Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Book Club

With R on vacation, C has plenty of time on her hands, so one of the things she is doing is reading one of the Pat Summit books she got R for Christmas. (Shameless in her gift giving-like Homer Simpson giving Marge a birthday present of a bowling bowl engraved with “Homer” on it. “Gee Honey, you don’t bowl? I’ll just take this off your hands.”) The only reason we can read these books, by the way, is because Stanford beat Tennessee this December. If we had lost, C would have bought the Vivian Stringer book instead.

R is reading the life and times story (“Reach for the Summit”) and C is reading the description of the 1997-1998 season (“Raise the Roof”). In that season, the Lady Vols went undefeated and won the National Championship (with four freshmen). Both are interesting. Both were written within a year of each other and feature some of the same characters.

In R’s book, it is part autobiography and part 12 steps to guide you in success with a team whether it is sports or not. Summit says listening is important, yet she uses harsh language when dealing with her players. She says you need to find out what will motivate a player, yet she seems to stick to one style. She says her “over the top behavior”, which is definitely on display in C’s book, is tempered with what she thinks they can handle, and that tearing down a player and building them up can be withstood by a player with a strong ego. She did admit sometimes she made a mistake with a player and she counted heavily on her assistant coaches to help out by being the opposite and more supportive. Sometimes she said she wasn’t aware how critical she was being or how she was emotionally too much.

In C’s book, the first thing that struck her is Pat Summit admitted she knew she was being hard, tearing down, withholding love and praise to motivate them and get them to play harder than they would if they were happy. C had a hard time with that coaching style; to consciously withhold praise and support, to yell, be critical on purpose, to know what you are doing, to consciously manipulate emotions and 19 year old young women so shamelessly, well, it was hard for C to take. C knows Pat has won and been successful with this style, but is there another way? Summit did admit this was the first year she broke down and actually hugged her players and thought it was okay to have a relationship with them other than a screaming head coach.

C did read about some neat things. One, in the beginning of that year, 1997, Summit did not like to press. Say What? She was a control freak (naturally) and liked a controlled half court defense. When she saw she had not one or two athletic women, but all five who could run, and press full court, 90 feet she called it, for 40 minutes, she decided to “give up control” and let them run. She had already been coaching for 24 years and this was the first time she had the personal to play the kind of basketball she had always dreamed about. And that women where playing at the rim (not over it yet), with alley oop passes, uptempo games and showtime athleticism. There are allusions that this changed the face of women’s college basketball.

When Tennessee played UConn of that year 24,597 fans showed up, the single largest crowd ever to see a women’s collegiate basketball game at that time (And after an exhaustive internet search, I think that record still stands). Pat stood at the center and looked up and thought both teams had already won, what with years of anonymity and coaching a sport no one else seemed to care about. She graciously told Geno Auriemma before the game the crowd was a tribute to both programs. The team got unprecedented coverage that year, and to go from a few fans to thousands with a national press coverage was something to behold. Summit appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated that year and it was the first time a female head coach was on the cover. People, this is only 12 years ago.

But C hated the way Summit purposefully treated her players. Several times, on the way to an unprecedented undefeated season, blowing teams out by 30, she would scream at them for something done wrong. And several times the players asked, is she ever happy or satisfied?

After watching Summit denigrate her players at the news conference in San Francisco this year, C really didn’t like her coaching style. When searching for videos of Stanford, C came across one after the Tennessee game, and granted, we had won, but head coach Tara Vanderveer said, “First of all, I want to praise the following players…” I think she listed the whole starting five. C liked the fact she praised them in public. It seems she asks for perfection, then trains you to do it, and if you do what she wants in a game, she will praise and reward.

R observed that Pat’s style is very hierarchal, and can be degrading and mean, and wouldn’t fly here in the Bay Area. It seems Summit doesn’t adjust to her players and instead makes them bow to her. Smart women don’t want to be treated that way. Tara’s style seems more suited for a Stanford-type player. Over the years, Summit has been lauded for changing and adjusting her offense and defensive schemes and learning and growing in different techniques. Can she adjust and change her coaching style to match today’s woman?

1 comment:

  1. It will be great to watch Tennessee Volunteers, i have bought tickets from looking forward to it.