Beyond the Game

A Mission to Empower Youth through Community Basketball

“Good Shot, Nice Save, Eyes Up!”  Step into the world of youth basketball in the heart of the Overbrook community. Every week, young athletes gather for Youth Night, a program run by dedicated coach and professional trainer Will Davenport. Youth Night goes beyond playing basketball—it’s a chance for youth to feel empowered in life through a game they love. The program bonds together a coach’s mentorship and a dedicated team to encourage passion, excellence, and practice! 

This month, Youth Ottawa turns to the critical role sports play in shaping positive outcomes for youth in our society. We recently had the opportunity to catch up with Will and the participants at Youth Night to learn all about the free program Will organizes and its profound impact on youth in the community. Read ahead to explore the significance of mentorship and empowerment through basketball with Youth Night.

Video courtesy of Vanna Noun – ReNoun Creation

A Game Changer: Yes, Sports Matter.

Playing sports isn’t just about competing for a victory. It is vital for maintaining overall positive well-being, both physically and mentally. Research continues to acknowledge and discover the overwhelming advantages of regular engagement in sports for youth populations. Studies underline a wave of benefits for youth involved in sports, ranging from cardiovascular health to enhanced cognitive development and academic performance. 

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of physical activity for mental health among youth. A long-term study from the University of Rotterdam confirms this, concluding that participation in sports during childhood is strongly linked to higher self-esteem later in life. Additionally, research findings cited in a recent ParticipACTION report suggest that increased physical activity relates to reduced mental health visits, improved focus, and decreased symptoms of depression. There’s no question that staying active through sports is a win for youth’s physical and mental well-being.

Navigating Barriers: A Call to Action

While the benefits of sports for youth are clear, access to programs often falls short due to financial constraints and limited resources. Rising costs make memberships and fees less affordable, with a recent Canadian survey revealing that 44 percent of parents struggle, citing affordability as the main reason preventing them from registering their children for organized sports, mainly due to rising recreational fees. This reality leaves marginalized communities disproportionately affected. Although some community centers offer free drop-in programs through city initiatives, capacity remains an issue as there are fewer centers to accommodate a growing population and increased competition with paid programming for space. 

These challenges, combined with a personal journey and love for the sport of basketball, inspired Will Davenport to be part of the solution for his community.

A Coach's Vision Brought to Life:

Will’s Youth Night, a grassroots initiative at the Overbrook community center, was born out of a desire to create opportunities for young athletes. Having experienced the loss of his father to suicide at a young age, Will recognizes the transformative power of basketball in his own life. With years of experience as a professional trainer and coach, coupled with his involvement in youth mentorship programs in the city, he noticed the gap in accessible sports programming and mentorship opportunities. In a society battling the challenges of mental health crisis, discrimination, and poverty, he wanted to give youth a safe and positive space where they could build confidence and have fun.

“Sport is the greatest analogy to life; through it you strive for the best, it creates lasting bonds, by bringing people together to work towards positive goals and life-changing moments.” – Will Davenport 


The program, funded by Will and the support of dedicated community sponsors, allows youth ages 13-17 to drop in for free on Friday nights to play ball and belong. Everyone is welcome, no matter their basketball abilities. The program also inspires kids who dream of playing professionally one day by offering free one-on-one coaching and enlisting the involvement of special guests, including university and professional-level players. Youth Night has also provided seasoned participants with some leadership opportunities as they work to support program demand through coaching. 

One of the program’s greatest successes is the difference it makes for youth seeking a dependable support network. Many have expressed their gratitude for the program’s impact on various aspects of their lives.  

Introducing Youth Night Participants & Mentors

Joëlle helping a team mate on the court

Upon immigrating to Canada, Joëlle Mukadi found a sense of belonging through basketball, where Will and the program welcomed him into a new community. Now serving as a support coach, he aspires to expand the program, aiming to extend the same support and mentorship to more youth.

“Basketball taught me more than just a game. It could be as simple as having shooting issues, and still teaches so much. I learned to be more patient and more disciplined. I think basketball teaches you to listen more, listen to your parents. Will’s been like a brother, guiding me through challenges and helping me stay positive. His support goes beyond the court.

Basketball really teaches you to grow as a person. You understand that life is not just about winning, but also losing. You learn to lose, to work really hard, and to walk away from bad situations.”Joëlle

Then & Now: Jeremy pictured at 9 years old and today.
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Jeremy Strohmenger first crossed paths with Will at the age of 9 when he joined a youth sports program under Will’s leadership. Despite being one of the youngest, Jeremy felt valued as a team player. Over the years, he has noticed progress and improvement in himself,  and is grateful for the encouragement he receives. Jeremy looks forward to the Youth Program every Friday, where he continues to strive for improvement every week. 

“Basketball isn’t just a sport; it’s inspiration, it’s unity—it’s in your heart. The program helps me stay focused, and Will has taught me to reach for my fullest potential. He pushes me through everything and I look up to him.” -Jeremy

Jacob Wong attending Youth Night

“Youth Night at Overbrook is a great program. I get to meet new people. I really enjoy having the space to play. I have improved a lot of skills through basketball. It has been a great confidence builder.”Jacob 

A Dream to Expand Across Ottawa Communities

Throughout the program, Will has witnessed the remarkable personal growth, improvement, and dedication of many kids. It has been amazing to welcome participants who return weekly, eager to build their skills. The current program can accommodate 25 youth arriving at a time. However, with limited gym availability, it can become challenging to take in a high volume of kids who walk through the gym doors ready to play, and Will’s greatest disappointment is to have to turn them away. 

Youth Night has also attracted youth from neighbouring communities, many of whom travel long distances to access the program. Looking ahead, Will hopes to expand to other community centres and gyms across the city to create more opportunities for young people. Program growth has had challenges related to funding and resources, but Will does not plan on quitting. He has faith that with increased community awareness and support, the program’s expansion can become a reality to empower more youth

At Youth Ottawa, we believe in investing in programs like Will’s to engage transformative action to better our communities. Despite their significant impact, grassroots initiatives often go unnoticed due to limited advocacy resources. While it only takes one person’s dedication to initiate something special, it requires the collective effort of the community to grow and nurture its full potential. To learn more and explore ways you can support, contact Will Davenport by clicking the link below.