Kristen O’Neill is the associate head women’s basketball coach at Seattle University. Before joining the Redhawks, O’Neill was an All-American at Meadowdale High School in Lynnwood before playing at the University of Washington, where she was a four-year starter and three-time co-captain.
She played professionally in Madrid and Burgos, Spain, and in Limerick, Ireland, as well as for the WNBA’s Seattle Storm.
Growing up, O’Neill attended Holy Rosary School in Edmonds and was coached by her father on the CYO basketball team. She is a lector and extraordinary minister of holy Communion at Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Seattle, has been an RCIA sponsor at St. James Cathedral, and frequently attends Mass at the University of Washington Newman Center.
Tell me about your Catholic faith journey and those who have influenced you along the way.
My family has been a huge part of my faith journey. My parents instilled a strong foundation in my siblings and me from a young age. My dad is one of the hardest working men I know and put in tons of overtime shifts to send us to Catholic school from kindergarten through eighth grade. I later went on to a large public high school and then the University of Washington. It was really in those settings where I learned that not everyone believes the same things that I do. I really needed to choose whether to embrace my faith or join the crowd. By the grace of God, it was an easy decision for me to make. I love my Catholic faith and I want to live a life that glorifies God, so that’s something that I strive to do every day.
Has your faith evolved as your career has evolved from player to coach?
Yes, especially in how I see God’s love for us. As a player, I was constantly striving for perfection and could be really hard on myself when I didn’t meet my expectations. Now, as a coach, I see my players with a grace that I didn’t always give myself. If they try and fail, I encourage them to be patient with the process and get back up and try again. It’s such a joy to walk with them through their struggles and see them overcome. How I see my players has made me reflect on the magnitude of God’s love for us, and how he walks with us, and God being our ultimate coach. He sees us with such patience, love and kindness. He is our greatest encourager and wants us to get back up and try again as we journey toward heaven.
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What words would you say describe your coaching philosophy, and do some of those words also describe how you approach your Catholic faith?
My coaching philosophy really is one that values the whole person. I want to see my players strive to live out their gifts and talents to the best of their ability, but also really understand that their value and identity is not based on achievement. Every human person deserves dignity and respect, and that’s definitely the same approach I take with my Catholic faith.
Talk a little bit about your daily prayer life.
It’s having that personal relationship and just finding ways to talk to God throughout the day — let him know what I’m struggling with, what I’m grateful for, and ask him for grace to love others more fully. I try to attend daily Mass as often as I can. I pray the rosary as part of my daily routine. Lately I’ve really enjoyed spending time in adoration, and that’s usually at least once a week. With how busy life is and everything that’s going on, spending an hour before the Blessed Sacrament, spending that intentional quality time there, has been a really special part of my prayer life.
Does your prayer life change much during the height of basketball season, when there are a lot of things coming at you as a coach, and all those responsibilities?
Oh, goodness, yeah. I’ve learned if I’m not intentional about my prayer life, it’s easy for it to get crowded out with all the busyness. I travel all the time, and I just try to find ways to keep God in my daily routine. Sometimes that’s reading my Magnificat [prayer booklet] on the plane or downloading a Catholic podcast to listen to while I’m on a hotel treadmill, and then praying the rosary daily — it’s with me everywhere I go, so finding a moment to pray the rosary wherever I am is neat.
If you had one last message to leave the people who are most important to you, what would that be?
Goodness, that’s a great question. Grace is really what comes to mind, and I think the message would be that the Lord wants to meet you exactly where you are, and in opening your heart to him, his love will change your life.