The New Buzzword “Culture”

The new buzzword in sports is “culture” and even more now after the San Antonio Spurs won their 5th NBA Championship in three separate decades with the same Head Coach are now more than ever… the model franchise. No other team in the four major professional sports have a better winning percentage than the Spurs do in the last sixteen years. Why? How? Who? Most will credit Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and rising superstars like Kawhi Leonard, but does the credit go to the “culture” of the entire organization? I would say yes to both because the people make the “culture.” The intriguing aspect of the Spurs is we can analyze, evaluate, read, and try to discover their methods, but only the people within the organization truly know what makes them successful.

The dictionary defines “culture” as: the customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group. What a dictionary does not define is how a “culture” passes from generation to generation. Every season a team will change with ability, personality, and roster changes. A team may be older, stronger, more experienced, have more depth from the previous year, but is the locker-room better? The locker-room is where the “culture” is passed on from generation to generation. Even after people graduate, retire, or leave a team, “cultures” are passed on by the players (people within the organization). As author Jeff Janssen writes “Culture is much like water in an aquarium. While it is largely invisible, its chemistry, and life-supporting qualities profoundly affect its inhabitants. Is the water in your program or business murky, dark, cold, contaminated, and life-threatening in that it chokes or poisons your people and their potential? Or is your water fresh, pure, clear, clean, warm, exhilarating, and life-enhancing so your people cannot only survive but thrive?”

Whether it is a Championship “culture” or a destructive “culture”, every organization or team has a “culture.” When it is real and authentic it is not a façade and it becomes contagious. There is no confusion of what the “culture” is by everyone in the entire organization and it is practiced daily. Just like in recruiting and drafting, finding the right people is the key. Championship “cultures” are extremely selective when it comes to hiring, promoting, and adding people to the organization. For example, there is an old saying in recruiting “a lot of guys can play, not all of them can play here.” Observing the Spurs and seeing how they have sustained their way of excellence over such a long span it is evident they have a very selective criteria with their membership with not only players, but with front office, coaches, support staff, etc. Sometimes the toughest decisions are people decisions in referring to roster, trades, hiring, etc., because those are the hardest to unmake.

Does a Championship “culture” guarantee a Championship? No, but the people will always relish on the fact their lives were changed because of their daily environment and once you are in “culture” like that, nothing is ever the same. Building, changing, and sustaining a “culture” takes investment, commitment, and a unified attitude by everyone. However, in many ways the “culture” every team wants is still a mystery, puzzle, a secret society that every sports organization in the world tries to duplicate. I think like most things in life, the secret to success is not that secret…the hardest part is actually doing it!

Here are some great quotes by coaches and players on “culture”:

“It is one heartbeat” –Corey Dillon, New England Patriots

“If you take your eye off the culture ball for too long, it will be gone before you know it” –Chris Peterson, University of Washington

“You cannot merely expect culture to be a natural occurrence; it has to be taught and make a part of your everyday routine” –Mike Krzyzewski, Duke University

Lastly, I would like to thank Coach Raveling for the invitation to write and share some thoughts. Coach Raveling is a mentor, friend, and coach to me. His moral compass is great for the game of basketball and I am incredibly humbled by yet another opportunity to write a guest blog.

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