Three Characteristics of a Winning Team

The San Antonio Spurs are one of the most successful basketball teams in the NBA and one of the respected organizations in all of professional sports. They are having another successful season, currently 15-4, with their latest victim being my home state’s Milwaukee Bucks. I have noticed three characteristics of the Spurs that could be found in other successful organizations.

Focusing on What Matters

Recently, the San Antonio Spurs’ coach Gregg Popovich incurred a team fine of $250,000 for sitting four of their five starters during a regular season game. While I am not necessarily agreeing with the coach’s decision, as I am sure there were some disappointed fans, it is a clear example of what it means to focus on what matters. Regarding the fine, the coach probably knew he might get in trouble for his decision. He still went through with it. My guess is he felt his players’ current health and future success in the playoffs were more important than ticket sales and television revenues.

Open and Honest Conversations

A comment was made two years ago by Spurs’ future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan, after being asked by the press if his coach was pleased with their win that night.

“Absolutely not. What did they score? Like 70-something points,” said Duncan. “That’s 70-something reasons for him to complain.”

(Retrieved from:

The quote speaks volumes about the relationship Tim Duncan has with his coach. They can have an honest exchange of words while maintaining a level of respect. Each person knows where the other stands. This quote also shows a sense of humor among the team, probably developed from many years of working together and establishing strong relationships.


Gregg Popovich is the longest tenured coach of any professional sport team (16 seasons). How has he lasted this long? One reason is his ability to give credit to his players. The quote below speaks loudly about his character and leadership.

“He (Tim Duncan) doesn’t really even talk to me anymore. Half the things I say he doesn’t even hear…Time to go!”

(Retrieved from:

In his own witty way, Gregg Popovich acknowledged that the players on the court are the people who make a difference. He comes across like he is just along for the ride, even though that is not entirely true.

These characteristics have prompted questions in my own mind:

  • As a principal, am I advocating on behalf of my teachers? Are they getting enough time to collaborate and rejuvenate? Am I successfully filtering out the “administrivia” so they can focus on instruction and learning?
  • Is my building focusing on what matters? Is our purpose (student learning) a priority over outcomes (test scores, report cards) mostly beyond our control?
  • Do I allow and even seek out an open and honest dialogue with my staff and families?
  • Are the people who are doing the heavy lifting getting the credit?

Where is your organization at in building and sustaining a winning team? Please share in the comments.

Author: Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is an 18-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th-grade teacher in Rudolph, WI. He now serves as an elementary principal for the Mineral Point Unified School District ( Matt also teaches online graduate courses in curriculum design and instructional leadership for the University of Wisconsin-Superior. He tweets @ReadByExample and writes for ASCD ( and Lead Literacy (

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s