By Christina Cavazos
As Charmas Lee walked the halls of his elementary school alma mater more than 50 years later, he envisioned a program that would help youths today achieve personal and academic success.
Lee owns Building Champions, a Colorado Springs business that specializes in personal and professional development in corporate, academic and athletic areas. He is a high-performance coach, author, public speaker, and sports and fitness professional.
For more than 30 years, he’s used his knowledge to help individuals transform their lives. Now, through his Achieving Competitive Excellence (ACE) program he’s sharing his knowledge with children so they may be better prepared and focused for future success.
“I’m not a teacher, and I don’t have the skillset to be a teacher, but I’m one of the best coaches in the country for a reason,” Lee said. “I teach people how to win in their lives — through discipline, structure, and belief in oneself. When everything else is equal, you have to believe in your ability and your skillset.”
Lee is a certified registered exercise physiologist, certified strength and conditioning specialist, and certified Level 3 USA Track and Field Coach, qualified to coach athletes at the Olympic level. He has authored seven books and has twice been a TEDx speaker. He has played a role in the development of numerous amateur and professional athletes across the country.
“I’m also the father of five kids. I have a fantastic wife and I have a fantastic life, but it hasn’t always been that way. Life has had its challenges,” he said.
What he’s learned is that every experience — even the bad — is valuable.
“Every experience that we have in our lives creates an equity that we can use later in life,” Lee said. “In your youth and in adulthood, you’re going to come face-to-face with many obstacles. When I’ve learned how to respond appropriately to the challenges, I’ve realized that I have an arsenal of tools.”
Lee spoke with the Business Journal about his coaching experience, the ACE program, and what the future holds.
What drew you into coaching?
I played sports in high school. Sports were truly my sanctuary. I also had a couple of coaches that were amazing. When I got into coaching it was just athletic coaching at first, but I quickly realized there were many ways to impact people’s lives. At some point, you realize you’re too old to be an athlete but you can still impact the game. I decided if I was going to be a coach, then I was going to be the best that I could be.
As a life skills coach, what is your process for working with individuals?
My company, Building Champions, specializes in personal and professional development in corporate, academic and athletic arenas. But every process starts the same way. We start with an evaluation. Whether you’re a CEO or a high-performance athlete, we start with an evaluation. The only way to help you determine where you need to go is to see where you’re at.
After we determine their strengths and weaknesses, we develop a blueprint for achievement tailored to that person. So, say you’re a baseline manager for an organization. Once I talk to you and gather data, I come along beside you and create a blueprint that you can follow with some friendly accountability measures that will position you for the best chance of success. We focus on mental fortitude training, nutrition, fitness, professional development. Even in the athletic arenas, we put a focus on developing the mind because your mindset is so important.
Tell us about the ACE program.
ACE stands for Achieving Competitive Excellence. It’s a program designed to improve students’ self-efficacy, their focus, their social development, their emotional development. In my over 32 years as a coach, what I’ve found is that if I can’t forge a link between attention and excellence, it doesn’t matter.
This program is focused primarily on third-graders, fourth-graders and fifth-graders. We primarily teach them various skills to focus on concentration. It’s a concentrated effort to focus on what’s important and teaching them to use their executive brain functions.
With that, we focus on three elements. The first element is ‘to attune,’ which means to pay attention to their instructor or instruction. The second is to inhibit. Many students in the schools that I work in come with many challenges. They may have a single parent, they may have a parent who’s in prison, some may even be homeless. We teach them to release the toxic thoughts that would inhibit their ability to pay attention. And then the third element is when we work in memory. You have to practice in order to use this, but it means that you can call upon what you learn when you need it in the future.
Students have an inability to pay attention for many reasons, but if they attune, inhibit, and work in memory, they can get data when they need to. It’s important especially in the areas of emotional regulation. Students can lash out for a variety of reasons, but we teach them different tools to de-escalate. We teach them to make each day a glorified brilliance for themselves. Much in the same way that I would develop a blueprint for success for a CEO, I do the same thing with students. When you’re at school, you’re at school and you have something to focus on. This gives them a vision and goal.
It’s amazing how some of them have excelled through this process, and the teachers are doing a fantastic job. It was nostalgic to walk through my school, John Adams Elementary School. I wanted to do what I could do. My skills are in coaching. So, I took models that I’ve used and created comprehensive strategies that people can use in everyday life.
You mentioned that when students are at school, they are focused on school — but school only accounts for about a third of their day. How does your program translate to their home life?
You’re absolutely right, the student always has to go home. We teach them a mental fortitude routine that starts before school, when they first wake up in the morning, and lasts throughout the day. We teach them a form of meditation that improves their brain function. We teach a 90-second routine that they do at the start of class, and they can use it at home in any situation. We also equip them with posters that they take home.
So their morning routine starts by teaching them to silence their minds upon waking up and teaching them to pay attention to their internal narrative. Many children are at war with themselves upon awakening; many adults are, too, for that matter. We teach them to pay attention to words. We ask them to write down words that they want to focus on for about a week or so. The words that we focus on are ‘powerful,’ ‘impactful’ and ‘purposeful.’ The students come up with all kinds of cool words, like ‘energy,’ ‘passion,’ ‘fun,’ ‘joy.’ We teach them to take those words and create the environment they’re looking for.
The second step is you have to speak the words into existence. Words can be tools of torture or instruments of inspiration. We teach them to focus on the things they are thinking or saying, articulate it into the cosmos and then speak it out loud.
Then we ask them to take an immediate action that reflects those words.
Studies have shown that your first three to six thoughts set the trajectory for your day. We teach them metacognition to tap into what they are thinking.
We also give them a p.m. routine that they do before bed at night where we ask them to predict what their day will look like tomorrow based on what they know. We ask them to think about, ‘What kind of a person do you want to be tomorrow? How do you want to show up tomorrow?’ We also ask them to think about one situation that may be a challenge tomorrow because you know what, if you think about it, your brain will help solve it for you.
When did the ACE program officially start and how many students have you served so far?
ACE started in 2014 with a pilot group of 52 students at Helen Hunt Elementary School. We had tremendous success there and we brought in many tools to improve cognitive performance. In 2017, a new opportunity showed up at North Middle School. Then in 2018, we had the opportunity to grow to Adams Elementary, where it’s been for the last couple of years.
Last year, we served 560 students between North and Adams. We’re growing by 160 students this year because we’re adding Rogers Elementary School.
This program has also been at the collegiate level, but under a different name. It was called True Grit then. This is a program that you can shift and tweak to meet the population. I’ve been a coach for over 32 years, and I’ve been using these principles the whole time.
What are your plans for the future?
My goal now is I’m still in the athletic arena to a certain degree, but I’m transitioning to more of the professional mode. I want to take my knowledge and my skills, and I want to be on the world stage and teach people how to sell themselves on themselves. In 2021, my goal is to impact 1.9 million people and empower them with tools they can use on a daily basis.
I also want to leave a legacy. My legacy will not be determined by my win-lose column as a coach. My legacy will be determined by the number of lives I impact. I don’t think there is any greater gift that you can give someone than the ability to transform.