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  • Kristen Sharkey

With Love and Genuine Intentions, You Always Win - Kristen Sharkey Syracuse Basketball

My name is Kristen Sharkey, one of the assistant coaches and recruiting coordinator for the Syracuse Women’s Basketball program. I am 32 years old and started my coaching journey right out of college where I was hired as assistant coach for The University at Buffalo Women’s Basketball program at just 23 years old. It was my relationship with my head coach, Felisha Legette-Jack, that afforded me this opportunity. After playing for her for three years, I spent seven years with her on the sidelines at UB and then followed her to Syracuse where we are in our second season as a staff. We took Buffalo from a struggling program to a mid-major powerhouse, competed in four NCAA tournaments, three conference championships and even had a player drafted to the WNBA. We built a consistent program full of winners on the court but more importantly in the classroom and in life. In April 2022, Coach Jack was hired to take over the struggling program at Syracuse University and she brought me with her to help bring her alma mater back to the mountain top. We feel that if we could bring a team like Buffalo to a Sweet Sixteen in 2018, there’s no reason why we can’t win a National Championship at an institution like Syracuse. At the time I am writing this blog, we are tied for first in the ACC, 17-2 overall, ranked 22nd in the nation and made history with the best start to a season for Syracuse Women’s Basketball.


In order for you all to get a better picture on my purpose in coaching and why I feel “Coaching the Whole Athlete” is paramount to the success of any athlete and program I want to tell you a little about me. I’m saving the really good stuff for my future book 🙂 .

I grew up in Manahawkin, NJ, a small conservative town of hardworking people and not much diversity at all. I was also the daughter of the Pastor of the largest church congregation in Central/South Jersey at the time. This meant that all eyes were on me at all times. We had to portray this idea of the perfect cookie cutter Christian family. Heterosexual parents, well behaved children, servants in the community and painters of the picture of what a Christian family should be.  Any abortion or gay marriage protest, I was there at 8, 9, 10 years old watching the adults plan their trip to the capital. I’ve seen gay couples run off the church property. I had no idea of the hate that was being putting out in the universe. We were doing “God’s Work” by preaching that the gays were sinners, and the devil had a hold on them and didn’t deserve the same rights as everyone else. As a young gay kid, living in this situation was not safe for me. I heard “God made Adam and Eve not Adam in Steve” more times than I can count. These ideals engraved shame and guilt into my identity. I struggled more than I thrived and I had to survive mentally and emotionally to get to where I am now.  Without two very important coaches in my life I probably would not be here today.


By the Grace of God I was blessed with a natural basketball talent and given this ferocious competitive drive that allowed me to pave a way for me to become the person I was intended to be. I always knew I was different and that this boxed in life was not for me. I needed to get out of that town, find a way to make a life for myself and find what life has to offer outside. Basketball was my tool. It was more than a game.

When I finally made the decision that I was going to put everything I had into this game so I could get to college, I had an incredible coach, Kathy Snyder. She used the perfect balance of push and accountability while also valuing the person I was becoming. She would challenge me in a way that empowered me and I always felt like no matter what happened next, I would always be enough. I graduated high school in 2010 and was heading to The University at Buffalo on a full D1 scholarship for basketball. I made it. My degree would open so many doors in the future and I have Coach Snyder to thank, because things could have gone much differently without her guidance through such an important time in my life.


I was recruited and played my first two years at Buffalo for a different coach than who I am with now. While I am grateful for the opportunity that staff gave me, I am more grateful that the Athletic Director moved on from them and hired Coach Jack. My experiences with the two staffs were polar opposites.


During my first two years we were treated as athletes. No real relationship or bond was being made between athletes and coaches. We partied a lot, we lost a lot of basketball games and a lot of those players never reached their full potential. We didn’t work hard, we didn’t dream big and no expectations or standards were set for us. Everything was transactional. You show up, I show up, we practice or play the game and go home. There was no one investing in us as people and tapping in to our why’s. Those first two years, I was comfortable being average. Ability without accountability is wasted talent and we were all wasting it away.


Entering college, I had a serious identity crisis with which I struggled to cope. I continued to hide who I was and who I loved because I didn’t know how to express it or if I would be shamed or ostracized like I saw happen to people in our church. This is when I completely foreclosed on my identity as an athlete. It was where I felt valued, loved and seen. I felt that if I was the best basketball player on our team or in our conference it would build up enough love and pride for me that my sexuality wouldn’t matter. I became the ultimate people pleaser which burned every ounce of energy I had left for me. I worked and worked and worked to be the best just to feel like I was enough. And when I did accomplish anything, I always felt like there was more I needed to do or more I could’ve done. I coupled my success on the court with who I was as a person. If I had a bad game, I was bad and I would feel the need to apologize and work even harder. That mentality led to a season ending injury at the start of my sophomore year. No one on that staff saw me for who I was, nor did they wonder why I was so hard on myself.  I was just a player on their team that brought value to them and that is one thing I vow to never let happen in my coaching career.


Being a college coach is so much more than the sport you are coaching. These young people need guidance and a push to get to where they want to go in life. It is our responsibility to get them there safely. You have to dream big and think big so that they have permission to do the same. We are all meant for more than we can even imagine, and we were all put here to serve a purpose greater than ourselves. We are always challenging our athletes to think bigger, dream crazier and speak/work into existence whatever they desire. Everyone wants to win, but when you really think about winning and how unusual and hard it is, it scares most people. You have to be willing to do more, love more, teach more, do extraordinary things. You can’t just show up like everyone else in the crowd. The crowd doesn’t win, only one team wins, so you have to be willing to standout and act differently. As Coach Jack would say “Winning is Easy. The PROCESS is hard.”


After sitting out my sophomore season with a blown knee, that staff was fired at the end of the year and Coach Jack was hired to lead our team at Buffalo. I remember like it was yesterday. We were sitting in the conference room, and I was sitting directly to her right. She breathed more life into us in that 45 minutes than any of us had heard in our basketball careers. She helped each one of us in that room grow in our own way. I left that room so pumped up and ready to go! She reminded me quickly of my why and that’s all I needed. Over the course of those three years, I went from a young woman to a woman and learned so much about life through this game. I learned that storms are temporary. You don’t just go through things; you grow through them. I learned that joy is in the present moment, gratitude attracts more good things, and small victories amount to big ones. I also learned that I can’t be everything for everyone and that sometimes you have to let things or people go to really find your inner peace. I owned my power and came out to my family because I learned not to care about what people think and to just be authentically me. From those lessons the main thing that stuck out to me was that all these things have nothing to do with the game of basketball. It had everything to do with life and my growth as a human being. My character always came first, my academics second and my basketball third. When I prioritized my person and my purpose, my basketball sky rocketed.

My experiences have shaped me into the coach I am today. The biggest piece for me to be a great coach is to be a transparent human being. I make mistakes every day and I am learning and growing day to day just like our athletes. I will never have all the answers, but I will do everything I can to find them. Being who I am to my core is essential. I will absolutely bring my wife around and not hide that piece of me from them or to recruits in the recruiting process. If you come to play for us, we are who we are and we operate with love and genuine intentions to build these young people up. I am human, I get it wrong, I learn, I love, I lose, and I love again. I feel all the feels. I struggle to understand my feelings at times, I care deeply, sometimes feel lost, but I’ll find my way. I’ll have hard days, I’ll gave great days, I’ll get through them, and I’ll find a way.


In life, you are your greatest asset. Getting our players to understand that they matter and they are enough is what we strive for. The more you invest in yourself mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually you can accomplish anything you set your mind to. Life is hard and it doesn’t get easier, you just grow and figure it out. Whatever you focus on will grow and get better. So, if it’s something as simple as a free throw, you focus on that and you get better. You have to set the lens of your focus to be positive and manifest what’s to come with intention.


I love the game and it has given me so much and the thrill of competing on a daily basis is a dream! But what I’ve learned in this first decade coaching is that watching these young people develop and grow is the real joy. The high and lows of winning and losing comes and goes but the success of our ladies in the future lasts forever. The culture we build will win. When you move with love and genuine intention you always win. Basketball is such a small piece in what we do. It is so much bigger than that! We always fight on!


About Kristen

Kristen Sharkey is in her second year as an assistant coach on the women’s basketball staff at Syracuse University. She has shared the sidelines with SU’s head coach Felisha Legette-Jack for 10+ years, first as a player and then a coach, across stints at The University at Buffalo and with the Orange. At Buffalo, Sharkey helped build the program into a perennial contender in the Mid-American Conference. Buffalo made four NCAA Tournament appearances during her time as an assistant coach at UB, including a run to the Sweet Sixteen in 2018. As a player, Sharkey started 85-straight games to end her UB career, leading the Bulls to their first back-to-back winning seasons in over a decade. She finished her career with 1,264 points and had 758 rebounds, which ranks in the top 15 on Buffalo’s all-time lists in both categories. The Manahawkin, NJ native graduated from Buffalo with a bachelor’s degree in psychology as well as an MBA in 2021.

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