Sum It Up: 1,098 Victories, a Couple of Irrelevant Losses, and a Life in Perspective

December 09, 2014

A book review of "Sum It Up" by Pat Summitt and Sally Jenkins offered by Rev. Laura Auten, Pastor, Maylo United Methodist Church, Gastonia, North Carolina

In the memoir, Sum It Up:  1,098 Victories, a Couple of Irrelevant Losses, and a Life in Perspective, we are given an excellent examination of leadership and the quest for balance in life and vocation. The book is written by Pat Summitt, the University of Tennessee Ladies’ Basketball Head Coach Emeritus, along with Sally Jenkins. In some ways, Coach Summitt is not someone we as pastors should emulate. She has perfectionist tendencies, screams at her team and works too much. Like many clergy, she does not always achieve “balance” in her life. Furthermore, Coach Summitt uses techniques that clergy should never use. (Even though, I admit, it is tempting to scream in the face of church leaders, “get your heads in the game!”  And, how many times have you wanted to make your congregation run suicides up and down the fellowship hall for 20 minutes after not paying attention during the sermon!?) Nevertheless, the benefit for clergy in this memoir is found in her clear and honest evaluation of her own weaknesses and strengths, an essential ministry skill. And, the book beautifully describes her ability to turn the worst of situations into something positive.

Coach Summitt ably reflects on the family of origin influences that have formed her life and her leadership. Her father’s presence drives her need to win and her desire to please. He also instilled within her a “superhuman” ambition. It is her awareness of and ability to reflect on these early experiences that is instructive to pastors. So much of our ministry can be shaped by life issues that often begin in the family where we were born.

The middle sections of the book are a bit long as she describes games, tournaments and players. But what a textbook! The book details how Coach Summitt evaluates a team member’s strengths and weaknesses and how she guides people in the process of bringing forth their very best. Isn’t that what we clergy are doing within our congregations, equipping the saints, navigating strengths and weaknesses of individuals and groups and bringing the best out of others?

The last chapter is quite moving as she shares how her diagnosis with early onset dementia creates changes in her relationships with her family, her staff and her players. Again, she is clear and honest in her analysis of the situation. In a conversation with Sally Jenkins, Coach Summitt says (p. 155), “Sometimes I wish God hadn’t given me so many issues. I guess they (the issues) made me who I am. I guess they made me better. One thing I’ve learned,” And, Sally asks her, “What?” Coach Summitt replies, “How powerful God is.”
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