“”You’ve got to be the hero or the goat when the game is on the line,” I’d told her. “In the eyes of the spectator when the game is over, you’re going to be one or the other. But if you stick your neck out, I’ll never criticize you for winding up the goat. Just don’t let the fear of failure get in your way.””
- Evolving Leadership
- Summit’s Superstitions
- Life & Love of the Game
“But we laid down the foundational values of Lady Vols basketball on which everything that came after was built: effort, discipline, and intensity.”
Control is very precarious with coaching. Often, early in our career, there is a power struggle between players and coaches. Coach Summitt – a former education major – compared it to being a substitute teacher.
“Student teaching was a constant battle against chaos; the kids all thought they could take advantage of me beacause I was a young substitute. I learned something important about projecting authority: you had to set the tone immediately if you didn’t want to be challenged.”
As a younger head coach, Pat Summitt adopted this mentality early in her career demanding the three non-negotiables to being a Lady Vol through channels of consequence. At one point, she found herself in the administration’s office for keeping the athletes in the gym until 4′ in the morning following an unacceptable loss.
“But I didn’t punish our players just to make myself feel better; those workouts had a purpose. I was trying to teach them a lesson about commitment. I measured our performance by two things: effort and execution.”
Coaches understand success comes through diligence and discipline. Yet, discipline doesn’t come without structure, repetition, and confidence in preparation. As a result, philosophies will vary amongst coaches on the best approach to instill discipline without seeming overbearing, bullish, or unfair. Some ignore the latter half of that statement to ensure the success of the former. A compromise Coach Summitt found came through life experience and staff support. With an increase in an operational budget due to Title IX she was intentional in her first full-time hire with Nancy Darsch, someone who had a quality that she admittedly lacked: patience. The objective remained the same, despite a willingness to learn from her experiences as she developed.
“… I’d learned what it takes to win something big, starting with the most crucial one: You had to be willing to physically outwork and outtough everyone in your path.”
It took me a while to recognize it, but when I was in college our coaching staff kept the same the coach on as scout until we lost. In hindsight, it seemed like a great incentive for an assistant to compete while preparing for the next opponent but did reveal a bit of a superstition. Coach Summitt seemed to be a big believer in the supernatural playing favorites, particularly during championship runs.
“We had to eat only Bluebell ice cream. We had to keep every heads-up penny we found – and God forbid you should come across one showing tails. Don’t touch it, don’t even look at it, we cautioned one another. We had to wear the same makeup and do our hair the same for every game.”
Superstitions are a reflection of our competitive nature. We will take any powers beyond our control to simply give us an edge. Myself, I don’t get into many superstitions. However, I will own up to having a routine to ensure more comfort prior to a game, or even during it. I do not like to be rushed, so it is important we stay on time for pre-game conversations. My meals certainly differ between games, win or lose, but I have to have something of substance to eat a couple hours prior to any game in addition to a water bottle handy when I walk out of the locker room for tip-off. Our mind works on confidence from preparation, and if it takes a routine to reassure we are ready, then I will do it. Eating ice-cream before every game sounds inviting, but it is one I can keep off my list of things to do.
Life & Love of the Game
Something that is evident about Pat Summitt the coach and person is family. Her upbringing molded toughness, competitiveness, and loyalty. And more than anything it seems that commitment to her family remained paramount. During her career Coach, Summitt had four miscarriages prior to having a son at the age of thirty-eight. Being a mother was her biggest win. She had gone into labor while on a plane to see the number one-ranked prospect for an in-home visit and refused an emergency landing so that her husband could see the birth of her child back in the state of Tennessee.
We are principled as coaches. Coach Summitt’s principles of family first, but a commitment to competition/championship. Life moves faster than we do in philosophy, so it is our foundational values that tend to carry us through action until we can learn otherwise.
“Teaching and pupildom were a mutual exercise, I told them. “I will help you if you work with me. But you have to buy into what I’m teaching. I’ll give you all the tools to put you in the position to win. But then you have to walk through that door. I’ll get you to that point – then you have to take those final steps.”