Growth: Ohemaa Nyanin
ASSISTANT DIRECTOR OF THE WOMEN'S USA NATIONAL TEAM
Women in Sports, Loving Yourself, & Never Giving Up
Ohemaa Nyanin personifies what it truly means to love the work you do. While the former Division I NCAA player admits that her journey has been less about basketball and more about academics, Ohemaa has always been adamant about finding ways to bridge the gap between her love for education, sports and working with youth through her many talents. With the title of director of basketball operations at American University already under her belt, the sports enthusiast now holds the coveted position of Assistant Director at the USA Basketball Women’s National Team -- whom she will be heading to the Summer 2016 Olympics in Brazil with.
While originally born in the U.S., Ohemaa has lived in various countries throughout the world, including: Zambia, the Philippines, Zimbabwe and Chile, but suggests that although she’s experienced numerous cultures in her lifetime, she identifies most with her West African heritage. “The only thing that remained constant during the midst of living in different places and traveling all over the world were my [Ghanaian] parents and their culture,” Ohemaa shared.
We caught up with Ohemaa to discuss women’s basketball, her new role, and everything in between.
Q: How do you feel about the future of female sports and the direction of women’s basketball?
A: The future, I think, is very bright. We have very good role models in the female game currently. People are beginning to recognize the impact of the women’s game. I am optimistic in the idea that it can reach a level that surpasses where it is presently. When we go and play for teams overseas, those gyms are filled. They watch women’s basketball over there. It’s a testament that people are interested in coming to watch the women’s teams play.
Q: What frustrates you about the dynamics of male versus female sports?
A: The notion that women can’t dunk, and that alone makes it less interesting for some people in comparison to an NBA game. The entertainment part of basketball outside of the game frustrates me as well. Sometimes when you’re attending games it doesn’t feel like you’re actually going for the game. Now it’s a lot about winning free things or being up on the jumboTron which eventually becomes a distraction to the game itself. Another one of my frustrations is the amount of attention and information that they put on the men’s game at the youth level. It doesn’t compare to the women’s. I would like to see that occur a little bit more on the women’s side going forward.
Q: How are things like social media impacting the game of basketball for female athletes?
A: It’s actually really helping. It peeks people’s interest as to who “she” is when a video is shared. I feel like for every retweet or like, it helps to get the message across which is needed in women’s sports. Everybody has the power of their own messaging, so for people to begin understanding who we are, where we are and what we do from anywhere around the world is awesome and social media plays a major role in it all.
Q: A little more about yourself and less about the game. What can you say has been the biggest obstacle you’ve faced career wise?
A: [Recently] a lot of racism is being brought to light. I haven’t dealt with a lot of racism [directly] in the workforce, but in the past I have had to bypass or swallow some sideways or shady comments. So part of my biggest obstacle there is trying to blend in. But as a 6’1, very dark female it’s very hard to blend in with the average workforce. [I am constantly] trying to be an individual while still commanding respect, I don’t think the color of my skin plays too much of a part in that, but I would be naïve to say it doesn’t. I’ve been very introspective about it all. Do I brush it all off as an inside thought? Is this me projecting my insecurities or is this a real fact? Then comes the task of how to react when it isn’t just an insecurity or a thought. Another obstacle is being a woman and learning not to take things to heart or be overly emotional when situations don’t go my way.
Q: An experience that changed how you viewed yourself for the better?
A: When I was 6 years old and living in the Philippines, I was playing on the playground. I’ll never forget, a little girl named Sky came up to me and asked me if I wanted to play. She then told me that the only way that we could play is if I were to become white. She said that I’d have to go home and pour milk on myself every day until I [turned] white. That day I went home and asked my mother for milk. After explaining to her why I needed it, she sat me down and explained to me that we are all different. She instilled in me that Black is beautiful. Going to school the next day I told Sky that my mother taught me I was beautiful just the way I am. She responded by telling if I didn’t want to become white we couldn’t be friends. While that hurt me the experience helped me to see that I am Black, I can’t change the color of my skin, but regardless I was beautiful.
Q: What are two of the most bizarre rituals or superstitions you’ve seen working with athletes over the course of your career?
A: One that isn’t bizarre, but I can’t quite figure out is taking a nap before a game. The idea of shutting down your entire body and then turning around to run around on a court for 40 minutes is something I still haven’t been able to wrap my head around [laughs]. Another really bizarre superstition is from female players, if they had a good [game] they would wear the exact same sports bra again without washing it to make sure they have the same luck the next time around. In my opinion performance has nothing to do with the bra.
Q: In reading an article about you it stated that one of your goals in life was to change the world. A goal that can come off as too overly ambitious to most, what inspired that goal for you?
A: Former Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr. Kofi Annan is an idol of mine. Being the secretary of the UN your job is to keep the world safe which is what I admire most. Looking up to Mr. Annan and what he does was in alignment with the theme of international development. I always thought I could change the world. I later learned that I do possess the power to change the world, but it is more impactful if I do it with a team of people. I do not think it’s too big of a goal, it’s qualifying the goal. It’s defining what does changing the world consist of and when will I be satisfied with that goal once I accomplish it. Changing the world doesn’t necessarily have to be a specific event, it can be a series of events. My current career path has led me to try and figure out what is it that I can contribute to the world that is impactful in a great way and how to do it. When I discover my what I believe that my why will come naturally.
Q: Lastly, any inspiring or encouraging words that you, yourself live by that you think we all could benefit from incorporating into our everyday lives?
A: Don’t let anybody tell you no. Being a woman and having multi-cultural roots I would say there’s this belief that you’re not good enough because of your pedigree and that is false. Despite what your pedigree is you should always continue to work hard and be inquisitive. Empathy is always the way to go. Empathy can and will change the world. Always take a moment to breathe and think before you respond or react to situations that you’re put in front of. Our generation now want answers or things to happen so quickly that we lack the patience to let situations marinate and develop naturally. Also, work smarter and that doesn’t always mean work harder. Those would have to be my final words of wisdom to you all.
Keep tabs on Ohemaa and the USA Women's National team as they pursue their sixth gold medal this Summer!