Why Gregg Popovich coaches the San Antonio Spurs to 'pay attention in the world'

San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich quizzes his basketball players' knowledge and will start tracking which players know the most this year — about topics off the court, that is.

Topics such as early American exploration, holy Islamic cities and wombats are seldom workplace conversations. Yet Mr. Popovich sees current events and world history as a way to bring the Spurs together and become informed citizens, he said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.

Here are four reasons why Mr. Popovich wants his players "paying attention in the world."  

1. Facilitate civic engagement. After the first presidential debate in 2012, Mr. Popovich gave his players a DVD copy of the debate to watch. He said being an engaged citizen creates a fuller life.

2. Foster connections in and out of the workplace. At training camp this year, Mr. Popovich gave Spurs players a copy of "Between the World and Me" by Ta-Nehisi Coates and watched The Birth of a Nation, a film about Nat Turner's slave rebellion. Mr. Popovich said he expected the players to talk about the media together and later with their families. 

"I think it's important for their lives, for their kids, their wives, for our basketball team," he said.

3. Set a precedent. Mr. Popovich's intellectual curiosity and broader perspective holds clout over the NBA. According to The Wall Street Journal, over a third of NBA team coaches or general managers have spent time in San Antonio amid Mr. Popovich's established culture. The Spurs are a team others try to emulate.

4. Make work selfless. Mr. Popovich said his methodology makes his players shift their focus from personal gains to team and even worldly accomplishments.  

"I think it's sad if a person's whole self-image and self-worth is based in their job," he told The Wall Street Journal. "Whether you're a basketball player, a plumber, a doctor, a mailman or whatever you might be, why not try your best to live a more interesting life that includes other people, other cultures and different worlds?"

Read the interview in its entirety by clicking here.

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