What effect does your influence have on those around you? A reflection on Pat Summitt’s life

By Miles McPherson

Pat Summitt, the winningest coach in Division I basketball history—man or woman—passed away on Tuesday, June 28th, 2016 at age 64.

One of the greatest sports figures of all time, she led the Tennessee Lady Vols to win 1,098 of 1,306 games—a .841 winning percentage—including 18 trips to the Final Four and eight National Championships.

As a player on the US National Team, Summitt won a silver medal in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, the first Summer Games to include women’s basketball. Then, eight years later in 1984, she won the gold medal at the Olympic games in Los Angeles, this time as head coach.

Saying that Summitt’s teams won a lot doesn’t do her justice. She was so successful that every Lady Vols basketball player from 1976-2011 had the opportunity to play in at least one Final Four. Her program produced fourteen Olympic players, 34 WNBA players, 36 All-Americans, and 39 All-SEC players.

We’re all building a legacy, something we’re going to pass on to those in our sphere of influence.

Like most legends, Summitt was uniquely qualified to make a difference during the period she lived in.

Even though the Civil Rights Act of 1964 intended to end discrimination based on race, religion, or sex, early in her career Summitt faced the terrible inequality present in college admissions.

In spite of evidence to the contrary, stereotypes painted women as going to school to find a husband, marry, have children, and never work again. Men were therefore more heavily recruited because schools didn’t want to “waste a man’s place” on a woman.

Consequently, women’s college athletic programs were tiny, poorly funded, and widely ignored.

Then came Title IX, stating that federally funded programs couldn’t exclude anyone based on sex. Fighting to secure equal opportunity for women, Summitt began to chip away at those stereotypes with the best tool she had: basketball.

When UT hired her at age 22, she drove the team van, washed her players’ uniforms, and made $250 a month. By the time she retired in 2012, she had built the Tennessee Lady Vols program into an NCAA powerhouse and changed the world’s perception of women beyond sports.

In a time when women didn’t enjoy the same academic opportunities as men, Summitt managed to ensure that every Lady Vol who completed her eligibility at UT received her degree.

I watched Chamique Holdsclaw, a former Lady Vol player, tell ESPN that she once had recruiters from five different schools at her house promising her playing time if she would commit. Summitt, always honest, wouldn’t guarantee her any playing time. Instead, Coach told her she’d have to earn her time on the court, but guaranteed she’d graduate.

Seeing her players succeed on the court was obviously important to Summit — but seeing them succeed in life was much more so. She wanted every player to leave Tennessee as prepared as possible for their post-graduate lives, so she ensured that 100% of players who completed their eligibility graduated. To me, that was her legacy.

As I watched the news this Tuesday morning and contemplated Coach Summit’s career, I had to ask myself: What do 100% of the people I lead or influence accomplish?

We’re all building a legacy, something we’re going to pass on to those in our sphere of influence.

I believe that if we exhibit good patterns and disciplines, others will imitate them. Coach Summitt exhibited hard work, commitment to academics, and the ability to finish what she started. She wanted women to have equal opportunities in the world, so she made sure that every player who completed her eligibility at UT also graduated.

Unfortunately, it seems like our bad patterns are also transferable.

I’m a science guy, so I understand things in life from a scientific perspective. One of the principles that I refer to often is the second law of thermodynamics, which says that entropy always increases in an isolated system. This means that, unless you do something to change things, they always tend toward randomness or disorder.

That’s why it’s impossible to leave a good legacy by accident. If we gossip, cut corners, lie, or complain—all the things we have a natural tendency to do—those around us will absorb and imitate that behavior.

As we mourn the death of one of collegiate sports’ greatest icons, I hope to never forget her legacy. On the contrary, I hope I continue to be so inspired by her life that I carefully build my own legacy—one that I’ll be happy to see live on in 100 percent of the people I influence.

Read this article on Fox News’ website HERE.