Tough Love

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On this day, the coaching world lost two of the greats. I didn’t have any personal encounters with Pat Summitt, the coach of the Tennessee Volunteers women’s basketball team from 1974 to 2012, but I do know she was the winningest D1 basketball coach ever. Ever. Male or female, ever. My parents live in Knoxville, Tennessee, where she coached. It’s a small, big town with a real college town vibe. The whole city is decked out in orange on game days, and they rode the women’s basketball glory wave with Coach Summitt. Respect is a term that could never be over-used when referring to her.

Today we also lost a piece of Mike’s heart with the passing of his Defensive Coordinator from the Bears in his earlier years with the team. There was a recent ESPN 30 for 30 special that documented the ’85 Bears Super Bowl team; if you haven’t seen it I highly recommend it. It so accurately portrays the special bond Mike had with his coach.

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Maybe I’m just being overly-emotional in my reflection, but I feel that the passing of these two legendary coaches represents the slow death of coaching the way it was meant to be. Both Coach Ryan and Coach Summitt were known for one thing — they were tough. The kind of tough that said ‘this is how we do it here; you’re welcome to find a program better suited for you if you don’t want to do things this way.’ The kind of tough that demanded their players rise to a level of play in order to be afforded the opportunity to participate in games. The kind of tough that insisted on one thing from their players…something society as a whole rejects today: accountability.

Much has been thrown around in news outlets and social media about giving kids participation trophies. I’m sure you can imagine my thoughts on that issue, so I won’t digress. But as a whole, we are doing young people a serious disservice by avoiding having expectations of them, and ultimately holding them accountable for their actions — be it on a playing court/field, or in a classroom. And here’s why: I’m married to a man who played a game at the highest level. At every point in his career, beginning with junior high, there were expectations on him. When he expressed a desire to play, he was held to a certain standard, and here’s the thing: it made him better. It made him a better player, made him a better student, and ultimately helped shape the man he is today. Today he’s a man of deep moral character, a natural leader and quick to give apologies or praise where it’s due.

We can’t be afraid of having high expectations of people, but I will agree that how we handle those expectations is critical. If you as a parent, coach, leader, executive can set the bar high (hopefully you model those expectations, although that’s a bonus), then encourage the heck out of the people under you, expressing your belief in them all the way, you’re going to get great results. You’re going to end up making an impact in your field of endeavor, but more importantly, you’ll positively influence the young people you lead.

I would imagine both Coach Summitt and Coach Ryan weren’t necessarily driven by a desire for personal accolades. But in the process of demanding excellence from their players, their storied careers are being described with words like ‘legendary’, ‘impactful’, ‘ground-breaking’, and ‘history-making’. Let’s get back to an age of accountability. I honestly believe society as a whole will benefit.

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Comments

  1. Paul Standifer says:

    We are close friends of your parents here in Knoxville, and your mom forwarded this article to us. It is a great tribute to those two legends, and their extraordinary leadership. It is easy to see from this and the other Soul Snippets articles that we are going to enjoy your perspective on football, sports, and life! Subscribed today. Blessings to you, Mike and the family.

  2. Julie says:

    Timing of this Kim was perfect for me

    Thank you for the beautiful message.

  3. Donna says:

    Couldn’t have said this better myself, Kim! Great commentary and I agree with you 100%! I had to LOL about the “participation trophy” comment! No such thing “back in the day” and I think we’re better for it. Oliver used to coach women’s tennis at the University of Michigan and so he is always interested in watching programs about coaches and where they are today; especially those who were coaching back when he was. We saw a special on Pat Summitt a while back and watched a bit of the coverage today, as well. Sad and she has certainly gone far too soon. Sorry, also, that you lost a coach today who was a personal friend and mentor. They’re hard to come by, but he lives on through those he coached (like Mike!).

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