A great woman is one who can motivate other women to perform to their full potential, whether it be in sports or other aspects of their lives. Unfortunately, not all women enjoy uplifting their kind, but Lee Anna Osei does; both on and off the basketball court, as a matter of fact she has made it her lifestyle. Strange enough, the strong-willed 30-year-old woman of Ghanaian descent, did not have much support growing up as a young female who enjoyed playing sports, namely basketball. But regardless, she motivated herself and also drew motivation from a few influential people around her.
Today Osei who describes herself as a movie fanatic, is a determined and successful woman, and she owes it to the game of basketball. The sport consistently opened pathways for her in life, especially at times when her family struggled to make ends meet, battling both poverty and homelessness.
“I discovered basketball at the age of 12 and started to invest in it, and with the many challenges my family was facing, it became an escape… my safe place.” – Lee Anna Osei
When she chose to play basketball, she was seen as going against the norm of a young woman in a West-African household, but that did not bother her much.
“As a first-generation child it was like, girls should be cooking and washing dishes and boys should be taking out garbage and participating in sports, so it was very difficult for me growing up.” She said, “I will just have to do this, I have to be okay not being accepted, I will have to be okay not getting the support from home or elsewhere.” – Lee Anna Osei
Osei also explained that basketball kept her away from the violent reality of the community she was raised in, as Toronto metro housing was a place where youth were arrested daily for being a part of gangs and selling drugs.
She remained true to developing her basketball skills, and improving her grades, letting nothing distract her from her goal, except retiring from the court to help her mom braid hair in their kitchen, in order to put food on the table.
At age 18, Osei was recruited to play basketball at the University of Miami in the United States, and then went on to play at a top Junior College, Trinity Valley Community College. At this point she made the tough decision to return home to tend to medical issues arising with her older brother. She spent a year in the public workforce before enrolling at her brother’s alma mater Wilfrid Laurier University. Here, more doors began opening and she honed her craft. While she enjoyed success on the court throughout her playing career, Osei always knew that it was important to maintain a balance with her academics. “I played basketball 5 years at university, 4 of those years I was on the Dean’s list for my outstanding academic performances.” she added.
Osei was named the Outstanding Woman of Laurier Award in her final year of her undergraduate studies and playing career on route to also winning a federal scholarship grant to pursue her Masters of Arts in History the following year.
As her university tenure came to an end, so did her playing career, as Lee Anna turned down opportunities to pursue a professional career to become fully invested into coaching and serve a greater purpose. This purpose was mentoring and serving others.
After university, Osei secured a community job with the Jane and Finch Boys and Girls Club where she helped facilitate after school physical fitness and academic community programs and worked with local children and teens. She also began coaching with the Ontario Basketball Provincial Team. Within the next year she had secured a job as a full-time coach, but the compensation was meagre and bills were piling up. Her mom was also battling health concerns and as such, she knew things had to change.
Lee Anna credits her faith to the opening of doors to answer her prayers and eventually, she was presented an opportunity to work as a professional coach for the first time, alleviating some pressure at home. Osei and her siblings are hoping to retire her hardworking mother in the near future.
Today, Osei serves as the Head Coach of Women’s Basketball at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia, Canada. She is the youngest Head Coach at the Canadian university level (USports), the only West African female coach and the first ever female appointed a Head Coaching position at the institution.
She believes her role in basketball is to mentor, motivate and positively transform the young people she works with into leaders and champions on the court, but more importantly in life.
“As a young coach, I really try to connect with my athletes in ways that make it easy for us to communicate. I see myself in many of the young women I coach, and strive to be a positive role model just as I had persons who looked out for me when I was going through my struggles,” – Lee Anna Osei
Osei also teaches first year students at the university, an opportunity to connect with other young people she seeks to motivate.
“I have always known that I wanted to coach, I am really grateful to be in a position where I can impact lives through sport, in an educational setting. The amount of games I win doesn’t amount to how much I value the connections I am and will create with my athletes to help them become successful.” – Lee Anna Osei
Behind every successful person, there are supporters who have helped them on their journey.
Osei credits her late brother who motivated her to go back to school. She expresses that he was an Accountant and the first person in her immediate family to attend university. He was also the main breadwinner of her family.
Osei also credits Founder of P.H.A.S.E. 1 Youth Association, Wayne Dawkins for his role in her life, she describes him as one of the mentors that had a major impact during the one of the most difficult times of her life.
She explains that when she returned from the States to help out at home, she worked overnight factory jobs and other odd jobs to help pay bills at home in her year out of school.
“Wayne looked out for me and he offered me a part time job when I was going through a rough patch.” She said. “The thing that I appreciate the most is, he wasn’t looking at it like ‘I am just going to help this kid out because I feel bad for her,’ he mentored me and challenged me to push through adversity, while teaching me how to run a business. Wayne was more than a boss though, he was a support system and a friend.” Lee Anna Osei
“Wayne was able to shine a light on many of our young Canadian athletes and particularly those of minority descent. He was able to provide a homegrown product with P.H.A.S.E. 1 that celebrated the youth and led to the first ever Canadian National High School All-Star game (All Canada Classic-Rumble in the T-Dot) for male and female prospects. Osei adds, “Although I had never been selected to play in that game myself, it was everyone’s dream to be selected to play on that kind of platform.” – Lee Anna Osei
She says because of Dawkins’ support, she was able to open her own company in 2012, offering a similar service as P.H.A.S.E. 1, but on a smaller scale.
Rarely will you find a heart as big as Lee Anna’s. To see the woman she has become for so many other young people makes me very proud to know I had even a small influence on her journey. She is not only a leader when it comes to basketball but a champion for every community she belongs too. The definition of a strong woman! – Wayne Dawkins
As for young women trying to achieve their goals in today’s society, Osei is encouraging them to stay determined and humble.
“You have to do what it will take to grow and develop even if you don’t have or see the immediate support you may want. I didn’t have family support but I was determined to pursue my goals and was grateful for those that helped along the way, ” – Lee Anna Osei
Coach Lee is also advising young people to not let adversity deter their ambition.
“Work for what you want, but understand that it will not be easy. Do not be afraid to ask or accept help from others on the long way, and most importantly, don’t be afraid to pay it forward.” – Lee Anna Osei