On our journey from childhood into adulthood life throws many different obstacles in our way. Alongside these obstacles are various people who come in and out of our lives, all with a different purpose and meaning and a different lesson. Without initial support from family, friends, teachers and coaches, many professional athletes would never turn into the superstars and the role models they are now.
Nakia Sanford of the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury knows first hand the importance of a leader in a young minds development and has not forgotten the impact it has on a young, aspiring athlete. Ever since becoming a professional basketball player, Nakia has taken great pride and made it a priority to reach back to today’s youth and offer her wisdom and knowledge of what it takes to not only be a successful basketball player, but a successful human being and important part of society.
“I think it stems from when I was younger, I think about if I hadn’t found basketball I wonder what my life would’ve been like,” said Sanford. “If I didn’t have people that talked to me and mentored me I wonder about what decisions I might have made and how my life may have turned out.”
Nakia established the Betty Ann Robinson Foundation in honour of her late grandmother Betty Ann Robinson and her work and passion within the community. The B.A.R Foundation benefits from Nakia’s second project, Club 43, which connects Sanford’s basketball career with her involvement in educating youth in the community.
“I wanted to find a way to give back to other young girls who maybe face similar situations. Of course, not too much changes. Different things do but the things we go through as young adults don’t change too much and I wanted to make sure that I reached back,” stated the Lithonia, Georgia native. “There were people in my life when I was younger that reached back and helped me out and I wanted to do the same.”
Her community involvement for the most part includes educating young girls to do not just what’s right, but what’s best for them in the future as they become young women in the world.
“I think for the most part I feel like if you know better you do better, so I like to talk to young girls about making better decisions,” stated Sanford. “Sometimes all it takes is someone to say; ‘Hey, this is how you can handle this situation or this is how you can handle someone trying to get you to skip school’ and it ends up helping them out a lot. We want to help young girls deal with everyday things that they encounter.” she elucidated.
Nakia also works with other WNBA players such as Rebekkah Brunson and her 32 Foundation to help mentor young girls, as well as give them a chance to see a WNBA game live and speak with the players after the game. She also takes time while she’s playing overseas to speak with youth in the United States and answer whatever questions they may have.
“The summer is really short and then we go overseas to play basketball as well, but what I’ve started doing is videotaping different things,” she mentioned. “So for example, there was a teacher in California that I was working with and she had her class of 5th graders write different questions and ask me different things while I was in Turkey. I videotaped the answers for those questions along with some of my teammates,” she explained.
Sanford also hosts an annual basketball camp that gives young female basketball players a chance to showcase their talents in front of scouts and current WNBA players.
“Our basketball camp is just girls and that’s because it’s a bit more focused and will be at a higher age group with the elite camp. I’ve been doing personal instructions since I was in college, even when I was at the University of Kansas, one of the things that I did was personal instructions during the summer, but most people can’t afford to have a professional come in to work with their children, it’s a very expensive thing,” she mentioned.
“I wanted to find a way to reach out to kids and give them something affordable and also give them a look at what it takes to be a professional first hand and just give them a little bit of a push so they can see how intense everything is, like the workouts and things of that nature,” she explained.
For many people who are not involved in competitive sports the overall consensus is that being a professional athlete is easy and nothing but fun. A key part of Sanford’s involvement is explaining the sacrifices and discipline it takes to be the very best at whatever it is you do.
“There’s nothing easy about what we do, we sacrifice time, we sacrifice time with family, we sacrifice social lives, we sacrifice our bodies. If it were easy everyone would be doing it,” she chuckled.
“We definitely cover the sacrifices it takes to be a professional and also what being a professional means even if you’re not an athlete, just being a professional person. Just making sure that you’re presentable when you go out, making sure you speak well and treat people with respect,” she concluded.
As a child we never forget the words of advice we hear from a figure we admire and respect. Nakia Sanford continues to serves as a positive role model on and off the court. Her commitment to educating young females and providing insight on how to become a respectable, successful adult will go a long way with the young minds she reaches.
To learn more about Nakia Sanford, Club 43 or the Betty Ann Robinson Foundation, visit these websites: