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  • Jack Fleming

Erik Spoelstra — The Apprentice

In Mastery by Robert Greene there is a great passage put like this, “In the stories of the greatest Masters, past and present, we can inevitably detect a phase in their lives in which all of their future powers were in development, like the chrysalis of a butterfly. This part of their lives — a largely self-directed apprenticeship that lasts some five to ten years — receives little attention because it does not contain stories of great achievement or discovery. Often in their Apprenticeship Phase, these types are not yet much different from anyone else. Under the surface, however, their minds are transforming in ways we cannot see but contain all of the seeds of their future success.”

Erik Spoelstra spent 11 years down in the infamous Dungeon, the video room for the Miami Heat under Pat Riley. At 25 years old he was given a temporary job for the Miami Heat, after the draft he was asked to stay on. After two years relentlessly spent working in the video room, he was was named an assistant coach/video coordinator in 1997. Two years later, he was promoted to advance scout/assistant coach. Spoelstra was named the Head Coach in 2008, while under heavy scrutiny — little did others know he was more than ready for it. The apprenticeship under Pat Riley he chose learning over money, he did not seek comfort. When it comes to mastering a skill, time is the magic ingredient. Here are some of the lessons from one of the NBA’s greatest apprentices.


  • Author and practitioner of The Heat Code.

  • Theories and quotations that outline the club’s mission.

  • Images that define their identity.

  • Installed an organisational improvement program for his coaches = book list, clinics, collect articles, watch international play.

  • Miami Heat = world class, defence, family, competitive, nasty.

  • Get the top guys leading, middle guys higher, clean up the bottom.

  • Values must permeate through the entire organisation, not just the players.

  • Coach your staff to what your culture is, our goal is to get better 1% every single day.

  • Pat Riley, screams world class in every little thing he does. Air Force training camp was the most competitive event ever.

  • “It’s easy to say you have to sacrifice, until it’s you who has to sacrifice.”

  • First day talk about your ultimate goal, after that everything is process driven.

Growth Mindset

  • Listened to motivational tapes every single morning since being a video guy.

  • Started work at 4:45am compiling reports on every single team in the league.

  • Wrote 25–30 page reports on the DNA of a Champion, PnR Defence, every single team in the league.

  • Preparing to be a head coach years before he thought it was even possible.

“When you have a growth mindset, you challenge yourself to do things differently, and you actually produce a chemical in your brain that allows you to work more creatively.”

  • “Half of success is just being there.”

  • Challenged myself to be uncomfortable by meeting with coaches from other sports, people who challenge the status quo. Chip Kelly = innovator.

  • “We’re wired to follow the herd mentality, must break from the pack.”

  • Surrounded myself with workers, people who execute the daily, tedious grind.

  • Best barriers were broken when we as a coaching staff almost got into fights, Fizdale always challenged me. “You’re being stubborn and stupid.”

  • Learn what each other are like in the darkest moments, that’s when the greatest ideas come to light.


  • Always serve each other, be there for your head coach when they need you.

  • Spoelstra’s Dad: always over delivered, we are entitled to nothing.

  • Yoga reference: “focus on your own mat.”

  • Spoelstra to Lebron: “Do you want to be coached, and what does that look like?”

  • Be the truth bearer, your team needs it.

Keep daily notes on everything you see, you will need it one day.

Consistencies in Coaching

  1. Competence

  • Players see it

  • Difference between knowing what you’re doing and knowing it all.

  • Relentless work ethic.

2. Earn Respect Daily

  • Be there for your assistants.

  • Relentless, fatiguing.

3. Integrity

  • Authentic

  • Be consistent with media and team.

4. Discipline

  • Head Coach you are the jerk now!

  • Fight for your players and have accountability.

5. Show Resolve

  • Storm around you and everyone wants a way out.

  • Be prepared for 5 shit storms every day, every huddle.

  • Players have to see a source of strength.

Managing Ego

  • Defiant guys are usually the ones that take you to the next level.

  • NBA players are the smartest players in the world.

  • All want to be coached, all want discipline, all want structure.

  • Want to stand for something bigger than themselves.

  • Direct communication.

  • Respect — be on time — eye to eye contact.

  • Little things = big things.

Books - How to Rob a Bank by Stephen Levitt. - Mind Games: Phil Jackson’s Long Strange Journey by Roland Lazenby - The Score Takes Care of Itself by Bill Walsh - Lives of Riley — Pat Riley

We always have two options in life, resist it or embrace it.

Want to Connect? If you would like to continue the basketball conversation, provide your thoughts or ideas please message me on Twitter @jackfleming1, comment or e-mail me at

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