By RENALDO DORSETT
Tribune Sports Reporter
A FORMER junior national team standout has made the transition to coaching and training to impact a future generation of student-athletes in the Bahamas.
Ollen Smith and his Empower Sports Network plans to focus on the development of youth basketball throughout the country.
Smith was recently on a recruiting trip for St Mary’s University and also conducted clinics in Nassau and Eleuthera to target aspiring players.
“We formed this last year off of doing three training sessions on Centreville Park. Started out with four kids, two days later the numbers were up to 45. Kids from the surrounding areas they all turned out and were eager to be a part of it. Seeing the impact it had, we started to focus on the brand,” Smith said. “We went to Canada, took it to the Canada Games Center and people just fell in love with it. With our brand it’s not only basketball focused but we want to touch base with football, soccer and every other sports to tie in Canada and the Bahamas. Our goal right now is continued growth.”
Empower hosted a one-day clinic at DW Davis and in James Cistern, Eleuthera. Smith said what the country needs at the youth level is a greater year-round focus on skill development.
“We need more people travelling to places to seek out talent. I saw kids with talent, they just need the right help to be seen and develop the skills necessary. We had about 25 players out and you can tell right away kids were ready to show their skills off. It was a good showing. I was happy to see these kids could actually play – super athletic, run the floor, play defence.”
He said: “We do a lot of youth and college training for players at the university level and the difference is that they start very young. We don’t have a lot of youth and development training programmes in the Bahamas but Canada they have made it a focal point, it’s a priority for those kids at the primary school level and junior school level and go beyond a few games a season. They have training camps, tournaments, and put in extra work to separate themselves from their peers at a young age. Bahamians see that kind of late so we are always a few steps behind so we have to work on fixing that.”
Smith starred locally at the junior level for St Augustine’s, DW Davis and Prince William before matriculating to prep school in Marietta, Georgia and eventually the University of Prince Edward Island Panthers.
“I never thought I would be at this point, I was looking at playing pro overseas and I just wanted to be able to say someone from Centreville went out and was doing something kind of big on the court. I could have been playing, but either I went the hectic life of trying out, going back and forth with road trips or staying in one place and building the brand. I feel like that was bigger than me so the choice was to go this route and I feel like what I’m about to do will impact so many people,” he said.
“Empower is something that I believe in. I’ve always wanted to empower others and I feel like good leaders mentor. Mentoring is something that has a really good connection to empowering someone. If I give you the tools to carry on what I have learned to become better than I am then that’s me empowering you to face any adversity or trials.”
Empower has plans to expand beyond basketball to other sports, but also has a major exchange programme in the pipeline for the immediate future.
“I don’t only want to give back but it’s how you give back. The first thing people want to do when they make it is to host a tournament. But we have the youth and we have females that are left out a lot of the times and we have that structure of teaching that is left out.
“I’ve always been particular with trying to teach and train, but after being approached by a university to recruit it was a pretty great feeling to know I can directly impact lives that way.
“The next step is to invite the coaches themselves, go to the family islands, do something different and I think it’s time to give everyone in Canada and elsewhere a chance to see what good teaching and molding can do for our kids and their futures,” Smith said.
“In August we are looking to start our exchange programme in Canada. It will be a focal point for sports tourism, help transition with cultural differences and give these kids an idea of what to expect before you actually come to school in Canada. So the plan is to have about 30 kids come to Halifax, meet the coaches, see the schools, be immersed in the culture. We want the same for Canadians to have them here, working out on the beach and also being a part of our culture.”
ESN plans to teach the importance of youth development through sports and education. The brand also hosts sporting events to showcase great talent near and far.
“We have a few things to focus on multi-tasking – hand eye coordination, foot placement, balance learning to pick your spots and get your shot off the way you want to because that’s what great offensive players do,” Smith said. “We have to target the youth before they can develop egos, bad habits, they would know the basic fundamentals and terminology.”