“I joked that I played end, guard, and tackle: sat on the end of the bench, guarded the water bottles, and tackled anyone who came in there that wasn’t supposed to be there.”
- From Trisha to Pat
- 1972 was a Gamechanger
- Becoming a Coach
“It’s difficult to explain to someone who has never competed, but a moment arrives in the life of a serious athlete when the game begins to live in you.”
The book increasingly feels like Coach Summitt is simply telling stories, as it reads. Patricia Sue Head, later known as Pat Summitt, was affectionately known as “Trisha” from friends and family growing up. It wasn’t until she attended UT Martin where teammates started to call her “Pat,” and where the legend starting to come into her own.
It was a different time for women’s athletics.
“In 1968, just sixteen thousand American women played college sports.
“Four decades later, it’s commonplace to invest in a young woman’s talent: There are now 191,000 women athletes in the NCAA.”
1972 was a GameChanger
- The formation of the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW)
- Announcement of Women’s Basketball as a sponsored sport for upcoming 1976 Olympics
- Passing of Title IX
It’s crazy to think that it was only four-to-five decades ago that women’s basketball players were limited to only playing on a halfcourt.
“Back in those days girls’ basketball in the state of Tennessee was a strange, inhibited half-court game with six players on a side. Three players stayed on one half of the court, and three on the other, and crossing midcourt was forbidden for fear we might faint.”
By the start of her collegiate career UT-Martin still had been competing on a halfcourt; as a junior, she was competing in a full-court game against a 7’2 Soviet named Uljana Semjonova in the World University Games. The experience from the Olympic trials had been transformative for Coach Summitt, not only as a person taking her first flight but as an impressionable athlete finding how impactful the game could be for others.
“I wanted to change things in the most solid, demonstrable way for young women like me, help broaden their lives and choices, through athletics. I wanted to help other women be. . . strong.”
Becoming a Coach
Like any of us, life-experiences mold our coaching philosophy on the sidelines. Emboldened by a father that pulled no punches with the value of hard work. Having to understand at an early age ignorance or inexperience isn’t an excuse to learn the art of proficiency. After graduating from UT-Martin Coach Summitt had been offered the job at the University of Tennessee at the age of twenty-two years old.
She became a sponge during the pre-Olympic games from coaches with a better understanding of the nuances of the game, while also trying to adopt the personality traits of those she idolized. Her approach was to project authority despite being only a year or two older than the upperclassmen on the roster.
“I learned something important about projecting authority: you had to set the tone immediately if you didn’t want to be challenged.”
The start of her professional career overlapped being a graduate student, an associate professor, and her only attempt for an Olympic medal after tearing her ACL in the previous World Games. There wasn’t a ton of coaching nuggets dropped during these last couple of chapters, but it was the interactions with teammates and early coaching struggles that struck a passion for the future. Here are a few more quotes that stuck out the most:
“If there was one thing I had at the end of every game, it was instant feedback, because there was a box score that told me what kind of job we did.”
“What I learned is that how someone accepts being a member of the supporting cast is critical to chemistry: an unhappy role player can be disruptive, create a culture of whining, and undermind the authority of the decision makers. For the first time in my life I was in that position and had to decide how to deal with it.”
“And I remember the understanding that came with it; when you set a goal of such distant possibility and reach it, you gain an insight into what it takes that lasts the rest of your life.”