Local athletes link leadership, learning, sports

The message that achievement in sports and academics are intertwined is an important one for athletes to hear early in life, said Ahmad Brooks, co-owner and leadership coordinator for local business Helping Adolescents Lead Others.

The Southwest Austin–based after-school leadership program aims to help athletes in kindergarten through eighth grade learn leadership skills through mentorship, education and sports.

Program participants receive transportation from school to SoccerZone South Austin, have healthy snacks and spend about an hour working on homework, listening to presentations or participating in leadership exercises. HALO brings in college tutors to help students with homework, Brooks said.

"A lot of that is to support the idea that athletics come after school," he said, noting his mother instilled in him early on that he could not succeed as an athlete without good grades.

Glen Mayes, HALO co-owner and program director, has been involved with other after-school programs and served as a juvenile corrections officer. He said education and discipline can help students accomplish their goals.

"[In] sports, you have to go to practice. Some people hate practice—some people want to just be in the game. But it's a discipline that you have to put yourself through that is going to make you better and more well-rounded in all aspects of yourself," he said.

After homework, students participate in fitness activities including soccer, flag football, yoga and low ropes courses.

HALO also offers a singular sports program, Skills Training, in soccer or football. Mayes said curriculum ranges from basic fundamentals to the ability to conceptualize and see the field in terms of the bigger picture.

Brooks, Mayes and Frank J. Muoz grew up together, played soccer on the same team and later played college sports. Today, the three athletes co-own the business along with Josh Godwin, who became general manager in 2013 and will supervise HALO's Cedar Park location opening this fall, Brooks said.

Launched about three years ago as a nonprofit, HALO became a limited liability company, or LLC, in 2013. Enrollment grew from 18 to 47 students during the past semester, Brooks said.

Pickup time is 5:15–6 p.m. daily. Participation costs $325 per month, and Brooks said HALO offers scholarships to students based on financial need.

"Each one of these kids can be a leader on or off the field," Mayes said.

HALO's honor code

Participants in Helping Adolescents Lead Others programs take part in charitable activities including raising funds and supplies for local nonprofits.

HALO also has an honor code that comprises five key goals for students to aspire to achieve. Students in HALO's after-school programs recite the mantra daily, parent Shane Cordova Lilly said.

HALO's programs director helps kids learn to 'FOCUS'

In 2013, HALO introduced curriculum based on the acronym FOCUS, according to Glen Mayes, co-owner and program director.

The acronym FOCUS stands for:

  • Feel your surroundings
  • Observe the situation
  • Center yourself
  • Utilize your tools
  • Strike

Mayes said following these steps, based on staffers' experience with meditation and karate principles, can help children with behavioral issues.

"When they're mad, a lot of kids do not know how to communicate, and so they react with physical force," he said. "If you learn to communicate how you feel, then it's a lot easier to de-stress and decompress and talk about your issues."

After-school programs

Ahmad Brooks, along with other former athletes, launched local after-school program Helping Adolescents Lead Others, which aims to help children discover their leadership potential through athletics.

The business offers its programs on weekdays at SoccerZone South Austin.

A parent's perspective

Southwest Austin resident Shane Cordova Lilly said HALO has made a difference for her 7-year-old son Gustavo.

"He's a good kid. He's just easily bored and likes to be in charge," she said.

Staff members check his school folder daily and keep in touch with teachers, Lilly said.

"[HALO staff members] asked us in the beginning, 'What things do you want us to work on here with your son?' They not only lived up to my expectations, but they exceeded them," she said.

SoccerZone South Austin, 9501 Manchaca Road, 512-827-9195, www.haloaustin.com