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Founder's Story

Stefan Lewis | Founder of Alex Higgins Academy

Early & Adolescent Years

Stefan’s start to life was not the easiest, struggling with his own behavioural issues during his academic life since primary school. Stefan’s secondary school experience consisted of countless detentions, significant amount of time spent in isolation instead of lessons, and numerous exclusions from school. Representing the school in Football, Tennis and other extracurricular activities, such as, Performing Arts and MCing were the positive aspects and the activities that kept the school from permanently excluding him. The several detentions and isolation periods hindered Stefan’s learning and access to learning, which had a detrimental impact on his final grades, only obtaining 4 out of a 10 GCSE’s at (A*- C / 9 – 4).

Stefan at 16 years old, 2006

Although his school allowed him to start his A levels, Stefan became heavily engrossed with MCing and gangs during his adolescent years, which seemed more appealing than education at the time. At 17, Stefan was involved in a gang related incident, which consequently resulted in a 3-year custodial sentence in January 2008 for Grievous Bodily Harm (GBH).

Rehabilitation Years

After serving 18 months in a Young Offenders Institute, at 19, Stefan decided to turn his life around by pursuing a career in Football Coaching, despite the potential barriers he might have faced whilst working with members of the public due to his previous conviction. Within 3 months of release, Stefan returned to full-time education, enrolling on the NVQ Level 2 Football Coaching course at City of Wolverhampton College. After completing the course in June 2010, the Course Lecturer, Joe Jackson, gave Stefan a volunteering opportunity to become a Coach & Manager for his Football Academy, New Park Village Football Development (NPVFD). This opportunity was facilitated by one of Stefan’s peers, Kyle Williams, an opportunity that changed his life.  

Left: Kyle Williams and Stefan at NPV 2011/12 Awards Evening Right: NPV Under 12’s 2012/13 Season

While Coaching at NPVFD, Stefan also worked at Everything Everywhere (EE) between 2010 – 2012 while struggling to get other opportunities in sport or education due to his DBS. In 2012, Stefan applied for a Head Sports Tutor role at Edu8. Despite not landing the role due to his lack of experience and DBS, his honesty during the interview process and his life experience led to the company creating an Assistant Sports Tutor role for him. In this role, Stefan delivered Multi-Sport courses and Functional Skills (English & Maths) in an alternative provision for 13-18-year olds who were not in education, employment or training (NEET).

Sporting Life

Stefan spent 4 years at NPVFD, where he gained vasts amount of experience, personal development and various qualifications, such as, FA Level 1 & 2, Sports Leadership Award and a BTEC Level 2 Award in Peer Mentoring. During his managerial career, Stefan and Kyle led their team from Under 10’s to Under 13’s to numerous league and cups, winning manager of the year award twice, and notably going undefeated in all competitions in the 2012/13 season (winning 27 out of 30 matches, winning 2 league titles and 3 cups). Stefan was also a 1-2-1 Goalkeeping Coach for his own team and throughout the academy.

JA Connections Programme, Negril, Jamaica, 2014

Between 2013 – 2014, Stefan was part of a voluntary organisation (JA Connections), where he organised and facilitated fundraising events, raising £25,000 to carry out voluntary coaching for young people in deprived areas in Negril, Jamaica. The two weeks of coaching took place between July – August 2014, which was a once in a lifetime and eye-opening opportunity for Stefan and all those involved.

Returning to Education

Stefan realised that his previous conviction was limiting his opportunities in a career working with young people, so he decided to go back to education to improve his chances in the future. In 2012, Stefan left Educ8 to go back to City of Wolverhampton College for the third time within three years of being realised from jail and enrolled on the Access to Higher Education course in order to go to University. Stefan attended the course part-time over 2 years, while working part-time to support himself, and while maintaining his role at NPVFD. He completed the Access course in June 2014.

In September 2014, at 24, Stefan left Wolverhampton and moved to South London to study Sports Psychology at Roehampton University. During his 2nd and 3rd years of study, Stefan worked for Sport Roehampton (Roehampton University Sports Department) as the University Football Activator. Stefan was in charge of all recreational football at the University for students and staff, providing sports qualifications, voluntary roles for students and improving women’s football participation. In this role, he collaborated with the London FA, British Universities & Colleges Sport (BUCS), and Crystal Palace FC. Stefan delivered 1-2-1 Goalkeeping sessions for the Men’s and Women’s University teams, although he had to stop playing for the University’s 1st team due to a Hernia injury. During his 3rd year, Stefan also carried out voluntary mentoring and educational support for Tottenham Hotspurs Foundation’s FdSc Applied Football Coaching & Performance students.

Left: Meeting David Garrido (Sky Sports News) at BUCS Football Development Conference, 2017 | Right: University Football Activator, 2016

Stefan completed the Sports Psychology Degree in May 2017, despite recovering from a hernia surgery during the 2 months when final assignments, exams and dissertation were due for submission. This had an impact on his overall grade and a detrimental effect on his physical and mental health. Stefan’s dissertation topic was ‘The associations between perceived autonomy-supportive behaviours, controlling coaching behaviours and motivation: A comparison of team and individual sports’.

BSc Sport Psychology, 2017

Stefan continued his studies, returning to Roehampton University in September 2017 to obtain a Master’s Degree in Psychology of Sport & Exercise. He completed this course over 2 years, whilst working during his 1st year at Lilywhites, and as a Learning Mentor at Rise Education, an Alternative Provision for Secondary School students with Social, Emotional and Mental Health needs (SEMH). During his 2nd year, he worked at Beckmead School as a Teaching Assistant, working with young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) & Social, Emotional and Mental Health needs (SEMH), and at Crystal Palace Football Foundation as a Community Engagement Coach. Stefan continued his research in coach-athlete relationships for his Master Dissertation, titled ‘The moderating role of race/ethnicity on the coach-athlete relationship and interpersonal and group outcomes’, completing the Master’s Degree in August 2019.

MSc Sport and Exercise Psychology, 2019

Becoming the Founder of Alex Higgins Academy

Stefan and Alex became friends in secondary school, when Alex returned to education and started attending Smestow School following surgery in 2000 and an extensive recovery period. Stefan and Alex’s relationship continued outside of school as they both lived in the same area, shared a passion for Football and were both massive Manchester United fans. Stefan and Alex spent a lot of time playing football in West Park and in various streets with several friends from the Whitmore Reans area. If they were not physically playing football, they would be playing FIFA or watching football together. Both Stefan and Alex completed their NVQ Level 2 Football Coaching course at City of Wolverhampton College and worked with Joe Jackson at NPVFD. When Alex created Midlands Allstars Football Club, he made sure Stefan had an integral part in it, seeking Stefan’s assistance in managing the team and making him the club captain.

The relationship with Alex allowed Stefan to become more aware of the life of individuals with Visual Impairments and Special Educational Needs. More importantly, Stefan learned to be self-aware, conscientious and be inclusive when interacting with others. Alex was instrumental in this learning, as he explained and showed Stefan how others similar to him would like to be treated and accepted in society, despite all the adversity Alex would face daily. Alex also showed Stefan and other peers the value of independence, as he wanted to do as much as he could independently but was never shy to ask for help when needed. Despite the daily challenges he faced, Alex never complained and adapted to every situation, which ironically made it easier for everyone who was fortunate enough to be graced with his presence and friendship. Following Alex’s tragic and untimely death in October 2015, Stefan was asked by Alex’s Family to speak at his Funeral.

Two days after submitting his Master Dissertation, Stefan started to plan the creation of his own company, as a mean to fulfil his dream of giving back to the community by working with athletes and young people from disadvantaged areas, young people at risk of criminal activity and young people with special educational needs. After getting consent from Alex Higgins’s family, and in order to honour his life, Alex Higgins Academy LTD was established in March 2020.

Alex Higgins Memorial, 2021