“I was learning that they each had different pressure points – and that was the interesting part of the job. I picked up a saying from the legendary UCLA coach John Wooden: “I don’t treat them all the same, but I treat them all fairly.” I asked all our players to achieve the same standard, but I couldn’t ask all of them in the same way.”

Key Takeaways:

  • Competition Raises the Stakes
  • Tough Love

The book is getting into the mid-’90s and it is time to raise the stakes. Pat Summitt and the Lady Vols were no longer chasing championships; it became the standard. With any success comes competition. And with competition develops the potential for a rivalry.

For twenty years, Tennessee had set the standard of excellence in the women’s game – but now someone had met it.”

. . . 

“Here’s the thing that would distinguish the UConn rivalry for me: it made everybody better.

The true essence of competition has the potential to elevate any situation. Consider a competitive academic environment challenging any student to be a grade better than the previous assignment. Even socially, competing to interact with someone that you haven’t met in school before, possibly mustering up the courage to ask someone out on a date. Then of course on the court, the plus-one approach that exists simply focusing on the present attempt to incrementally improve on a skill, rhythm, or acumen for the game.

Competition presents the option of investment: Am I willing to put in additional time and intentional effort to improve my odds of being successful?

This was the question Coach Summitt had to ask herself and her team following a defeat by the University of Connecticut in the 1995 National Championship. The response would later lead to three consecutive titles.

“It’s what you learn after you already know everything that counts,” I liked to say. Our ability to keep learning and teaching new things is what separated us and made us the best program in history.”

Tough Love

“After losing to UConn twice in 1995, I knew that it wasn’t just our players who had to get better; the coaches had to get better too.”

As much as competition can bring out the best in us, there is an obsessive component to it. And Pat Summitt had traditional tendencies when it came to coaching the best out of her players. There are a couple talking points in these two chapters that are of interest:

  1. Introspective Coaching
  2. Sports Psychology

“There were still times when players mistook my tough love for all toughness, and no love.”

“All coaches are emotional manipulators at heart, and I was the very best of them.”

It’s interesting to read these anecdotes from Coach Summitt reflecting on different ways she would intentionally try to motivate, challenge, or flat out frustrate players of her to get to another level. Admittedly, they were manipulative at times. Admittedly, they were blunt and completely honest, whether communicated in private or surrounded by the team. And also admitted to flat out embarrassing players.

“The standard conventional coaching manual says you don’t “embarrass” players in front of their teammates, but I disagreed. Here’s why: Dishonest teams don’t win the big one.”

The general rule of thumb is players win games and coaches lose them. And as long as you are winning it can be hard to argue against any tactic. During the years of 1996 through 1998 the Lady Vols would lose a total of 13 games, even going undefeated in the ’98 season. So, it is hard to argue how talented and how committed the program was towards championship basketball. But it begs the question that has been viral at points in recent history, does this type of autocratic leadership lead to these results? Can this style of coaching still exist today?

Regardless on your opinion, what hasn’t changed is the impact behavioral analysis has on the ability to coach/lead athletes to optimal performance. Coach Summitt discussed how during every season she would prescribe each athlete on the roster to undergo a personality assessment – called the Predictive Index – that she would utilize to identify emotional strengths and weaknesses. Some coaches would use it to embolden certain attributes that could act as a catalyst for confidence, while others may exploit insecurities to drive conformed behaviors for fear of consequences. Either way, competition drives us all in unique ways.

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