In this Ottawa Reflections podcast, Christopher Adam speaks with Coach William Davenport at Viva Recording Studios. Coach Davenport, the founder of WillPower, is a 25 year old man who experienced trauma in his own childhood, but then found new hope, support and purpose in his passion for basketball and helping at-risk youth in the Canadian capital. After several years at the YMCA and at Capital Courts in Orleans, this January Coach Davenport began offering free youth basketball nights every Friday at 9:00 pm for teenagers at the Overbrook Community Centre. As he explains, it’s not only about basketball — it’s also about serving as a mentor, as well as offering a safe space, connections with each other and showcasing young adult role models in the community.
When he was just 13 years old, Coach Davenport lost his father to suicide. Basketball, and specifically a coach and mentor he met, helped him work through that profound loss. “I found a calling in basketball; I was drawn to it when after school many of my friends would head down to the local YMCA. That was my place to be — I didn’t want to go home and deal with my emotions in ways that would have probably been unhealthy for me,” he explained. “I found a really healthy outcome with basketball. It was a great place for me to express myself, to find competition and to make friends,” he added. More than a decade of playing basketball has been a formative experience. Ten years later, he still speaks of Coach Chris who had such a positive impact on his life. He hopes to be that person for youth today who face hardship, loss or alienation.
What are the risk that youth face in Ottawa today? Coach Davenport noted the closure of gyms, especially in the last five years. Thus far, three major gyms with indoor basketball courts have been shuttered in Ottawa. In a city with a long winter, this leaves youth without any places to gather and play. It’s expected that the downtown YMCA will close as well in a few years and this will only exacerbate an already difficult situation. “Once the downtown YMCA is gone, there won’t be any places for kids to go and play for free or for an affordable price in the city’s core,” Coach Davenport noted. Another risk is the way in which youth are being exposed to gambling online, especially when watching basketball, easily leading to bad habits and addictions at a young age. While in the not too distant past, online sports broadcasts included analysis during the half-time, these days it’s often more about promoting gambling. The instant gratification provided by some social media, especially TikTok, and the resulting attention deficiency, also serves as a risk for youth in 2024.
Ottawa Reflections visited Coach Davenport’s first youth night at the Overbrook Community Centre. Moving forward, he plans to invite a different guest every other week who can bring a new perspective to the sport and serve as an inspiration for youth. When we visited the first youth night, Coach Davenport was joined by Coach Soungui Koulamallah of Soungui Fitness. Additionally, when youth train with Coach Davenport, they’re getting the services and experience of a professional coach who has worked with athletes at the NBA level, as well as with overseas Olympians. Thanks to the fact that he has good relationships with this caliber of players, he plans to invite some of them to youth nights as well.
“Based on my own life experience, I want to provide a voice for the kids, hear them and what they need. Maybe there’s one kid who comes up to me and says that he is struggling with something and I can provide them with some guidance. Youth nights include competitive runs, as well as having older, positive influences in the gym for them,” Coach Davenport explained.
“I’m first and foremost a mentor,” Coach Davenport notes. “That’s what I push as the first message. As that relationship builds, we go towards friendship, where they feel that they can trust me a lot more. But seeing myself more like a big brother is what I pride myself on. You can look at someone like myself. It wasn’t that I didn’t have a mentor. It was that my mentor unfortunately got taken away from me. I found new mentorship at the YMCA. Coach Chris was someone that I looked up to a lot. He gave me a lot of guidance and empowerment. He has been a great positive influence for me and I hope to be something like that for these kids.”
Coach Davenport added that basketball is a great way to bring people together and to build relationships, including a space for meaningful conversations. He exudes enthusiasm and energy — even in the studio. “My battery does not drain,” Coach Davenport said. But that battery also means that he sets tough goals for those he coaches and has high expectations of them. He provides real, critical feedback and praise comes when he sees real effort and accomplishment. He’s not militaristic as a coach, but he’s also not a wallflower nor a push-over. He extends and also expects seriousness and dedication.
He’s invested his time, energy and money into sharing his love of basketball with youth. In fact, when we met at the Overbrook Community Centre, he pointed out some of the well-used equipment that was ripe for replacement. He raised funds over the past months and plans to use this to improve what the centre has on hand.
In the long, dark mid-winter nights, William Davenport offers a bright spot for youth of Ottawa seeking to learn new skills, to push themselves, meet others and find mentors and role models that they can trust.