For those of you who are unaware, Sports Illustrated is a US based sports magazine first published in August 1954 and now read by over 23 million people worldwide per week. It features elite sports such as the NBA, MLB, NFL alongside college sports in the NCAA including American Football, Ice-Hockey and Basketball. It has become one of the most influential sport magazines in the World and is paid attention to by just about everyone in the sports World.
Since its inception in 1954, the magazine presents the annual award called the ‘Sportsman of the Year Award’ (later changed to Sportsperson) which recognises the achievements of “the athlete or team whose performance that year most embodies the spirit of sportsmanship and achievement.”
The first person to win this award was Roger Banister, the British Athlete who first broke the 4 minute mark for the 1 mile and over the years has been filled with true sporting legends such as Billie Jean King, Sugar Ray Leonard, Edward Moses, Michael Jordan, Arthur Ashe…there are too many to name!
Serena is one of those few athletes that transcend her sport. Whilst the word ‘legend’ seems to be overused these days, she has proven herself to be a true legend not only of tennis, but of sport itself. Whether it be her physical and mental strength, her athleticism, her confidence, her attitude or her the perfection of her serve, Serena has become an icon and a role model for millions of women and girls across the globe.
After reading the article in Sports Illustrated about Serena’s triumphant year, I was interested to learn more about the past female winners of the award…and I am afraid to say, there haven’t been many. However, this blog isn’t about the usual gender issues of sport or the lack of legendary female athletes that were over looked, this blog is about sharing the story of the last female winner of the award and how she inspired the creation of the FCN. That sportsperson is the female coach- Pat Summitt.
Pat won the Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the year award in 2011 (albeit jointly with Mike Krzyzewski) for her tremendous coaching record, her incredible 38 year career and her 16 career titles, the latest of which she won in the 2010- 2011 season.
Pat, who is the NCAA’s all-time winningest basketball coach, announced she was diagnosed with early-onset dementia in 2011, just four months prior to earning SI’s honor. She retired at the end of the 2011–12 season and finished her coaching career with a 1,098–208 record and eight national championships.
I first came across the name ‘Pat Summitt’ in the early days of the FCN…the days when I was contemplating whether or not to go ahead with the project and if I did, what the project would look like. In preparation for my decision, I did some research to find out a bit more about some of the more high profile female coaches out there. After typing in the words ‘female coach’ into my search engine – one name stuck out and was repeated over and over again…Pat Summitt.
It was apparent right away that this woman was no ordinary coach, for what I could gauge from the hundreds of photo’s and articles written about her, this woman was special. I was delighted to discover she had recently published her autobiography and went ahead to download the audio version.
Within the first 60 seconds, I was hooked. I listened to all 9 hours of the audio book within a matter of days and as the book came to an end, my decision had been made. I had to go ahead with the FCN, if for no other reason other than to share the stories of women like Pat.
It was one of the most inspirational stories I have ever read. Her passion, achievements and knowledge are something to be admired and it saddened me that even as a female coach myself (and based in the UK), I had been completely unaware of who Pat was and is. In those moments of my own career where I struggled, fought hard to achieve what I had and felt very lonely as a woman in the coaching world, I wish I had known the Pat Summitt story.
Two years on and I have been fortunate to interview over 100 women from many different sports and many different countries. I have been inspired by every single one of them in some way and feel honoured to have shared their stories with you all. I want to thank everyone for taking the time to speak with me and sharing their stories…and apologise to those who experienced my terrible interviewing skills in the early days! Especially Nancy Lieberman who had to endure me for over an hour as I rambled on trying to over come my nerves of speaking to her!
In celebration of heading towards the second birthday of the FCN and coming to the end of a very special year, I want to share with you the Pat Summitt story; the inspiration behind the creation of the Female Coaching Network.
Over the next couple of weeks, I will be sharing interviews, blogs and videos with you about Pat and her amazing coaching career.
Thank you to you all for your support.
Vicky (Founder of the FCN)