What to say about Sum It Up? This is a biased recommendation; Pat Summitt is a role model to me and in many ways responsible for the fact that I am a functioning adult, even though I have never met her. I wish I believed in God the way she does, if only so I could pray for her continued strength in the face of early-onset Alzheimer’s.
I read Pat Summitt’s other books dozens of times as a basketball-obsessed teenager growing up in the heart of the Pat-Geno rivalry years. I soaked in her brash perfectionism, awestruck by her work ethic. I didn’t know a woman could be like her: harsh, relentless, home to make dinner every night, maternal, throwing clipboards so hard they split, always wearing eyeliner. People talked shit on her constantly in the basketball world in which I played (“too bitchy, too rough, too mean, too intense, terrible clothes”) and that just made me like her more. I knew even as a dreamy teenager that I was never going to play professional ball, but her writing inspired me to try to find something, anything, that woke me up in the morning and made me want to hurl myself into the day. This book gave me the same feeling, plus nostalgia.
Many of the anecdotes in this book are in those previous books, some of which I have been revisiting mentally on a regular basis for years, which I didn’t realize until I read them again. (One which is not repeated here, but which is a favorite: during her early coaching days, she would hit the hardwood with her fist for emphasis so hard and so repeatedly during games that it would FLATTEN her gold wedding ring. At the end of each season she would need to take it into the jewelry shop for repair.) But where in previous books they were in service of points that could easily be molded into presentations for corporations and life coaching, in this book, they are now in the context of a life that Summitt is being forced to sum up much sooner than she wants to. Each chapter begins with a snippet from interviews done after her diagnosis and they are just heartbreaking. Summitt isn’t trying to sell the reader anything anymore. She is just trying to say it all one more time while she still can.
While this is a no-brainer read for basketball people and feminists, it’s also worth noting that Summitt knows more about the game of basketball, and by extension, human psychology, than almost anybody else living. This book is smarter about personnel management than most of the business section. If you manage people at work, you could do a lot worse than lessons from a woman who spent decades convincing young women to work to the limits of their abilities in every part of their lives. It could really be a inadvertent landmark text in management.
Look, I know not everybody likes sports, but if we’re going to talk about leaning in and female success and the corporate ladder and work-life balance, we should bring Pat Summitt into the conversation. She came from nothing, entered a world that nobody gave a shit about, and built one of the biggest somethings in American sport out of it. (When she started coaching, high school women still played basketball with six girls on the court for each team. Three played offense and three played defense. They were not allowed to cross half court. It was thought, depending on who you asked, that women were too weak, or too clumsy, to exert themselves further. And this was not 1890 or anything. This was the 70s. And this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what women’s basketball was like at the beginning of her career.)
Pat Summitt is not only the winningest coach in NCAA basketball history and covered in dozens of other personal accolades; she also mentored hundreds of women (every single woman who played for Pat graduated with a degree, and half of women’s basketball coaches at this point have the Vols in their pedigree somewhere) and openly worked on balancing her desire to have a family with her burning professional ambitions. She is gracious about every person who has helped her along the way despite all the nonsense that’s been thrown at her. She’s not perfect, but she has never pretended to be. She’s not had time to. She’s been too busy working her ass off and loving every second of it. I’m glad that she was able to show us all how.