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Pat Summitt

What off-season…
The truly great are always working towards the next game… The goal is what’s ahead, and there’s always something ahead.

Tennessee’s Pat Summitt is no stranger to hard work. In fact, it’s the only kind of work the legendary head coach has known over her 34-year career. Growing up on a farm with three older brothers and a father who didn’t take no for an answer, Summitt didn’t really have much of a choice. After all, as she was told, “Cows never take a day off.”

But it was her mother, who Summitt says worked harder than any of the men in the family, that taught her hard work isn’t always good enough. To be the best, she would have to out-work the rest.

It’s no surprise then that Summitt never missed a single day of class from kindergarten through high school. Nor is it a mystery how Summitt managed to squeeze seven national championships and nearly 1,000 wins out of 12,410 days on the job.

She simply worked harder than everyone else.

This year Summitt’s Volunteers are back in the Final Four for the 11th time in the last 14 seasons. Should Tennessee capture yet another national title, it would put Summitt just two behind UCLA coaching legend John Wooden’s record 10 college basketball championships. Her 981 wins and 18 Final Four appearances are already the most of any coach, man or woman, in college basketball history.
Summitt’s father Richard was the first to realize that together, his daughter and the game of basketball were something special. Always shooting baskets in the barn with her brothers, Pat’s athletic potential was enough for her father to move his family across county lines so Pat could play basketball in high school.

She took over at Tennessee in 1974, when she was just 22 years old. Immediately, Pat’s work ethic, vision and determination paved way for what has become one of the most decorated coaching tenures in sports history – while Summitt herself raised the roof for women’s athletics across the country.

Summitt, whose work ethic is epitomized in her emphatic disregard for the word “can’t”, became a living legend following Tennessee’s flawless 1997-1998 season. The Lady Vols’ finished an unprecedented 39-0 that year to win their third straight national title and establish themselves as the single most powerful dynasty in women’s athletics.

It was in that perfect season that Summitt proved she would continue to out-work her field no matter how much success her Volunteers were able to show off on the mantle. Her passion for the game and her drive to win still today remains greater than most anyone in the game. It’s the reason Tennessee and a 55-year-old Summitt are fighting as we speak for yet another NCAA crown.

In my opinion, the University of Tennessee is home to the best women’s basketball program in the country, and as long as Summitt remains at the helm, don’t expect that to change any time soon.

Tips From the Great Ones

Everyone wants to experience success, but the truly great – even when they seem to have it all – are looking ahead to the next best thing.

To them,being the best means something more than a trophy and a pat on the back.

After two or three championships, Pat Summitt could have traded her whistle for a lounge chair on the beach, but she didn’t. Eight years after being inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, Pat Summitt could sit back and embrace her place in history among the best coaches of all time, but she won’t.

Her motto: Never settle – not even for success.


Everyone works eight hours a day, but it’s what happens outside those eight hours that will decide if you reach that highest level and whether or not you can keep from falling. Are you willing to put in the time to be the very best in your field?

Legendary San Francisco wide receiver Jerry Rice played his college football at little-known Mississippi Valley State. He didn’t have exceptional size or speed when he entered the NFL, but he practiced every day knowing that he had to out-work everyone else to be successful.

“I knew the day I stopped working someone was going to pass me,” he said. And for as long as he played, no one ever did.

Pat Summitt is the best there is in her profession because she works harder than her competitors. She has achieved greatness through the same hard work and dedication that she demands from her players, because true champions understand that nothing is given.

“When the NCAA championship tournament starts, some teams think, ‘we’ve arrived,'” Summitt said. “You never arrive in this game. Everyone thinks we (at Tennessee) might curl up and die. I don’t think it’s going to happen… so put away your hankies.”

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About Don Yaeger

Don Yaeger

Don Yaeger is a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP), longtime Associate Editor for Sports Illustrated, 11-time New York Times best-selling author, leadership expert and executive coach.

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