Dan McGovern was missing something. It was 1997, and the former basketball coach turned businessman had a great job, but he needed more in his life.
He was working as a corporate recruiter, sitting in a cubicle with a headset on every day. The job paid well, but he needed something else.
Fed from community need, his competitive nature and need to give back to the community, Yes I Can basketball was put into motion.
"I was laboring in this job every day, but I am a very competitive guy," McGovern said. "I started it because there was need, but also as a way for me to have a purpose."
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"I didn't need or want to have a business, so it was just camps at first, but I needed it to have significance in my life."
From one camp in 1997 to today, the Yes I Can basketball organization has grown to include south Charlotte, Dilworth, north Charlotte, Steele Creek and Gastonia areas.
It has brought significance to more than just McGovern's life, and in the last year, thousands of kids participated in leagues, camps and academies.
"It is a basketball league, but I wouldn't do it if that is all that it was," McGovern said. "We aren't in it to teach a kid how to set a screen or execute a pick and roll; it is more than that. We inspire and teach and although we are not faith-based, we are very much motivation-based."
McGovern said the key to motivating is hiring great people to help in his organization. The full time staff is made up of former college players who act as motivators and "youth ministers on caffeine," as McGovern says.
One original staff member is Ryan Carson, a former city scoring champion from Providence Day. Carson is now the student pastor at Forest Hill Church in Charlotte and has not worked at Yes I Can since 1997 but helped McGovern create it.
"I can't say enough about it and if I could, I would work there right now for free," Carson said. "It is competitive basketball, but we encourage kids, give them high fives, build them up and give them a purpose and hope."
"So much of what kids hear is criticism, and they are constantly being torn down. The paper they wrote in class wasn't good enough; they can't do this or that. Coach Mac was so impactful on my life and has helped me tremendously. My advice to kids is to listen, soak it up and apply what he and his staff teach."
McGovern and his staff feel there are fundamental problems with youth sports in general. Everything is centered on the team, helping the team win and doing what's best for the team.
He feels kids need to learn to play by themselves first and then focus on being a good teammate.
"Don't get me wrong, I like to win, and that is what my paycheck was based on for 19 years as a coach. Winning is important, but so is doing it the right way," McGovern said.
McGovern once read that by the age of 12, up to 70 percent of kids have totally quit youth sports. The main reason is the ride home with their fathers who criticize and push kids too hard.
"It has a tremendous impact on kids, seeing how upbeat and positive we are with them," Carson said. "We create a certain spirit and atmosphere for them, and it is something they need and an environment they thrive in."
Yes I Can runs a motion offense so each kid touches the ball and has experience at different positions. All too often in recreation leagues, the best players shoot and control the ball the majority of the time, McGovern said.
"This is not AAU, and it is not a rec league. I take nothing away from those leagues, it just isn't what we are about. There are plenty of those leagues out there, and they are great for what they are," McGovern said.
"We are about building kids up and the relationships that we have."
Former Yes I Can players have gone on to play in college and fill high school rosters. The influence the organization has on basketball is hard to ignore, but McGovern and his staff hope it is more.
"We listen to the kids and to the parents and figure out what it is that they want," McGovern said.
Carson said he wishes he could find time between his 1-year-old daughter and his student pastor job to spend more time there, but he is satisfied he helped create a strong organization.
Andrew Stark is a freelance writer.