Rodney Small credits the Community YMCA’s Panthers Basketball Program with helping him stay on the straight and narrow. His gratitude runs so deep that he has spent the past 15 years as a volunteer coach to help other youth reap the same life-altering rewards.

The Halifax resident, who grew up in the city’s North End, began playing basketball at the YMCA after school when it was located on Cornwallis Street, and he says it quickly became a safe place to escape the harsh realities young men and women were dealing with in their environment.

“The basketball program was a very, very positive part of the community and a great way to escape,” he says. “It was a nurturing environment and even though I didn’t always realize it at the time, I was learning core values and beliefs that helped shape who I am as a person today.”

The Dalhousie University graduate, who studied Management with a focus on innovation and entrepreneurship, said once he left the YMCA’s basketball program, he began to be negatively influenced by people and situations in his life that were pulling him away from the spiritual beliefs and values he had begun to embrace as his own. It was then he gained a new level of appreciation for the valuable lessons his coaches and mentors had provided in the YMCA Basketball Program.

“There are experiences in life that really push our backs against the wall and open our eyes to the fact we are possibly going down the wrong path,” he says. “But when I started to see myself stray in the wrong direction, I started to see myself as a negative role model. That didn’t reflect positively on me or my family, and especially not my community.”

Rodney says at that point, he began to realize he was craving a productive community connection. He made the decision to become a volunteer coach with the basketball program that had given him so much positive reinforcement.

“I wanted to coach so I could start giving back some of those valuable life lessons and coaching lessons that I’ve learned from those who came before me – people like the late, great Gary Farmer and Cary Symonds. It was important to me was that I lived up to the expectations and those standards that I know they set for us and believed that we could achieve.”

Rodney, whose own children have also participated in the basketball program, says when he returned to the Y as a coach, his goal was to connect with the participants and inspire them to open their hearts and minds to their full potential.

“My whole philosophy is around positivity,” he explains. “The philosophy I run on my team is that energy does not die, it transforms; what’s important is that you surround them with positive energy.”

To illustrate his point, Rodney explains that he often conducts one-on-one basketball games with his team and asks their teammates and anyone else in the gym to cheer for one individual. The person with the support often wins the game, but what is even more important to Rodney is that the players know what it is like to be inspired and encouraged by positive reinforcement.

The coach, who presently volunteers with the undefeated 14-16 girls team, said he also makes a point to make himself available to his players and their parents. As a result, he is receiving feedback that his philosophy is making a positive impact in their lives.

“The emphasis I place on teamwork is to get them away from only considering themselves as individuals,” he says. “I also make a point to talk about employability skills and life skills that will be an asset to carry forward. These kids also know they can reach out to me at any time to ask homework questions and talk about life. They know these conversations are rooted and genuine because it is extremely important to establish credibility and trust for these young ladies. They know I care about them and their families.”

Rodney says he is aware that young teenage women are often confronted with difficult choices. He strives to do everything in his power to emphasise the importance of the kind of positive decision-making today that can be the cornerstone of years of future success. When he receives messages from his players and their parents thanking him for his positive influence, it reinforces that he is making a difference.

“That’s unconditional love that can’t be replaced with any monetary value,” he says. “[Money] does not add up to the gratitude you receive when you get a text message from one of these kids that you know is genuine and sincere in their delivery. It’s very humbling to say the least.”

Rodney says he remains grateful to the YMCA for the integral role it has played in his personal development, and he feels blessed to be able to pass on that legacy to a new generation as he fulfills his spiritual goals.

“I am beyond blessed for the continued presence of the Y in my life,” he says. “It helps create a balance in my life because happiness is not found in the pursuit of money, but in the impact you can make in people’s lives if you have the ability and the opportunity. The Y has given me that chance twice over, and I will never take it for granted.”