Pat Summitt Said What?

“Sit up straight, and look me in the eye!”Tennessee Women's Basketball Coach Pat Summitt


In the early spring of 2000 the University of Tennessee men’s basketball team had been ranked as high as #4 in the country, would set the school record for wins, had won the school’s first SEC Championship in 18 years, and most were expecting a high seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.  The Vols were deep and talented, but there was a perception that they were somewhat undisciplined (or hard to coach)!

To his credit, Vols head coach Jerry Green had called a team meeting to set the tone for our March Madness journey.  But it was not his voice that shattered the air in that team meeting room.  That morning, the players lounged in their chairs scattered throughout the team meeting room inside the lavish locker room.  Many sat as far in the back of the room as they could and laid back as horizontally as humanly possible in their chairs.

“Sit up straight, and look me in the eye!!”

Those stern words, in absolutely no uncertain tone or meaning, ripped out of the tight jaw and under the steely eyes of Tennessee Lady Vols Head Coach Pat Summitt as she strode into the room.

In case you’re not aware, University of Tennessee Women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt recently announced her retirement after over 1,000 wins and 8 National Championships.  She has a seemingly endless list of accomplishments as a player and coach including being named a Presidential Medal of Freedom Winner, and both playing and coaching an Olympic medal winning team for the United States.

But I’ll forever remember her for “Sit up front, sit up straight, and look me in the eye!”

I had never seen our guys move so fast as they shot up in their seats and intently watched her pace back and forth in the front of the room as she gave a motivational talk as only she can.  When it was over she powered out of the room just as she had come in ……and it was almost…… as if ……there was a delay…… as everyone processed what had just happened.  I was never quite sure what to expect from our guys so I was even more impressed to hear them talk after she left and see one player in particular, who was at times very headstrong, just bubble with enthusiasm talking about her speech.

The team went on to beat UConn, the defending National Champion, to advance to the Sweet 16.  If you’ve been in coaching any length of time you know that rah-rah speeches are for the movies, and I am not claiming her speech was the reason for our run on the tournament.  But there is no doubt you can get through to your players, especially if you can get them to “sit up straight and look you in the eye!”

If you have not read Coach Summitt’s book, Reach for the Summit, I highly recommend it.

Here are Coach Summitt’s famous “Definite Dozen” from that book

  1. Respect Yourself and OthersTennessee Women's Basketball Coach Pat Summitt
  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

Dan Felser recently wrote that “Tennessee’s head coach emeritus for women’s basketball will receive the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPYs on July. 11. Summitt will be honored after announcing last August that she had been diagnosed with early onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type and continuing to coach a final season while battling the brain disease. During the season, she established the Pat Summitt Foundation Fund, which will make grants to nonprofit organizations that provide Alzheimer’s education and research as well as support services.”

This cause is personal to me as both my great-grandmother and grandfather suffered with this difficult condition. I pray that the Summitt family receive God’s blessings and comfort in this difficult time, and that we find a cure. You can find more information on Alzheimer’s Tennessee or The Pat Summitt Foundation

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Until next time, Coach ’em up!

Hal Wilson

After coaching and working with basketball teams at the college and high school level in a variety of roles for 18 years, I have returned to finish my Ph.D. in Kinesiology.  This website is a way to share the coaching tips, strategies, and techniques gathered in a career in coaching.  See more info on me here.  Please sign up for our free newsletter at the top right of the page.

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