The Center for Sports Leadership & Innovation seeks to cultivate the character development, leadership skills and long-term welfare of athletes and coaches. This mission began with University of Texas athletes, all of whom take the CSLi-created course “Gameplan For Winning at Life” during their freshman year. Then it expanded to AISD team sport captains through Captains Academy.

And this spring, CSLi hit the road, traveling west on Highway 71 to bring our visionary leadership training to the Cavalier Activity Center, home of the Lake Travis High School football team.

“We were looking for something to give our guys some more tools, not only for what would help them in athletics, but really for life in general,” Lake Travis athletic director and head football coach Hank Carter said. “The things that CSLi gave our kids are going to be valuable and they’re going to use them for the rest of their life.”

CSLi’s founding director Daron K. Roberts and program administrator Taylor Brown spent 15 weeks with the six-time state champion Cavaliers, even bringing in special guests Jeremy Thiel, owner of CrossFit Central, and Jeremy Hills and Collin Johnson, both University of Texas football players, for a few of the sessions. The curriculum covered a variety of concepts including growth mindset, core values, mindfulness, accountability, and defining manhood.

“These are life skills. We’re in a football facility, but this is life skills,” junior defensive back Cam Correa said.

“What I like the most is it makes the kids speak up, and it makes the kids get out of their comfort zone and makes them talk about things that they don’t necessarily love talking about, but they’re becoming more and more comfortable about doing it,” Carter said.

Safeties/secondary coach Tanner Jacobs highlighted the core values session as the topic he found most impactful. After that session, the team selected “purpose,” “drive,” and “accountability” as a few of their core values.

Jacobs also emphasized that hearing these concepts and lessons from someone other than a parent or a coach makes them more likely to sink in with the young athletes.

“They are hearing the character and they’re hearing accountability and they’re hearing the purpose and they’re hearing the drive, and it’s not coming from us,” Jacobs said. “Because we say it all the time, but when Collin Johnson comes in and says, ‘Hey, you guys need to pay attention to hydration,’ they’re like, ‘oh.’ He holds some more credibility in their eyes than we do.”

At the end of the 15-week program, Carter and his staff have already noticed a difference in their athletes.

“They are more willing to share emotion,” Carter said. “Most of the training happened during our offseason and during our winter workouts and it seemed like guys were less concerned about being so self aware and how they might look if they act emotionally. I don’t mean crying or getting upset, I mean, joy, elation, and I feel like that’s a direct result of some of the sessions and the things that CSLi was giving our guys.”

Wide receivers coach Curtis Clay noted a different type of growth in the team.

“Some of the biggest changes I’ve seen [are in] those kids who have wanted to be vocal, you see that they have maybe some leadership qualities, but they haven’t felt the most confident or comfortable to actually put themselves out there,” Clay said. “I’ve seen more students who are willing to hold their teammates accountable or speak up for somebody. Whether they’re a starter or whether they’re a scout-team guy, we’ve seen more of those guys who already have those qualities and now they’re more confident to actually exercise them.”

Of course, Lake Travis doesn’t just have a state-championship-winning football team. The school has 16 varsity sports teams, and Carter is looking forward to bringing CSLi’s brand of leadership to every varsity athlete on campus.

“I think a program like this would be crucial for any high school program, just because you have kids, especially with football, you have young men at such a influential time in their life,” Carter said. “They’re so easily swayed with peer pressure. It’s so easy for them to just fall in line with what everybody else is doing. Something like this reminds them that it’s OK to think for themselves. It reminds them that it’s not a weakness to be vulnerable or it’s not a weakness to get outside of your comfort zone.

“My hope would be that we can somehow get all of our student-athletes involved in this moving forward.”