By Pat Summitt
My rating: 5 stars
Goodreads Rating: 4.46
Genre: Sports Memoir
Date Published: March 5th 2013
Format Read: Audiobook
Goodreads Summary: Pat Summitt was only 21 when she became head coach of the Tennessee Vols women’s basketball team. For 38 years, she has broken records, winning more games than any NCAA team in basketball history. She has coached an undefeated season, co-captained the first women’s Olympic team, was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, and has been named Sports Illustrated ‘Sportswoman of the Year’.
She owes her coaching success to her personal struggles and triumphs. She learned to be tough from her strict, demanding father. Motherhood taught her to balance that rigidity with communication and kindness. She is a role model for the many women she’s coached; 74 of her players have become coaches.
Pat’s life took a shocking turn in 2011, when she was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, an irreversible brain condition that affects 5 million Americans. Despite her devastating diagnosis, she led the Vols to win their sixteenth SEC championship in March 2012. Pat continues to be a fighter, facing this new challenge the way she’s faced every other–with hard work, perseverance, and a sense of humor.
As y’all probably know by now, I’ve played basketball my entire life. Growing up in the Northeast, I have always been a Uconn fan, because any girl growing up within 700 miles of Uconn is going to become a fan of the best program in the country. I was raised in the Breanna Stewart era of four straight wins, and so that has impacted the way I look at basketball and winning and what it means to be a successful women’s program. I obviously have always known that Pat Summitt is one of the best coaches in the world, and that Tennessee was the best women’s basketball program before Uconn ever was, but I didn’t know much more than that. It was before my time and so I never thought to look into it more than that. Reading this book completely changed the way I feel about Summitt and gave me infinitely more respect for her than I’d had previously.
Pat Summitt’s memoir was written by her while she was battling Alzheimers, and because of that she relied equally on her own memory and other people’s memory of the situation. She started from her childhood growing up in rural Tennessee on a farm, and took the story all the way up to where she was while writing it. She truly rose up from nothing, in an era where Women’s Basketball wasn’t on anyone’s radar, and made it one of the most lucrative sports in the college game (right now, Women’s Basketball is second only to football in player name/image/likeness endorsements). She overcame so much in her life, but she never wrote about it as if she was complaining. She simply explained what her life was like, and the way she rose to greatness.
The other great thing about Summitt’s memoir is her memories of interacting with her players. You got a little window into what it was like to be coached by Summitt, and as a player and (hopefully) a future coach, it’s invaluable to see how the greatest of all time did it. She talked about her current friendships with players, the rocky start of some of those relationships, and her friendships with coaches past and present. Besides that, she describes raising her son as a full time working mother, and finding a man who supported her ambitions without being threatened.
Yes, this was a book about basketball, and I think if you don’t have at least a tangential interest in sports you may be bored or find it irrelevant. It was so much more than just a sports memoir though. Summitt’s life and the lessons she learned along the way can be applied to anyone at any point in their life. She is a reminder of what you can achieve if you lock down and work hard regardless of what anyone else tells you is impossible. I mean, this woman even recovered from an ACL surgery to play IN THE OLYMPICS at a time when that injury would mean a sure end to anyone else’s career. She blocked out the haters in the most graceful way possible, all without losing her class and respectability. As a woman in a predominantly man-centric field, and as a woman in basketball, this book spoke to me deeply.
If you aren’t already aware, Pat Summitt did pass away in 2016. I feel really grateful that she took the time to write this before she passed away. Her legacy will live on forever, and it’s incredible that we get to hear about it from her own perspective. I listened to the audiobook version, and Sally Jenkins, the woman who collaborated deeply with Summitt on the memoir, read it for us. Her voice transported me right to rural Tennessee (think: strong southern accent and transcriptions from real conversations with Coach Summitt) and I would strongly recommend it in audio form. As an added bonus, when I started crying because of how powerful the book was and how sad I was that Summitt was hit with early onset Alzheimers when she had so much more to offer us, I could still keep listening because I didn’t have to see the words on the page.
disclaimer: we may earn a commission from Amazon links on this page, but that in no way influences the content of this article!