Four Lessons the ‘Spurs Way’ Teaches About Sports Careers

spurs advice for sports careers

That’s the name of the game

Children are pretty amazing; they learn their behavior, speech and mannerisms mostly by modeling adults. Adults do a similar thing – we just usually buy our subject to model in a bookstore.

Self-help, Autobiographies, fad diets, you name it, we as adults look for someone who has had success and try to mimic, or model, what has already worked for them. (Personally, I wish that I could model the life of Russell Wilson, but it turns out that’s not really how it works.)

The San Antonio Spurs, under Gregg Popovich, have employed a system that over the last 17 seasons has resulted in 17 playoff appearances, 15 consecutive 50-win seasons (their only non-50 win season was the lockout shortened ‘98-‘99 season when they finished 37-13 and won the NBA title), and five NBA titles.

Sounds like a system we should all take note of and work into our personal standard operating procedure, agree? There are four basic tenets of the ‘Spurs Way’ that if modeled in the workplace, simply put, will result in a more successful sports career.

Team above self, or else

“I can assure you he doesn’t care.” – Gregg Popovich

After game 4 of the 2014 NBA Finals, a game the Spurs won handily over the Miami Heat putting them on the brink of their fifth title, Popovich was asked by a reporter to comment on the two playoff records star power forward Tim Duncan had just achieved — most minutes played and most double-doubles.

His deadpan response said everything you need to know about the operation and expectations in San Antonio: You can’t be selfish playing here. It’s not about you. It’s a team. If you buy into that we’ll be very successful.

sports career advice spurs way model

When Kawhi Leonard was named Finals MVP, the sincere, emotionally excited response from his teammates showed the character of this team

It doesn’t matter if you work in sales, scouting or broadcasting you are always part of a team, the way you behave and perform affects others. Employees at every level often think they need to stand out or do something special to be noticed, when the opposite is often true.

When you go for your glory moment you often create a failure in another spot. When the team does well together, everyone gets noticed…even more than they may deserve.

Role players on the Spurs championships teams like Malik Rose, Speedy Claxton and Beno Udrih all went on to sign large contracts with other teams trying to capture some of the Spurs mystique. The positive team results made these players appear better than they were.

Lesson for sports careers:  Be a team player and success will find you.

Positive Attitude

“The way we run our team is character first, skill second.”Spurs owner Peter Holt

Understand this – if you are a person who complains all the time, shows up late, blames others for your failures and always looks to escape responsibility, you will not have a successful career in sports no matter how naturally talented you may be.

True character comes through in how you handle adversity. Everyone makes mistakes and has bad days – if you stand up and take responsibility you will gain the respect of your co-workers and your employers. If you blame others or make excuses you will be labelled accordingly.

Lesson for sports careers: Character always wins out in the long run.

Never Stop Improving

“Timmy wants to be coached. He wants to be coached to this day.”Former Spurs Assistant Mike Budenholzer

Tim Duncan, five-time NBA champion, two-time NBA MVP, three-time NBA Finals MVP, NBA Rookie of the Year and 14-time NBA All-star still wants to be coached.

He doesn’t hang his legacy on some cheap t-shirt saying like, “Been There, Done That” – he works, he perfects, he listens, he learns.

sports careers popovich and duncan always improving

17-years together and still improving

The best way to make a name for yourself in the sports industry is to be open to learn new things and bring your “A” game more often than not. Managers are always seeking employees with high will and high skill, if you can combine that with positive character and a desire to learn and improve you will be a superhero in the workplace.

It’s really simple:

  • Know what is expected of you
  • Understand your goals and how to get there
  • Ask questions if you are not sure
  • And most importantly…deliver.

It’s all a mindset, everyone has the ability to perform at a high level and continue to improve, but not many do it.

Lesson for sports careers: When you are consistent, reliable and willing to learn you will always be top of mind for promotions and accolades.

Mental Toughness

“If you play for him [Popovich] long enough, it doesn’t matter who you are. You’re gonna get torn down. You’re gonna get it during film sessions, you’re gonna get it on the court, you’re gonna get in practice. He’s always testing your strength and character.”Former Spurs forward Sean Elliot

gregg popovich angry at tony parker

The Spurs star players aren’t immune to the anger of their coach, who is always testing their mental toughness and internal strength

Working in sports is an out-of-the-box career no matter what discipline you take on and you will have situations that test your mental toughness.

When everyone else in your life is carving their Thanksgiving turkey, you might be editing highlights for a sports network. On the 4th of July you could be entertaining a client at a baseball game instead of having a barbecue in your backyard. On Christmas you could be executing a team sponsored charity event to feed the hungry in your community instead of spending time with your own family.

The list goes on and on…overnight shifts, working 14 straight days, travelling across the nation. You have to love what you are doing and have a certain amount of toughness to power through the more difficult stretches.

Lesson for sports careers: There are huge benefits to working in sports, but it’s not always easy and the tougher you can be mentally the more success you will have.

Key Takeaways from “Four Lessons the ‘Spurs Way’ Teaches About Sports Careers”:

  1. Model successful people and organizations, it’s not lazy to copy what successful people are doing!
  2. You’ll always be part of a team so learn how to work with others
  3. Don’t be the person who complains and blames others, they are annoying and miserable.
  4. Focus on how you can be the best you can be, don’t worry about the others around you.
  5. Be mentally tough and you’ll get through a lot of the difficult times with ease.

Who would you like to model in your sports career? Let us know in the comments below


About Brian Clapp

Brian Clapp has worked in the sports media for over 14 years as a writer, editor, producer & news director. After beginning his career in Atlanta at CNN/Sports Illustrated, he switched coasts to Seattle to work at Fox Sports Northwest. In 2010, Brian began pursuing a new found passion on the digital media side, launching a successful website and then taking on the role of Director of Content for &

Recently, Brian has become addicted to Google+ and LinkedIn so add him to your circles and make him a contact. No seriously, do it.

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  1. Rob Layton says

    I am trying to model myself after Bob Costas who can host, do interviews, and do PXP of major events.

  2. As a full-time teacher of high school Broadcast Video Production, this is an awesome lesson to teach my students – no matter where they go!
    Thanks for sharing,


    • Bill great to hear from you – I believe the children are the future, teach them well and let them lead the way. OK, I couldn’t help myself. Truth is, I love the fact more and more high schools have video production courses, I’d love to hear more about your curriculum, the interest level of students and how you get your technology funded (can you tell I’m a TV guy – majority of my career spent at CNN & Fox Sports). Email me sometime – bclapp at

  3. Cedric Hill says

    Im trying to become a personal trainer, and also own my own brand of athletic gear. Something like Nike.

  4. surya Mangeshkar says

    Sir,,i want to take sport management course,,in Bedfordshire university planning to join this September 2014,,,i hav had been playing cricket from my childhood days..i’m professional cricket..and past five years am teaching basic skills to under 13/ to \25 boy/ girl but my finance position in not good in this field,,want to pursue my career in well been place,,what do you think ,,,? Which is right for me earned money and fame.please reply me..

  5. Right On! After ‘WITNESSing’ (Pun Intended) one of greatest basketball performances during these 2014 NBA Finals just shortly after graduation, one could not have phrased it any better. The recipe for success as modeled by the Spurs! Awesome piece, I look forward to sharing with my peers!

  6. Zachary Portillos says

    Hey Brian,

    I am currently a student finishing up my last year of school and am looking forward to beginning my career in the sports industry. These articles have been extremely helpful in learning about the real world. I had one question, I was wondering what do you think the main skills that I must have and develop to move forward in this industry?

    Thanks Zac

  7. Love the Spur Way and watch out for our Cleveland CCavaliers.

  8. Frank Johnson Jr. says

    I would model Mr. RUSSELL of the great Celtics teams. Always professional and exhibited unbelievable self-control.

    • I’d agree with that Frank! There are many in sports we can model…and some we should reverse model. Yes, I just made up that concept. -Brian


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