Never Wait 'Til Next Year
When I get after something, the veins in my neck stand out. The color begins to rise up from my collarbone, and you can see the pulse going in my throat, and my eyes look like the high beams of an oncoming car. I am what you would call a classic Type A personality. An extremely demanding person. Certainly the people close to me would tell you that, including my seven-year-old son, Tyler. In whom, may I just say, I have met my match. The other night, Tyler pulled out his own front tooth, and it wasn't even that loose. The fact that it was his only
remaining front tooth, and that it bled like a slaughtered hog, and that he reminded me more than a little bit of myself, may have accounted for the exorbitant fee of seven dollars he received from the tooth fairy.
"Mama," Tyler says, when I get that look in my eye. "Please put your sunglasses back on."
That's who you're dealing with here. Someone who will sell her house to own your farm. Someone who will push you beyond all reasonable limits. Someone who will ask you to not just fulfill your potential, but to exceed it. Someone who will expect more from you than you may believe you are capable of. So if you aren't ready to go to work, shut this book.
They tell a story about me back in Henrietta, Tennessee. One day when I was about fourteen years old, I passed a neighbor boy who was struggling to load a forty-five-pound bale of hay on to a truck. He was hot and sweaty, and trying to push the bale up onto the flatbed. I was just a tall, stick-legged girl everybody called Bone.
I watched him for a minute, and then I said, "You want me to show you how to do that?"
I grabbed the bale from him and threw it four stacks high.
You're wondering what a bale of hay has to do with success. Well, there's a trick to loading hay. You have to use your knee. What you do is, you put your right knee behind it and half kick it up in the air. That way you get some loft on it. It works with luggage, too.
My point is, there are certain ways to make a hard job easier. Which is what this book is all about. It's about some tried-and-true methods of success, applicable to any job, that I have found over the course of my career.
I can fix a tractor, mow hay, plow a field, chop tobacco, fire a barn, and call cows. I can also teach, cook, and raise a child. But what I'm known for is winning. I wrote this book because I believe the winning formula we have created at Tennessee deserves to be documented.
I also wrote it because I'm not happy unless I'm driving myself to my limit, and driving everybody around me crazy while I'm doing it. Fortunately, I have a loyal, long-suffering staff in my assistants Mickie DeMoss, Holly Warlick, and Al Brown, and my secretary of seventeen years, Katie Wynn. I usually try to do five things at once--in fact, we remodeled our house at the same time I was working on this book.
I'm famous for putting my makeup on at stoplights. I constantly drive barefoot, changing my shoes in the car. I seem to arrive at my latest appointment still screwing in one earring.
My attitude is, why do things one at a time, when you can do two at once? The more work I have to do, the happier I am.
In my opinion, too many people in this world are born on third base and think they've hit a triple. They think winning is a natural state of being. Take our team, the 1998 University of Tennessee Lady Volunteers. Every year, we get one or two players who think that just being at Tennessee is enough, that all they have to do is stand on the basketball court, and breathe in and out, and we will win titles. And why shouldn't they think that? We've won five titles in ten years, and two back-to-back in 1996-97. Fourteen times the Lady Vols have finished among the Final Four in the nation. You could pull a heist in our locker room, it's so jammed with silver and gold hardware.
I promise you, I cure our players of this type of thinking. It starts the moment they arrive.
On a mild Sunday this past August, the 1998 Tennessee women's basketball team reported to campus. They gathered in a locker room that still bore the signs and slogans and newspaper clippings of the '97 national championship season. The Lady Volunteers hadn't really been together since we had done the so-called impossible the previous March, when a team no one believed in, a group of classic overachievers, defeated Old Dominion, 68-59, to win a second straight NCAA title.
Now we were joined by four new players, a group that was being called the single best recruiting class in the history of women's collegiate basketball: Tamika Catchings, the Naismith Award winner for best high school player in the country; Semeka Randall, USA Today
's Player of the Year; Kristen "Ace" Clement, a fluid point guard out of Broomall, Pennsylvania, who we jokingly call "Aceika"; Teresa Geter, the best player in the state of South Carolina. The rest of the team was an assortment of underclassmen, led by junior All American Chamique Holdsclaw, the clear candidate for collegiate player of the year.
I had a lot to say to these young ladies. A whole lot. I knew that before the '98 season was over, I would probably say it with those veins standing out in my neck.
Everybody was talking "three-peat"--an unprecedented third straight national championship. But how could I explain what we would have to go through if we wanted to win another? How could I explain to them just how tired and hoarse I would grow from the daily exertion of trying to convince a team that isn't very good--no one ever is, not at the beginning--to become great? How could I convince them, in a simple welcome speech, of what it has taken me forty-five years to learn:
Winners are not born, they are self-made.
If ever there was proof of this, it was Tennessee's '97 team. No team had ever won a title with ten losses. But somehow they managed to win it all. As I looked around the locker room that following fall, the whole story was right there in front of me. The walls yelled it out, and I heard my own voice coming back at me. I saw the spot on the wall where I had thrown a cup of water in frustration with my center, Abby Conklin. They had been called "losers" and "pretenders" in the press. I had added my own taunts. Abby Conklin, everybody wants to guard you. They can't wait.
Ya'll better get back out there quick, because if I was a paying spectator, I'd leave.
To be perfectly honest, I hadn't liked the personality of the '97 team to begin with. They were too quiet, they were listless, they had no attitude. I felt like a dentist pulling teeth. The misery started the day before our first practice, when I learned that our point guard, Kellie Jolly, had torn her anterior cruciate ligament. I knew then that we were in serious trouble. I could look at our schedule and count the games we would lose.
Of course, I didn't dare let the team know it. But I told my husband, R.B., "This is gonna be a long year."
I was right. We didn't just lose. We lost badly. On December 15, we were humiliated by Stanford, 82-65. On our home court.
It was our worst loss in Knoxville in a decade. It gave us a 7-3 record, our slowest start since 1984.
Chamique Holdsclaw was not used to losing. Chamique had never lost at anything. She had finished every year of her career so far as a champion. She had won state championships all four years at her New York City high school, Christ the King. Then she had won a national title as a freshman at Tennessee.
And she was completely demoralized after that Stanford game.
As we were walking back to the press room, Chamique dragged alongside of me. "I can't wait 'til next year," she muttered.
And we were only ten games into the season.
I didn't want to reveal how concerned I was, so I said, "Chamique, we're going to be all right."
But a few games later we got killed again, this time by top-ranked Connecticut, 72-57. In that game, we racked up season lows for points and shooting percentage. Now we had five losses, and we were on our way to play Old Dominion, ranked second in the country. On the night of January 5, we changed planes in Washington, D.C. I sat there in the airport, exhausted, in the same clothes I had coached in against UConn. Tyler was asleep on my lap, and I was too tired to move. I was in a daze. All of a sudden I saw the North Carolina basketball team, and their coach, Sylvia Hatchell, passing through the airport. I must have looked awful, because she put a hand on my shoulder as she went by.
"How you doing, Pat?" she asked sympathetically.
"Oh, I'm doing all right," I said.
Sylvia said, "Well, just hang in there 'til next year."
Right, I thought, wait 'til next year. It was like everyone had given up on us. Home Box Office had come to campus to film a documentary, but now the producers were being told to pull off the story and find another team, because we were losers. Even my own assistants were worried that we might not make the post-season tournament. I looked at our schedule, at where we still had to go, and thought, How are we ever going to get through this?
The next day I had a five-hour meeting with the team. Actually, this meeting, like others we have from time to time, was more like a knock-down-drag-out. I critiqued each and every one of them--and they critiqued me back. Chamique said straight out to her teammates, "I've got to have help." She had been doing it alone.
That night against Old Dominion, I was really proud of them. They fought, they made things happen, they were on top of every loose ball. But we lost again, 83-72.
Now we were 10-6.
Our players were devastated. In the post-game locker room, everyone was sobbing. Some of them to the point that they couldn't speak or breathe. They were so distraught that I was actually concerned. I put my arms around Chamique Holdsclaw, and her shoulders would not stop shaking.
I had never seen a team react so strongly. I was both moved and bothered by the depth of their emotion. So I made them a promise.
"Get your heads up," I said.
They looked at me, their eyes swollen.
"If you give effort like this all the time," I said, "if you fight like this, I'm telling you, I promise
you, we'll be there in March."
I said it, and I believed it.
What had happened was, they had taken ownership of their team, and for the first time they all felt responsible.
When you take ownership of a project and make a commitment to it and then you fail, it hurts so deeply. If you never make that commitment--if you just stand around waiting for things to happen--failure won't affect you so much. You think, It's not my fault.
But you won't succeed either.
So you have a choice. You can choose to settle for mediocrity, never venturing forth much effort or feeling very much. Or you can commit. If you commit, I guarantee you that, for every pain, you will experience an equal or surpassing pleasure.
But pleasure was a long way off in January of 1997. No one believed in us, not even my husband, R.B. My husband is a banker, so he has a natural tendency toward pessimism. But R.B. was as subdued as I had ever seen him. He has a very analytical, numerically oriented mind. That evening he stared at the schedule, and he said to me, "We won't win twenty games."
Well, that did it. I was furious.
"Let me tell you something," I said. "I am not
waiting 'til next year. Do you understand me? I don't care what we have to do. We're going to win twenty games this year. I don't know how, but we will."
The discussion escalated from there until, finally, Tyler told us to quit fussing at each other.
Two months later, we were national champions.
Whenever I am asked to explain that remarkable accomplishment, I point to a placard posted in the most central place in our locker room. It says, the definite dozen. The Definite Dozen is a set of commandments. It is Tennessee's most basic set of rules. It is a blueprint for winning.
But the Definite Dozen is more than just a formula for success. It is a set of principles that has evolved over my twenty-four years at Tennessee. You don't often hear ethics discussed in the same breath as success. But to me they are inseparable. A lot of people can win once. They get lucky, or follow their intuition, or strike on a good short-term formula. But very few people know how to repeat success on a consistent basis. They lose sight of their priorities, grow content, and abandon their principles.
Long-term, repetitive success is a matter of building a principled system and sticking to it. Principles are anchors; without them you will drift. During that first meeting with our 1998 team, I thought about the long, hard road traveled by our 1997 team.
I gazed at our new group of players. I didn't know them very well yet. And they didn't know me either, 'cause I was still being nice to them. Hanging over them were pictures of dozens of past All Americans, and the ten Olympians we have produced at Tennessee--more than double any other school. Among them were Nikki McCray, Carla McGhee, Bridgette Gordon, Daedra Charles. These players had all been undergraduates once--drilled relentlessly in the Definite Dozen and yelled at by me at one time or another. But they were also like daughters, each with her own compartment in my heart.
The 1998 newcomers, I knew, saw similarly glorious visions for themselves: medals, awards, publicity, pro contracts, more titles. They were thinking big.
But the Definite Dozen is made up of small things.
"Your focus better not be on a three-peat," I warned them. "Because mine is not. Your focus better be on getting down in a defensive stance and posting up."
Then, as I have with every team at Tennessee in my recent years there, I introduced them to the Definite Dozen, one by one.
1. Respect Yourself and Others
2. Take Full Responsibility
3. Develop and Demonstrate Loyalty
4. Learn to Be a Great Communicator
5. Discipline Yourself So No One Else Has To
6. Make Hard Work Your Passion
7. Don't Just Work Hard, Work Smart
8. Put the Team Before Yourself
9. Make Winning an Attitude
10. Be a Competitor
11. Change Is a Must
12. Handle Success Like You Handle Failure
"Believe me, you'll work," I told them. "No one's died of it. I don't remember anyone passing out, either."
"Although some came close."
And that's how we begin.
Excerpted from Reach for the Summit by Pat Summitt. Copyright © 1998 by Pat Summitt and Sally Jenkins.. Excerpted by permission of Three Rivers Press, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.