Editor’s note: Chamique Holdsclaw is a professional basketball player, author, and mental health advocate. Before entering the WNBA, Holdsclaw played for women’s college basketball powerhouse the University of Tennessee Lady Vols for Hall of Fame Coach Pat Summitt. After 38 years of coaching the Lady Vols, Coach Summitt announced her plans to resign due to her struggle with Alzheimer’s. In a new book, “Breaking Through: Beating the Odds Shot after Shot,” Holdsclaw shares her own personal struggles with depression.
“Tough times don’t last, but tough people do.”
That’s what Coach Pat Summitt used to preach to us in practice all the time. As an adult, I find myself using that message in my daily life. That was the special thing about Coach Summitt and her lessons: They weren’t just lessons for the court -- they were lessons for a lifetime.
She took pride in graduating all her players and turning them into productive women of society. She couldn’t care less if we went on to play basketball professionally, as long as we had a solid education. I think that’s why she and my grandmother got along so well. They both knew education was going to be my playbook for life.
Coach also knew the challenges we would face as women and prepared us for them, using the game of basketball. For example, we all experience doubt in our lives, especially playing sports, but Coach Summitt didn’t want to hear that. She would tell us that we had to quiet that “negative voice” on our shoulder that was saying, “You can’t do it.” She told us to knock that crafty little creature off and push forward. At the time, that metaphor seemed pretty weird to me, but like all her messages, I now get it. Every day I wake up with purpose and try not to let cynics or doubt cloud my thoughts. That’s the Coach Summitt way.
Not only did coach give us metaphors to build on, she also led by example. As hard as she wanted us to work in games, she worked twice as hard to prepare. That’s what I respected about her. I remember right before one of our Final Four matchups she was up watching tape until 4 a.m. to be ready for the other team. When I saw what she was doing for us, I knew I could not disappoint.
Some parents say "Do as I say, not as I do." Well, not Coach Summitt. She was always on top of it and setting a great example for her players.
It’s funny that I talk about her like a parent, but that’s what she really is to me. She is like my second mother. Coach Summitt raised me at such an impressionable age and showed me that you don’t have to be blood to be family. In fact, going to Tennessee gave me a whole stretch of family around the world that I never thought I’d have, my Volunteer family. Whenever I have a project or an idea, they are there to help me see it through and cheer me on. I know no matter what, I’ll always have them. I couldn’t have asked for a better school to attend.
Because she was such a motivator on and off the court, it pains me to see her battle with dementia. It hurts to think that the once-bright mind who taught me valuable lessons could be diminished for future Lady Vols.
After several conversations with Coach, she has quieted my fears, looked me in the eyes with that signature stare and told me she would be just fine. Like always, she knew the right thing to say and I truly believe her.
Like she said: Tough times don’t last, but tough people do. And my coach is as tough as they come.