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Like all great coaches (and managers), Pat Summitt did not believe you should treat everyone exactly the same. Some of her players needed to be pushed and challenged. Some thrived more on praise. Others just needed an occasional pat on the back and to get out of the way. Still others required a very pointed pat with her toe targeted at their backside. Pat’s passion and genius was in learning all she could about each of her players, what inspired them, what built them and brought out the best in them.
But when it came to discipline, Coach Summitt was steadfast. Discipline must be the same for everyone. She was an equal opportunity disciplinarian. It must be consistent, firm, and fair. There is no faster way to destroy synergy and respect on a team than to administer discipline unequally. There can be no playing favorites. The rules must be fair and aimed at solving problems or potential problems before they materialize. And the consequences for breaking those rules must be clear, consistent, and firm.
Disciplinary measures should not be compromised. She wanted her players to know the rules and the consequences right up front so they knew what was coming if they tried to sneak around a rule or consciously break one. She also wanted her players to believe that if they did try to hide an infraction, if they broke curfew or missed class, Pat would know.
She loved fostering the myth (though it wasn’t all that far from the truth) that she was ever-present and omniscient, because though she was known as a strict disciplinarian, her hope was to never have to discipline! Instead, by being firm, fair, and consistent, she wanted to instill self-discipline because she knew that was the most enduring, effective, and positive form of discipline. She demanded nothing less from herself.
When you are self-disciplined you hold yourself to high standards. Self-discipline is respect-based, while punishment is fear-based. When discipline is administered fairly, firmly, and consistently, you bring structure and clarity to the team environment. You kill the monster before it grows. You make it blatantly clear that actions have consequences and though you have a choice about your actions the consequences are automatic. Self-discipline is enduring and habitual and removes the need for external discipline. You exemplify genuine integrity which is doing the right thing when no one else is watching.
Off-road marathon runners have a mantra they use to build their toughness and stamina, “Run uphill FIRST.” Pat Summitt knew that a basketball season, and that building people was a marathon, not a sprint. So, she applied that same lesson to herself and her team by constantly exhorting them to, “Do the things that aren’t fun first.” In other words, tackle that task or responsibility that nags at you, the one that you really don’t want to address, and get it done first. When you build this habit of disciplining yourself to do the tough things first, you’re running downhill for the rest of your day. The wind is at your back. It’s a powerful secret to feeling good about yourself because by disciplining yourself before others have to, you build the internal belief that you are a ‘doer,’ not a procrastinator.