With the passing of Pat Summitt, women’s sports loses an iconic coach and world class human being. Not only does the women’s basketball nation mourn her passing, but so does a generation of young people, now full-fledged adults, who knew her and loved her because of the way she went about her life. I have been drinking in the tributes and reveling in the nuggets shared by people who knew Pat well. Isn’t it amazing what a life can reveal when held up to the light?
Coach Summit didn’t call herself a feminist. She didn’t set out to distinguish herself among women, or men, for that matter. She just set about doing what she knew how to do – inspire young women to play great basketball and be great at living their lives. Along the way, she didn’t ask for respect, she commanded it, with a leadership style that men and women alike can do more than admire; we can emulate it.
Here’s the standard she set. I can’t call it a pep talk; it was more of an infusion.
Let’s break down the method of the Pat Summitt halftime show.
Tell your players what you want.
- I don’t know what you want, but what I want is a National Championship.
Describe how you see that happening.
- Defense has to be better.
- Deny the middle.
- Be a physical presence.
- We have to separate ourselves.
- Take care of the basketball.
Be honest without shaming or blaming.
- Some of us are not doing this…
- We don’t have 5 people working hard.
- Not everyone is playing with a sense of urgency.
- We didn’t have everyone committed in that first half.
- Use body language and eye contact to make your point.
Accept what the officiating is and coach to that.
- They’re calling tick-tacky fouls.
- Call it what it is.
- Don’t do that (risky and not worth it).
- Do this (high percentage).
Don’t be afraid to yield the floor.
Pat asks, “Coaches, what you got?” and then affirms and takes note of their suggestions.
- Coach 1: “chin” the ball on rebounds with elbows wide. declare space (Pat: yep)
- Coach 2: “get in the middle” (Pat: stay off the sidelines.)
- Coach 1: “let’s get some stick-backs.” (Pat: checks her clipboard and adds this)
Finally, ask the players what they’re seeing.
- rumble. rumble. head nod. head nod. affirmed. agreed.
Then, take the reigns; this is your charge.
- It’s yours. It just depends how much it means to you.
- This is a chance of a lifetime. Everybody understand that?
- You can’t be afraid to go out and compete and do whatever it takes.
- Be competitive but we must have composure.
- If we don’t have something good, create something good.
- Get something done and get it done collectively, so get where you need to get.
- Every possession matters.
It’s been said of Pat Summitt that she owned every room the minute she walked into it. She was so secure in what she knew, what she wanted and who she was, that she welcomed others into her sphere without making them feel less, and they left feeling so much more.
“I like to see young people succeed,” she said in an interview with Robin Roberts. What a testimony to this we see in the letter to a young player (published in Sally Jenkins Washington Post column). Summitt writes,
…every game is life, and life is a game. A serious one. Dead serious. But here’s what you do with serious things. You do your best. You take what comes.
You take what comes and you run with it.
Winning is fun . . . Sure.
But winning is not the point.
Wanting to win is the point.
Not giving up is the point.
Never letting up is the point.
Never being satisfied with what you’ve done is the point.
The game is never over. No matter what the scoreboard reads, or what the referee says, it doesn’t end when you come off the court.
The secret of the game is in doing your best. To persist and endure, “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
Coach Pat Summitt was big enough to make room for her players’ talent and personalities and close enough to sit with them in their doubts and make them believers – in their game and in themselves. That’s the calling of a coach. That’s the magic of a great coach, who writes letters from the heart to her young players and signs them with affection and respect:
I’m proud to be your Coach,
Pat Head Summitt
Thank you, Pat. As you have said, “The world isn’t a place you live in, it’s a place you change.” You have changed us for the better. We’ve been proud to be your fans. Now, we’re your team. Let’s commit to the change you’ve begun and run with it.
Every possession matters.