It's been hard to put into words what I am feeling over the loss of Pat Summitt, but I owe this great woman my best effort.
I didn't know Pat Summitt, but I greatly admired her. Before ever seeing her coach or hearing her interviewed, I remember reading about her in Sports Illustrated. She seemed so focused. So intense. So knowledgeable. Larger than life. Even though I went to boarding school in Connecticut, home of the Geno's powerhouse Huskies, I remained focused on Pat Summitt. After a fun, but only mildly successful career as a player, I had an opportunity to coach a middle school boys junior varsity basketball team. I was encouraged by the Athletic Director to pattern my coaching style after Dean Smith. It's hard to argue with that, but I also began to study Pat Summitt. Her offense. What kinds of defense she ran. Her influences. I wanted to find out as much as I could. Summitt talked often about discipline. She spoke of finding out just what you are capable of when faced with adversity. How do you find that competitive fire? What pushes you to take those extra laps after an exhausting practice? What I started to understand was that Summitt was much more than a coach. She used X's and O's to truly teach life lessons. And her players developed admiration, appreciation, and genuine love for their coach because of this.
Years later, I was given an opportunity to finally run my own team: a middle school girls squad. I began to share aspects of Coach Summitt's philosophy in my coaching. So, I taped a photo of Pat Summitt to my clipboard as a way to keep myself focused on the task at hand. But, I also shared with the girls I coached Summitt's brilliant and impactful "Definitive Dozen", which are basically her rules for success. I first came across these rules in her book, Reach for the Summitt. "Make Hard Work Your Passion." "Put the Team Before Yourself." "Handle Success Like You Handle Failure." I'd begin the season sharing these and the other nine rules, and they would remain a focus throughout our season.
As I'm apt to do on this site, I have wondered how will I talk about Pat Summitt with my daughter. What I want my daughter to know about Pat Summitt is that hard work matters. She demonstrated that every day to her players. They knew that Coach Summitt was putting everything she had into her preparation as coach. Everything. But, I want my daughter to also know that Summitt's a gamechanger. She was a woman who impacted society through sports. Things are genuinely better because of Pat Summitt. What she has done for the sport of Women's Basketball is without question. And those record 1098 wins and 8 National Championships ain't too shabby. But, her impact goes beyond one sport. Summitt's accomplishments are a reminder of the success of Title IX. You cannot have an encompassing conversation about the sport of basketball or collegiate athletics without including Pat Summitt. Seriously, she coached for 38 years, and everyone she coached graduated. I won't ever be able to thank her or shake her hand. But, I will share with my daughter the important legacy of Pat Summitt and how one person can make a difference in the lives of many.