Peter Mackie’s jour­ney as player and coach leads to open­ing RED Academy of Soc­cer with his son


Peter Mackie flips through a fam­ily al­bum show­cas­ing his early days in soc­cer. It is one of many scrap­books his par­ents care­fully cu­rated over the years.

Pho­to­graphs, ticket stubs, news­pa­per clip­pings and let­ters chron­i­cle his rise from a lad play­ing with pals in Guelph to his pro­fes­sional gigs and a short stint play­ing in the United King­dom.

Long has he loved the beau­ti­ful game. He has played and coached with pas­sion, even af­ter life sent him an unimag­in­able curve. Now he has launched a busi­ness, an elite train­ing academy for girls and boys who also love the sport em­braced around the world.

“It’s a bit of a cliché, but the game means ev­ery­thing to me. It al­lowed me to grow per­son­ally,” Mackie says.

Mackie, 52, was born in Scot­land and spent his ear­li­est years in Bell­shill, a small city just out­side Glas­gow. His fa­ther, Ralph, was a semi-pro­fes­sional soc­cer player be­fore the fam­ily im­mi­grated to Canada.

A tod­dler when his fam­ily ar­rived, Mackie learned soc­cer skills from his fa­ther, who worked at Im­pe­rial To­bacco in Guelph.

“My par­ents were very in­flu­en­tial with me get­ting in­volved with the game. My dad al­ways re­minds me that he was the best coach I ever had,” Mackie says, laugh­ing.

“But my mom re­minds me that they re­ally put me into soc­cer just because I was ex­tremely shy in school. It’s very in­ter­est­ing how you fall in love with the game. You love the game because it’s in­her­ited from your fam­ily, but there were some other in­cen­tives there from my par­ents. I think they wanted me to just come out of my shell a lit­tle bit.”

His fa­ther was his first coach and quickly pointed out how the game could be im­proved in Canada.

“My dad took us to this tour­na­ment and this Guelph team that I was play­ing on; we all had run­ning shoes. No­body wore soc­cer

boots (cleats). My dad went back to the club and said ev­ery other soc­cer club wears soc­cer boots, so we have to start im­ple­ment­ing this pol­icy. That was re­ally cool.”

His mom, Betty, made sure to keep me­men­toes of Mackie’s ca­reer, in­clud­ing con­tracts and hand­writ­ten notes on game sheets – “first pro game, great game, starter, sub.”

She tracked her son from his early am­a­teur days to pro­fes­sional soc­cer pitches in Eng­land and Scot­land.

Mackie had been quick to show prom­ise. He went to two On­tario Cup fi­nals as a youth player. At 16, he played un­der­age with the Guelph Oaks, an un­der-21 team, win­ning league most valu­able player his first year. He joined the re­serve pro­gram with the Toronto Bliz­zard in the for­mer North Amer­i­can Soc­cer League. He got to train with the se­nior team and was called up to play games. It was a dizzy­ing time as he got to see soc­cer le­gends such as Pele and Jo­han Cruyff.

He was still a teen when, af­ter a year study­ing elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer­ing at Sheri­dan Col­lege, he sam­pled soc­cer in Eng­land, train­ing with the renowned Chelsea club. He spent nine months in Chelsea’s re­serve pro­gram, also get­ting ex­po­sure to the se­nior team. But he missed his fam­ily and friends in Canada.

“I look back and it was re­ward­ing and sat­is­fy­ing for me. It’s a real test of your men­tal strength to be over there on your own, play­ing and train­ing pro­fes­sion­ally with play­ers. I grew pro­fes­sion­ally, I grew per­son­ally. It was a won­der­ful ex­pe­ri­ence but, at some point, I re­al­ized that I was miss­ing my par­ents.”

Mackie was over­seas for about a year, play­ing with teams in Eng­land and

AS­cot­land. On his return he was re­cruited to Wil­frid Lau­rier Univer­sity. He stud­ied phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion with mi­nors in psy­chol­ogy and ge­og­ra­phy. And he ex­celled on the univer­sity soc­cer team.

“Lau­rier had a great rep­u­ta­tion with their soc­cer pro­gram; they were con­sid­ered a peren­nial pow­er­house in the coun­try. I was quite happy to get into school and start play­ing on the Lau­rier team.”

The team went to two na­tional fi­nals. Mackie gar­nered On­tario all-star and all-Cana­dian honours while at Lau­rier. In sum­mers, he played in the Cana­dian Soc­cer League.

“I spent four years fly­ing all over the place and it was a re­ally cool time in Cana­dian soc­cer. TSN at the time had Soc­cer Sun­day. It was a na­tional game of the week. I con­sider my­self very for­tu­nate to have par­tic­i­pated in that league. It was a real breed­ing ground for the de­vel­op­ment of the na­tional team and the na­tional team play­ers.”

Coach­ing and men­tor­ing youth and chil­dren was a nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion. Even be­fore Mackie and his wife, Carolann, had their four chil­dren, he vol­un­teered to coach with Kitch­ener Mi­nor Soc­cer.

He also spent more than 20 years in full-time men­tal health work at Luther­wood. By 2003 he was coach­ing men’s and women’s soc­cer at the Univer­sity of Water­loo. nd then he faced a turn­ing point.

“In 2011, I re­ally had to make a de­ci­sion,” Mackie says. “I was di­ag­nosed with colon can­cer and re­al­ized I had to make some changes. It was too much. I was just burn­ing the can­dle at both ends.”

Can­cer stunned the fam­ily. Mackie was 46 and ex­cep­tion­ally fit.

“It was a bit of a shock, but at the same time it was a bit of a bless­ing in dis­guise. Sick­ness is never good. Can­cer is can­cer, but it was a re­al­ity check for me because I had three jobs on the go with a young fam­ily. It was re­ally push­ing me towards coach­ing full time and do­ing what I love to do,” Mackie re­calls.

His fam­ily found the di­ag­no­sis unimag­in­able.

“He was al­ways in such good shape, join­ing in on ses­sions with ath­letes 20 years younger than him and be­ing the best player in the park,” says Stu­art, Mackie’s son. “I was for­tu­nate enough to play with him for two sea­sons in the lo­cal Kitch­ener and Dis­trict Soc­cer League and his pas­sion for the game was un­be­liev­able. For 90 min­utes, he didn’t stop. Run­ning, tack­ling, pass­ing. He could do it all and he left it all on the park, al­ways.”

Stu­art can’t re­mem­ber his fa­ther ever get­ting sick be­fore can­cer.

“Maybe that’s why I re­mem­ber the day we found out about his ill­ness quite vividly,” Stu­art re­calls. “My dad had a tumour in his colon. It was ob­vi­ously shock­ing, shat­ter­ing, in­com­pre­hen­si­ble. Our fit, ac­tive, seem­ingly healthy fa­ther was se­ri­ously sick.”

Fam­ily, friends and the soc­cer com­mu­nity ral­lied to sup­port Mackie. His wife was a rock.

“She was emo­tional and worried, but she was un­be­liev­ably strong for my sib­lings and me, and my dad,” Stu­art re­calls. “So much of what my dad does as a coach wouldn’t be pos­si­ble with­out what my mom does be­hind the scenes. She’s an in­spir­ing mother and an in­cred­i­ble en­tre­pre­neur.”

Surgery fol­lowed the can­cer di­ag­no­sis and it worked. No ad­di­tional treat­ments were re­quired. Peter Mackie re­turned to his fam­ily and the game he loves. He now sees his ill­ness as a defin­ing mo­ment.

“We want this academy to be for ev­ery­one – ac­ces­si­ble, af­ford­able, at­tain­able.” PETER MACKIE RED Academy of Soc­cer

“2011 was a pretty crit­i­cal time in my life because it made me re­al­ize that you just can’t do it all. You have to pri­or­i­tize.”

He made the tough de­ci­sion to leave Luther­wood af­ter 23 years and fo­cus on coach­ing soc­cer. “I was dev­as­tated to leave there. I’m in­debted to Luther­wood. They are an un­be­liev­able or­ga­ni­za­tion. I still to this day drop in and visit old col­leagues there.”

Af­ter years of vol­un­teer work and five years as full-time head coach at the Water­loo Soc­cer Club, Mackie launched RED Academy of Soc­cer with his son, Stu­art.

“My son and I started talk­ing about a small busi­ness where we could fo­cus on the ath­letes. We re­ally want to fo­cus not just on the soc­cer player but the de­vel­op­ment of the ath­lete. We want to take this holis­tic approach of de­vel­op­ing the person.”

Draw­ing on his back­ground in men­tal health and his pas­sion for the sport, Mackie wants to train ath­letes and help them find path­ways to soc­cer at higher lev­els. It could be col­lege, univer­sity or pro­fes­sional.

To­day, he com­bines his soc­cer academy work with a coach­ing job at Con­estoga Col­lege, bring­ing new en­ergy and fo­cus to the school’s soc­cer pro­gram.

Var­sity co-or­di­na­tor Mar­lene Ford was thrilled when the col­lege re­cruited Mackie. “He knows he’s just not work­ing with a soc­cer player; he’s work­ing with a stu­dent ath­lete and their health and well-be­ing is above ev­ery­thing to him,” Ford says. “He’s re­ally chang­ing the face of our pro­gram.”

Mackie was voted the On­tario Col­leges Ath­letic As­so­ci­a­tion Coach of the Year for Con­estoga’s di­vi­sion.

“For him to come in as a first-year coach and be nom­i­nated for that, it shows how quickly he has made an im­pact on our pro­gram,” says Ford.

“I’m re­ally ex­cited to keep work­ing with him and cre­ate a new cul­ture at Con­estoga in a win­ning cul­ture.”

Mackie and his son launched RED Academy of Soc­cer in Novem­ber 2017, in­tend­ing to build a client base in the first

year with small-group ses­sions, one-onone and tech­ni­cal train­ing. But they were ex­cited to be ac­cepted into the Cana­dian Academy of Fut­bol for an Un­der-12 boys’ team this sum­mer. The long-term plan is for three to five academy teams at dif­fer­ent age lev­els.

“In the GTA, there’s hun­dreds of academies and there’s a bit of an elit­ist thing that’s at­tached to the academy. We are re­ally driven to re­move that,” Mackie says. “We want this academy to be for ev­ery­one – ac­ces­si­ble, af­ford­able, at­tain­able.”

At a re­cent team prac­tice at Bech­tel Park, par­ents spoke glow­ingly of Mackie’s abil­ity to coach their chil­dren in ways be­yond tech­ni­cal skills.

Dave Kalbfleisch says his son Owen, 11, loves all sports but soc­cer is his fo­cus.

“There’s not enough words to explain how good Peter and Stu­art are as coaches. It’s awe­some.

“I’ve been a coach, I have been coached. It’s just one of those gut feel­ings. You can see the ded­i­ca­tion, the com­pas­sion and just the way the boys re­act to them.”

Play­ers join­ing the academy are look­ing for ex­tra train­ing to en­hance their skills, just like youth hockey play­ers tak­ing power-skat­ing or dry-land train­ing.

“If he’s not play­ing, he’s on YouTube watch­ing,” says Jeff Hunt of his 11-yearold son, Aussie. Hunt in­stalled turf in his base­ment to make sure his soc­cer-lov­ing son could play through the win­ter. While other kids take slap­shots in the base­ment, Aussie kicks soc­cer balls.

“This area has be­come so di­verse and soc­cer has be­come more preva­lent,” says Hunt. “But what has been miss­ing is al­ter­na­tive train­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties. A qual­ity coach will make or break a child’s in­ter­est in some­thing. Peter was one of the best-kept se­crets in the re­gion.”

Pat Suri­ano’s 11-year-old son, Do­minic, was ea­ger to join. Suri­ano was so com­mit­ted to the academy con­cept, he vol­un­teered to de­sign the logo, which in­cor­po­rates the Scot­tish lion and a styl­ized soc­cer ball.

“Peter has a pos­i­tive im­pact with kids. He rec­og­nizes each kid and their abil­ity at their

age level. He tailors it to each player and of­fers a broad spec­trum for the kids,” says Suri­ano.

Mackie named his soc­cer academy RED as a nod to his favourite colour. “Noth­ing to do with TFC (Toronto) or Manch­ester United,” he points out. Mackie is known to wear a red ball cap and it was easy to build an acro­nym: R for Ready, E for Ed­u­cate and D for De­velop.

The vet­eran coach has also used another acro­nym since coach­ing at the Univer­sity of Water­loo. WRIP stands for Work, Rate, In­ten­sity, and Pas­sion.

“My sib­lings and I were al­ways around the teams and we all re­mem­ber him us­ing the acro­nym daily,” says Stu­art. “A cou­ple of the play­ers, in­clud­ing my sis­ter, Hay­ley, have (it) tat­tooed on their wrist. The women’s pro­gram used to tape their wrists and write WRIP on the tape be­fore each game.”

Stu­art cred­its his fa­ther’s coach­ing suc­cess partly to his in­fec­tious per­son­al­ity.

“He gets along with al­most ev­ery­one he meets. As a coach, kids ab­so­lutely adore him. He leaves his mark on the kids and young adults he has coached that are life­last­ing,” says Stu­art. “Of course, my dad has flaws, like ev­ery­one, and he would be the first to ad­mit them. But I ad­mire him very much. He’s the ul­ti­mate role model for me as an as­pir­ing coach and fa­ther.”

All four of Mackie’s chil­dren have em­braced the game. Stu­art, who played soc­cer for Univer­sity of Water­loo, has fol­lowed his fa­ther into coach­ing as a part-time coach with the TFC Ju­nior pro­gram.

Daugh­ter Hay­ley was a start­ing player for the Hum­ber women’s var­sity soc­cer team this year. Son Andrew plays on the Con­estoga Col­lege var­sity soc­cer team and won Rookie of the Year this year. Daugh­ter Tay­lor played house league soc­cer and was a competitive high­land dancer.

Now that Mackie has leapt into en­trepreneur­ship, he hopes to com­ple­ment the work done by lo­cal soc­cer groups.

“I have a tremen­dous amount of re­spect for all of the vol­un­teer clubs, the big four – Kitch­ener, Water­loo, Cam­bridge and Guelph. I used to play in Guelph as a young player. I spent years in Kitch­ener as a vol­un­teer coach and then I spent years as an em­ployee with Water­loo Soc­cer Club. So, I have a tremen­dous amount of re­spect for all of those four or­ga­ni­za­tions and they all do a great job work­ing with play­ers and work­ing with vol­un­teer coaches,” Mackie says.

He re­mem­bers how soc­cer helped him grow and he wants to share that ex­pe­ri­ence. For ex­am­ple, he had each player sign a “con­tract” when they were cho­sen for the first academy team. Think sign­ing cer­e­mony, hand­shake, photo ops.

“That was a re­ally cool thing that they did,” says par­ent Dave Kalbfleisch. “You could light up 28,000 rooms with the faces of those boys that night.”

It wasn’t just the boys and their par­ents who were smil­ing. The man in the red ball cap was beam­ing too.

Peter Mackie has come a long way since his early days on the soc­cer pitches of Guelph.

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