During my final season as head coach of the Queens University of Charlotte men’s basketball team in 2012-13, I brought Ken Cross of the Sports Chaplains Network on as a member of our staff. As a committed Christian who happens to also be a coach, I had long believed that offering our players support and guidance in the spiritual aspects of their lives was an important endeavor. I left the job at Queens in May 2013 to take a coaching position at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, and after spending 10 months with Ken, the only thing I regretted was that I did not include him in our work earlier.
From the beginning of that year, I wanted Ken to be an integral part of what we did on a daily basis. I not only wanted him to be a constant resource for our players, but for our staff and as a leader and confidant for me personally as well. Head coaches, like many organizational leaders, spend a vast majority of their time pouring themselves into the lives of others, and I had come to the realization that I needed someone to shepherd me and help fill my tank on a regular basis. Ken’s ability to serve all members of our team was more than I could have hoped, and made a major difference in many of our lives.
Ken organized and led our weekly Sunday evening “Life Lessons” gatherings with the players, where he employed the use of the Habitudes curriculum aimed at helping our young men grow into faith-based leaders. I felt supremely confident in Ken’s character, aim, and focus, and therefore gave him complete autonomy in his weekly hour with our young men. I met with him for lunch each Tuesday to get an update on his feelings about the progress, growth, and happenings with our kids. I also inquired and kept a pulse on the developments from the perspectives of our players. All individuals are unique and choose their own timelines for perusing and figuring out this type of mentorship, but without exception I saw a deepened, more spiritually saturated view on their college experiences from all of our guys. I quickly came to understand that his presence and leadership was a terrific enhancement to what my staff was trying to teach our young people.
In addition to his “Life Lessons” endeavor, Ken led a short, 20-minute chapel talk before each of our games that season. For the 2012-13 season, he chose to lead our group on an in-depth study of the Lord’s Prayer. At the outset, I had no idea of the complexity, and later the overwhelming simplicity of the prayer which Jesus taught us to pray in scripture. Ken displayed an uncanny ability to breakdown small phrases or individual words of the Lord’s Prayer into singular lessons and applications for our daily lives, as well as relative uses for our basketball competitions. As with any season in sport, we were on a journey both personally and collectively which included many ups and downs, and Ken’s teachings on the Lord’s Prayer helped us in many ways to play for a higher purpose, endure hardship, and celebrate our love for one another.
Those 10 months with Ken fostered a terrific kinship between a coach and a pastor with a heart for young people through athletics, and today I count him as a special friend. When I think of his work and his calling, I could describe Ken in many ways: Pastor. Leader. Mentor. Friend. Caretaker. Caregiver. Teacher. Most importantly, I count him as my Brother in Christ. As I continue forward in coaching, I have two terrific takeaways from my partnership with Ken Cross. First, I would highly recommend him or one of his brothers in the SCN to any coaching friend who desires to foster deep and meaningful relationships in his program. Secondly, I am hopeful for and looking forward to the day when I can work alongside him again in impacting young men’s lives in those most meaningful ways.
In His Name,
Assistant Basketball Coach