Seven lessons from the San Antonio Spurs

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I may live in the frozen tundra of Vermont where hockey rules and locals hope to see their children one day compete for the Stanley Cup, but I still enjoy watching the NBA playoffs.  This year I especially enjoyed watching the San Antonio Spurs systematically dismantle the Miami Heat.  After watching the final game, I jotted down seven lessons learned from watching the Spurs and especially Coach Greg Popovich (which just might also apply to church-planting).

  1. See people’s potential, giftedness, and where they fit on a team.  SA has a storied reputation for picking guys late in the draft (Manu Ginobli) and signing players who other teams cast off (Boris Diaw) because the coaches see their individual potential and where they fit on their team.
  2. Commit to coaching people in their giftedness.  Many of these players who are now becoming famous (Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green) took time to develop.  Their coaches saw the potential others missed and took the time to help them sharpen their skills.  There’s also a recognition that even the best players need to be coached and developed to realize their full potential.
  3. Develop a team first mentality– especially with the leaders of the team.  When the best leaders put the team over self in decisions, priorities, and sacrifices, the team culture becomes infectious.  This means winning and losing as a team must eclipse individual statistics and accolades.  Note: SA did not have one player average over 30 minutes or 20 points per game during the season.
  4. Move primadonas and limelight seekers quickly before they suck energy away from the coaches and alter the culture of the team.  Former Spur Sean Elliot said it best: “We don’t have the real NBA here. We’ve had two superstars in Timmy and David who didn’t read the superstar handbook.”  Both Tim Duncan and David Robinson were #1 draft picks who model this team first culture.
  5. Don’t be afraid of investing in wild cards.  Every once in a while a player comes along who doesn’t seem to fit, but they bring a unique energy (Manu Ginobli).  They may require more investment but the pay off is worth it not- just on the stat sheet but with the energy and excitement they bring to the rest of the team.
  6. Build accountability around mutual trust and respect.  Some constant Popovich quotes you can hear in the SA huddle include “play as a team… trust each other… pass up good shots for great shots.”  It’s all built on trusting the other guys on the floor and believing the other guy has the ability to take the shot just as much as you do.
  7. Build a reproducible system around a clear vision and values.  This is most obvious by looking beyond SA to their influence around the NBA.  You can see Greg Popovich disciples in leadership roles with many teams this past season: Atlanta, Cleveland, New Orleans, Orlando, and Oklahoma.  There are 15 present and former head coaches and general managers who came through the SA system.

And one lesson from the Miami Heat: one player, no matter how gifted, is no match for an entire team.

One thought on “Seven lessons from the San Antonio Spurs

  1. It all sound marvelous to me in your building people that will go forward in the name of the LORD and see the needs of others and get there hearts focused on the LORD our God one of these days too. Amen! Hallelujah!


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