.m. practices, in the process making the transition from patent attorney to "Coach Ned."
The schedule meant sometimes starting his work day just as other attorneys were finishing theirs. "I get up stupid early. Yesterday, I was up at 3:30 [a.m.]," said McMahon. "The only way to manage my day is to shift it. If you want to do something — and I want to coach out there — there are things that have to happen to get it done."
Law firm managing partner Paul D. Greeley has long been impressed with McMahon's ability to successfully juggle a large caseload and coach soccer. "Ned has a great balance," said Greeley.
McMahon often gets assigned to work with some of the young attorneys that are brought into the firm. "He is very good about teaching them about the law, and always has a patient and calm approach," Greeley said. "It says something about how he coaches at Trumbull."
McMahon is just following in the footsteps of his father, who was both a patent lawyer and a youth soccer coach. The father was also motivated by a desire to spend time with his kids. McMahon was on his dad's team — as was his sister.
"Back in the mid-1970s, [girls'] soccer didn't really exist," said McMahon. "My dad coached my soccer team so that my sister could be on the [boys'] team — she was a great athlete. When my kids came to the age of playing, it was a natural thing for me to put on cleats again after 20-something years and coach."
There are four levels of youth soccer. The first level includes "recreational" teams, where parents typically coach and anyone who signs up can play. The second level is a "travel" team, with trained coaches and competitive tryouts for players. The third level is an extremely competitive "premiere" team, said McMahon, featuring the "best kids from each town in the state." The fourth level is an "Olympic development" team, where a couple of exceptional players from each state in a region play on a team.
McMahon initially coached a recreational team, when his oldest daughter, Marley, began playing at age 5. "As I started to really enjoy it and the [girls on the team] started to get older, they moved to the travel program, I observed the games and the coach, and said, 'I can do that,'" he said.
A few years later, when Marley became eligible for travel teams, McMahon obtained his coaching license and coached her team through middle school. When he was done with that, he coached his younger daughter, Nevada, on travel teams during her three years of middle school.
Now that Nevada is heading off to high school, McMahon is giving up coaching. "The girls just graduated middle school in June and it was bittersweet for all," said Anne Berte, a Strikers mother. "It was an end of a very special experience for the girls, Ned and all the families."
McMahon's involvement goes beyond his work with the Strikers. He has held multiple roles on the town soccer association's board of directors over the years. He has volunteered for numerous events for Top Soccer — a soccer program for children with special needs. He even continues to play in an over-40 soccer league.
Just being coach of the Strikers sounds a lot like a part-time job. McMahon said there's a lot of behind-the-scenes work, including managing a budget of about $10,000, with the money going to pay referees and reserve fields for games. Then there is the not-so-simple matter of spending 10 or so hours per week with 16 to 18 "intelligent, strong-minded, chatty" girls, as Berte, the soccer mom, puts it. "At times it can be like herding squirrels," she said. "Ned handled it with humor, patience, respect."
As a coach, McMahon has led the Strikers to multiple league championships, made it to the final four teams in the Connecticut Cup tournament, and brought home multiple weekend tournament championships. Additionally, two of his players were selected to participate in the U.S. Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program.
But McMahon said his focus has always been more on offering life lessons. "One of the lessons that I tried to instill in the girls is that 'toughness is learned,'" McMahon said. "Not physical toughness, but mental toughness."
He recalls taking his team out to practice on a frigid, rainy night. "One of the girls asked me why on earth we were out there," he said. "My response was that the next time we played in the rain and cold, she would be prepared. Right near the end of this season, on a cold and rainy night, all 16 girls on the team showed up. No parent called or texted me to see if it was cancelled —they knew, and I was proud."
McMahon says he's not done spending his time with his kids. But those soccer cleats will be traded in for hiking boots, as his youngest son is in the Boy Scouts. "He got dragged around soccer fields for so long, he hated the sport," McMahon said. "I was an Eagle Scout when I was young. What kid doesn't like campfires and knives?"•