Jeremy Cross is the Executive Director of the Coaches Association of Ontario (CAO). This means Jeremy Cross oversees the governing body for coaches in Canada’s biggest region: the province of Ontario. With over 250,000 active coaches from over 70 different sports, the CAO is considered the “voice of coaches” in Ontario. Jeremy’s role as Executive Director at the CAO is dynamic and vast! One of his main responsibilities is to ensure coaches are provided with the education, networking opportunities, and awareness they need to thrive in their role. After all, the role of a coach is an extremely important one in the growth and development of sport. In this feature, I chat with Jeremy Cross, but before I reveal our conversation, open the dropdown bar to see his growth into his role as the CAO’s Executive Director. Enjoy!
Jeremy Cross’ Experience Broken Down
Jeremy Cross began working with the Coaches Association of Ontario and at the same time served as Team Manager for the Canadian Senior Men’s National Basketball Team for 11 years.
1. 2006 – Program Assistant
2. December 2006 – Coach Education Coordinator
3. December 2009 – Manager, Coach Education
4. April 2014 to Nov 2018 – Director, Coach Development
5. Dec 2018 to present – Executive Director
In our conversation, Jeremy reveals the day-to-day of his role with the CAO and lessons he’s picked up in his career. As a fellow Ontario coach, I really enjoyed listening to Jeremy Cross’ unique sport journey. You can too! All you have to do is read on.
Please note: This interview with Jeremy Cross was conducted via a typed conversation. Editing changes were made to make it easier to read while maintaining the essence of the interview.
Tell us about your role as Executive Director of the Coaches Association of Ontario.
My role at the CAO is best described as ‘no day is ever the same’. I get to interact with great people every day (co-workers, sport partners and coaches across our great province and country). The work I do and the conversations I have are always unique and different each and every day.
The ED role at CAO reports to a board of directors made up of coaches who help support the strategic direction and long term planning of the organization and lead a team of staff of eight (8) who are an incredible group of professionals, executing programming and various projects on a daily basis. The entire team works closely with a number of contractors and consultants to help support our business, programs and projects.
Our team at CAO works with provincial sport governing bodies (70+), municipalities, educational institutions, government, national sport bodies (70+), 12 other provincial/territorial coaching organizations and over 100 coach developers responsible for delivering coach education to coaches across our province, in particular the National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP).
Our programming is primarily funded through a transfer payment agreement with our collaborative partner, the Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries. We have a number of key performance indicators negotiated on an annual basis to ensure that we are meeting needs and aligned with priorities in our provincial sport system.
Our guiding pillars for coaches and coaching in Ontario include education/development, recognition, recruitment and retention/support. Using these pillars we make decisions on a daily basis to align our resources to programs and projects that will meet the needs of coaches in our province at each age and stage of participation.
Our guiding vision is to serve the needs of all coaches so they can provide safe and positive experiences for all participants in sport. Our services are based on ethical decision making, high-quality programming principles, developing leaders, and evidence-informed innovation. Our goal is to do all of this with a high awareness level of sustainability as it relates to the use of our resources.
What does a typical day look like for you?
As mentioned previously ‘no day is ever the same’ so there is not a typical day unless being adaptable and responsive to the evolving needs of our business is considered typical. Maybe in sport business that is accurate.
My days are spent working on long term planning and agreements with our partners and key stakeholders, supporting staff on their work and needs, some days could include HR, finance, audit, lease, insurance, benefits, IT, policy, or discussions with board of directors, government partners or reviewing reports on project evaluation. But on other days or even at the same time I could be working on a number of events, curriculum content, delivering workshops, or working on other coaching projects and programming in the sport sector.
A few essential skills or traits that are important for my role are planning for the short term and long term, time management, organization, efficiency, teamwork, and trust.
One thing that is typical in my day or week is that 2-4 times per week my day concludes with practice. You can find me in a gym coaching basketball at Toronto Lords basketball club, taking the day to day coaching conversations at the administrator level to the court and validating the conversations in the field of play. Having the weekly, sometimes daily, interactions with co-coaches, trainers, athletes, officials, parents, administrators and all the other key people involved in the execution of amateur sport is vital in supporting the daily work, decision making, and planning.
Would you say your path to your current position was quite easy or rather challenging, and can you discuss why?
My path to my current role has been a great challenge and wonderful journey of learning and mentorship. After graduating from the University of Waterloo in Applied Health Sciences, I started working for the CAO in 2006. My path truly took off from that point. My previous work experience and education laid the foundation but the path to my current role started when I met my professional mentor and former ED of CAO Susan Kitchen.
I have worked in 5 different positions at the CAO in 13+ years!
Every day is an opportunity to learn and acquire something new. In the world of coaching and sport, personal development is a way of life. Evolution in sport is always happening and if the leaders administering sport don’t adapt and grow at the same time you risk your organization falling behind or losing its relevancy. If this were to happen, the impact on the system, and in our case, the coaches, would not be supported the way they need to be.
My mentor Susan was always learning and always providing a new challenge for the staff, or encouraging us to think outside the box, or get us outside the comfort zone and think big. One thing we always talked about was ‘one-upping ourselves’, meaning no matter how great the execution the next time we have to do better, and what will it take to do that next time.
All that to say, mentorship has been key in my path and learning is an ongoing lifelong process.
Why is coaching so important to you and how has it played a significant role in your life and career development?
While this sounds a little cliché, I would not be where I am today if it was not for the positive sport experiences that my coaches in my formative years provided for me growing up. I can recall as early as my Grade 6 teacher: Mrs. Newton – taught me the value of education and how that is an important part of playing sports. Grade 7 club coach – Gary Graziani instilled the 5 A’s of sport and life (Attitude, Anticipation, Awareness, Aggressive, All together-all the time). These lessons go on and on each season, year, program and stage of life as I participated. Every coach had their own approach and their own lessons and philosophies, but they all taught me something unique. I carried those lessons forward in my life, my passion and now my profession.
In grade 12 my coach Mr. Grantis encouraged me to take on coaching basketball camps. He taught me the importance of giving back and sharing knowledge. He supported me with leadership training and development and it was he who introduced me to my first coaching experience. I have coached ever since, whether it was clinics in schools, teams, Raptor clinics, Orlando Magic clinics or coaching in the Toronto Lords club team environment where I have been coaching for the past 14 years. Coaching has incredible powers when done safely and appropriately. Building the citizens and professionals of tomorrow is a very important role in our society. Parents, teachers, families, community leaders and coaches play a huge role in the development of people and the next generation of contributing members of our society. Knowing how important coaching is to our world and Canadian society and how it affected me, makes working for the CAO the perfect fit for me.
Tell us about some areas they don’t teach you at school about working in the sport industry that you’ve picked up in your experience.
I alluded to a couple earlier on with efficiency and trust.
Working in amateur sport has its challenges, sometimes too much work and responsibility but not the right amount of people to support that body of work appropriately. Capacity is a word that is used a lot in the amateur provincial sport system. Learning to be efficient in your work, communication, collaboration is very valuable. Efficiency is important but not running the risk of losing quality is the challenge.
One of the keys to being efficient is to trust. Hire well and support those people and one way to do that is to trust them and believe in them.
One last thing is I think for those students looking to get into the sport industry at any level or context of sport, they need to be very thoughtful in their course selection, work experience, and networking opportunities. Sample pro sports, amateur sport (municipal, provincial, national, international), school sport (secondary, post-secondary), and so on. What you think you want to do now may change over time once you have a few experiences behind you. Every sport system is unique in its own way. Figuring out your fit can be a challenge. Keeping an open mind to the entire world of sport is important.
What advice would you have for young coaches as well as young professionals starting out in order to be successful?
Meet a lot of people, never stop learning, build your professional support network (the people who can be there to help you along the way) and load up that network with a variety of experience in sport contexts.
I have found it very valuable to have a support network beyond a mentor… more like context experts. For my line of work or pathway the example would look like this: having very high levels of expertise in secondary school sport context, post-secondary, community sport, provincial sport, national sport, sport government, professional sport, para sport, etc. Sport is complex and layered, so having a broad network of reliable experts that you can trust and call on/or be called on when needed has been very helpful in my path thus far.
What are three essential skills required working for a provincial sport organization that may/may not be on every job description?
Provincial sport, while small relative to the world of sport, is governed by policy, government funding, and boards and the decision-making process can take time. Being productive in the times when patience needs to be employed is a key to success. Also, the job market for provincial sport is competitive so staying diligent and patience is key.
What is the next priority going to be, or what is the next trend that is going to drive the media, or what is the next issue that is going to drive the business of sport? Staying current is helpful but having a very connected support network can help to plan and navigate your business. Be nimble and responsive when the time comes.
You must love amateur sport. You must love what you do so you can be inspired each day you decide to go to work and make a difference. No matter what the days’ rewards might or might not be.