Lessons for Lawyers From Pat Summitt, Legendary Basketball Coach

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on June 28, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Pat Summitt, the winningest college basketball coach ever, died today at the age of 64. Over 38 seasons coaching college basketball, Summitt lead the University of Tennessee Lady Vols basketball team to 1,098 victories, more than any other coach in NCAA basketball history. In doing so, Summitt transformed the role of women's sports and women coaches, turning women's college basketball into a sport people paid attention to, one which could see its most successful coaches could earn more than $1 million a year.

Summitt was a hero in women's sports and in college sports generally, whose coaching skill and commitment to sport helped propel her teams to victory after victory. Here's what lawyers can learn from her impressive life.

1. Work, Work, and Work Until You Win

Pat Summitt didn't win more college basketball games than anyone ever simply because she was talented; an unflinching sense of hard work also helped. "Here's how I'm going to beat you," she once said. "I'm going to outwork you. That's it. That's all there is to it."

Few anecdotes represent Summitt's commitment to her work than the birth of her son, Tyler. While pregnant in 1990, she traveled to Pennsylvania to recruit players for her team. Mid recruitment, her water broke. Summitt finished her visit, then demanded to fly home -- so that her son would be born in her native Tennessee.

You don't have to go that far. But do remember that a fierce commitment and a willingness to work harder and better than the opposition can be indispensable to success.

2. In a Man's Game, Women Can Win

Summitt was the most successful college basketball coach ever, period. Male or female, no other coaches have surpassed her. Yet when she started out, women's sports and women coaches were largely ignored, both by the NCAA and the general public. Summitt helped change that paradigm, simply by being so incredibly good at her job. By the time she retired, she was commanding salaries of over $1 million a year.

But Summitt wasn't satisfied to get ahead and leave other women behind. Throughout her career, she sought to advance women in sports, taking it upon herself to help undo women's lack of opportunities in the field. Lawyers, who similarly operate in a male-dominated field, should take note.

3. You Don't Have to Be Rolling in Money to Win

When Summitt started her career as a coach, she earned $250 a month, supplementing her income (and helping cover team costs) by holding bake sales. When her team couldn't afford hotel rooms on the road, they'd sleep in cots on the gymnasium floor. And then they'd win their game the next day.

Keep that in mind anytime you're up against a bigger, better-financed opponent. It's skill and tenacity that count, not just cash.

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