Eight times Pat Summitt’s University of Tennessee women’s basketball team has ended the season by lifting high the national championship trophy. Not once was that her team’s goal.
Before each of the 34 seasons that Summitt was a head coach of some of the most accomplished teams of all time, she and her captains committed a set of goals to writing.
“We always make sure,” Summitt said, “that our plans for the season can be achieved. Setting goals is incredibly important to success. But if you set a goal that seems impossible to achieve— if you go into a year saying your goal is to win the national championship—then you risk losing morale, self-discipline and chemistry if you falter early.
“Set a goal that stretches you, requires exceptional effort, but one that you can reach,” said Summit, who was the bearer of more championship jewelry than any coach in women’s basketball history. “We might set a goal that we win 20 or so games, that we win a conference championship, that we make the NCAA tournament. If we do those things, the truth is we have a chance of winning the national championship. But I would never want that to be the only goal.”
The numbers suggest Summitt’s strategy was solid. Seven times she was named the national coach of the year. Her 983 wins are the most ever for a coach—more victories than Adolph Rupp, Dean Smith and Bob Knight, three titans of basketball. Summitt knew how to win—every day, and in every way.
Those wins haven’t been racked up against inferior foes— nearly half of the games her team has played have been against nationally ranked opponents, and her teams won 73 percent of those games. But 100 percent—players who have earned a diploma after completing eligibility in Knoxville—is the statistic of which Summitt was most proud.
The key to her on-and-off-court success, Summitt was famous for saying, is remembering that “winners aren’t born, they are self-made.”
“And the only way to ensure you become a winner is to set goals every day, and hold yourself and your teammates accountable for reaching those goals,” she said. “Setting up a system that rewards you for meeting your goals and has penalties for failing to hit your target is just as important as putting your goals down on paper.”
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