Second Chance Greatness

by Don Yaeger

The US Open at Flushing Meadows gave me the chance to have a true New York City experience filled with stars and one of the NYC’s most historic sporting events…  Where else can you go in the Big Apple where backhands, smashes and faults aren’t followed by flashing lights and police sirens?  While I admit that my passion for US Open tennis far outweighs my actual skill level on the courts, I couldn’t help but notice while I was there last week the number of errors and mistakes made by some of the greatest tennis players on the planet.

The first serves were flashy and powerful, but in many cases resulted in a fault.  Wimbledon champ Roger Federer–as great as he is, failed 33% of the time on his first serve through his first 5 matches at the Open. Of his 349 first serves, he missed 116 of them.  Novak Djokovic (67%) and Andy Roddick (68%) both had similar battles with the tennis racket.

The lesson here should be in the importance of a second chance–or in tennis terms, the second serve.  The efficiency and precision of a second serve is where the truly great players begin to differentiate themselves from the rest.

Few tennis stars understand the significance of a second chance more clearly than 5-time Wimbledon champ and recent Olympic gold medalist Serena Williams.  Her incredible career was nearly cut short in 2010 after a series of surgeries and life-threatening health issues took the racket out of her hands for 10-months. Sunday, she completed an amazing comeback by capturing the US Open title in a 3-set showdown with top-ranked Victoria Azarenka.  Serena claimed the $1.9 million top prize for winning the US Open—her 4th time doing so – but one look at the statistics showed that she couldn’t have done it without taking advantage of second chances.

Serena is known for her powerful first serves—she led all women in the tournament by clocking in a serve at 125 mph.  And while she recorded 63 aces over 7 matches, nearly 300 of her 453 total points were scored on the second serve.

Clearly it’s what she did on her second chance that helped her win her 15th career Grand Slam.  In most cases, she took a little off of the second serve in order to ensure greater accuracy.  Then she served most of those points wide and with precision so that her opponent was kept on the move.  She had a plan for the second serve that included a more disciplined approach toward success.

Second chances are just as important in life and in business.  Many of us miss the first time around…but it is what we do when we get that second chance that makes the difference.

Has a second chance – or second serve – given you a shot that led to success?

Never Out of It

by Don Yaeger

Life has once again given us a crystal clear reminder that competition reigns supreme…and that you’re only out of a game when you decide you are (or the buzzer sounds!).

Every summer, the Little League World Series showcases the best of the best on both the domestic and international fronts.  Pre-adolescent baseball players take their swings and get their earliest test of global competition.

This year’s American Finals featured two teams from two states (Tennessee and California) who combined to score 40 runs in one 7-inning game.  In fact, Tennessee 12-year-old Lorenzo Butler tied a Little League World Series record by hitting three homeruns in the same game; his three, 3-run homers also made him the first ever to have 9 RBI in the same contest.  But those feats and the 24-16 final score were just the footnote in an amazing lesson.

Trailing 15-5 in the 6th inning, the team from California faced elimination but NEVER gave up.  As the team from California prepared for its final at-bat, the announcers in the booth said this: “No team has ever come back from this many runs this late in a World Series game.”  Good thing the kids weren’t listening.  California then did what no team had ever done…score 10 runs in that inning to tie the game! Prior to the 6th inning, all of their plans had fallen short but rather than add to their own demise, they added runs to the scoreboard.  A remarkable inning of perseverance and resilience saw the young men from California tie the game and send it into extra innings.

This team chose to ignore the odds and instead welcomed the opportunity for greatness.  The world of sports and business is full of people who give up when things don’t go according to plan.  But some of the greatest in either realm have cashed in on the chance to look at the opportunity rather than the odds.

But there’s more!  That same thirst for greatness that California quenched in their 10-run comeback now stared the Tennessee team in the face.  With a tie ballgame and the momentum now going California’s way, the kids from the Volunteer State also had the chance to pick opportunity over the odds.  Rather than falling completely apart, they regrouped and scored 9 runs of their own to win it in extra innings.

On the brink of failure and disappointment, these Little Leaguers refused to count themselves out.  They understood the odds but embraced the opportunity for success.

Which do you find yourself thinking about most often, odds or opportunity?

The Sweet Brand

by Don Yaeger

College football is ready to kick off another year loaded with opportunities for greatness.  But the countdown to kickoff goes beyond the usual sell-out crowds or the frequent clashing of helmets and shoulder pads.

For the last 5 years I’ve had the opportunity to work with a number of college student-athletes, discussing with them the “brand” that they will leave behind when their playing days are behind them.  This summer, the journey my team and I have taken has spanned from Cal-Berkeley to Michigan to Ball State University (greatest school on Earth—although as an alum I might be biased).  Through examples, we convince them that each of them is CEO of their own brand and it is in their interest to define their brand before others do so.  We challenge each athlete to identify his or her brand NOW, choosing five words that they hope will be used to describe them when they leave campus.  Then we show each of them how to use those words as the backbone of every media interview and their social media profiles.  The impact for them is huge… and there is a great lesson in the discussion for all of us.

Jarrett Payton, the former University of Miami runningback and son of NFL Hall of Famer Walter Payton, joined our team this month for media training at Ball State.  As one of our presenters, he spoke to the athletes about the power of his brand. That’s easier than converting on 3rd & inches for a guy like Payton.  Even though he played in the NFL for the Tennessee Titans, the NFL Europe in Amsterdam, the CFL with Toronto, and the IFL with Chicago, Jarrett Payton’s brand has always been as simple, classic and powerful as his last name.

Known as “JP”, Payton knows he was blessed to be the son of Walter, but I’m constantly amazed by his drive to keep enhancing and re-defining HIS personal brand.  With the same kind of focus that helped him run to MVP honors during the 2004 Orange Bowl as starting tailback for the Miami Hurricanes, JP has run full speed into the social media realm.  His usage of Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter to promote his efforts has now become the main factor that fuels his brand—and his life.

JP methodically and consistently sends out tweets of encouragement, inspiration, and promotion.  Now the man who touts himself as “Motivational tweeter, host of The Jarrett Payton radio show, entrepreneur, and the son of the Great Walter Payton” has a Twitter fan base of more than 16,000 followers.  His relentlessly positive branding even sparked an interest from the ESPN brass; now JP has been recently hired to appear as a regular on ESPNU programming.

But my amazement in this story of greatness is his intent to handoff the brand concept.  No, I’m not referring to the common desire to build a brand just to sell it to the highest bidder; in this case JP is focused on branding the next generation of “Sweetness” —Walter’s first grandchild.

The legacy lives on now that JP and his wife have a 4-month-old baby boy who is fully equipped with his own twitter account and more than 200 followers!  As you can imagine, the son of Walter Payton couldn’t stop gushing over the potential for greatness in his own son.

“I want him to have his own brand before he can walk,” said JP.  “I don’t know where Twitter will be ten years from now, but I want my son to already have a built-in following long before he realizes what a brand is.”

It’s that kind of foresight that can often times take an athlete, a coach, a team, a franchise, a company, or a brand from good to great.

How much thought have you given your brand?  What are you doing to make your brand great?

A Perfect Time for Greatness

by Don Yaeger

Through my experiences writing about some of the GREATEST athletes the sports world has ever known, I’ve learned that GREATNESS doesn’t happen by chance.  Sometimes it’s the ability to do the “Right Thing” at the “Right Time” that makes one truly GREAT.

Take Olympic gymnast Jordyn Wieber for instance; at age 17, she defined GREATNESS through her actions at the highest level of competition.  The high school senior from DeWitt, Michigan entered the 2012 London Olympics as Team USA’s main hope for a gold medal in the Women’s All-Around Competition.

And why wouldn’t she be the center of attention?—she was a proven winner in the sport.  Wieber had just won gold at the 2011 World Championships in Tokyo, Japan.  In fact, she won the first All-Around gold of her gymnastics career back in the 2006 Junior Olympics at the age of 11.

On July 31st, Wieber put her years of tireless training to the test in London at the qualifying rounds for the Women’s All-Around Finals.  Her skill on multiple rotations, ranging from the vault to the balance beam, earned her a 4th place spot out of 24 qualifying positions and at least 15 other countries.  Two of the 3 competitors ahead of her in qualifying for the event were none other than American teammates Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman.  But the reigning World Champion saw her gold medal dream turn into a nightmare when international rules, allowing only 2 gymnasts per country into the finals, eliminated her from the Top-24. As her teammates celebrated their individual triumphs just footsteps away, Wieber’s face displayed a canvas of heartbreak.

As the glory and praise bypassed Wieber, she was faced with 2 options: self-destruction or the construction of her own GREATNESS.  Despite being on the outside looking in, Wieber looked within and found passion for her teammates—and in doing so found what would make her a champion again.

Just two days later, she wiped away the tears and dazzled the international crowd with amazing scores in the vault, floor exercise, and uneven bars for the Women’s Gymnastics Team Competition.  Both performances fueled the Americans to claim their first Team gold medal since the Magnificent Seven won it during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Ga. Wieber’s ability to put her own disappointment aside, helped her and Team USA achieve Olympic GREATNESS.  As if the story needed further etching, reports surfaced from London this week that Wieber’s performance endured a possible stress fracture in her right leg sustained during the U.S. Trials weeks prior to the Olympics.

Her struggle and triumph challenges us all to prepare diligently for our moments of GREATNESS.  What have you done today to prepare for GREATNESS?


A Few Words From the Memorial Service of Steven Covey

by Don Yaeger

Saturday, my wife and I were in Salt Lake City with thousands of others to attend the memorial service for Stephen Covey.  Covey was one of the most influential business authors of our generation, having penned the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People in 1989 and then watched as the book sold more than 20 million copies.  He authored several other amazing books that combined to sell another 20 million copies.

Several months ago his children asked if I would author their father’s biography, one of the great honors in my career.  In the last few months I’ve gotten to know the Covey family and have reveled in the stories they’ve shared about how this amazing thinker came to shape the world.

At the memorial, which was public but also served as Stephen’s family funeral, each of his nine children stepped up and shared their greatest memories of growing up with a father that US Presidents and dozens of foreign leaders have asked for counsel.  As we listened to each child, the word that hung over every story was “Authentic.” What made Stephen Covey so great as a leader – and as a father – was that “As good as he was in public, he was even better in private,” as his oldest son Stephen M.R. Covey said.

The youngest Covey child, Josh was the last of the family to speak at the service.  He told a story of being a young boy, four years old, who so wanted to be like his father that he wanted to dress just as he did, right down to wearing the same belt buckle.  Then Josh told the story of being the final child to speak to his father the previous Sunday night, just hours before his father would pass, when the family gathered in his hospital room.  Josh said he wanted desperately to have the right words to say in that moment.”  I told my father that as a boy I wanted to be like him so I dressed like him,” Josh said as tears welled in his eyes.  “Now as a man, I want to be like him so I want to live like him.  As a boy, it was on the outside.  As a man, I want to be like him on the inside.”

What a tribute.

Tips from a Great One

A few of my favorite quotes from Stephen Covey

“Live life in crescendo!”

“Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.”

“Effective leadership is putting first things first. Effective management is discipline, carrying it out.”

“Live out your imagination, not your history.”

“The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”

“There are three constants in life…change, choice, and principles.”

“We are the creative force of our life, and through our own decisions rather than our conditions, if we carefully learn to do certain things, we can accomplish those goals.”

“We are free to choose our actions…but we are not free to choose the consequences of those actions.”

“Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.”

“Wisdom is the child of integrity–being integrated around principles. And integrity is the child of humility and courage.”

“Live, love, laugh, and leave a legacy.”

Thinking Your Way Out of a Slump!

by Don Yaeger

Former Yankees catcher Yogi Berra once said, “Baseball is ninety percent mental.  The other half is physical.” Yogi, one of the best interviews you could ever imagine, was clearly not a math major, but he did have a point. Mental strength is a huge differentiator between winners and losers.

How many times in your life have you found yourself in a mental slump?  Professional athletes hit slumps all the time.  We do, too.  It may not be that you have trouble hitting a curve ball.  You could be in a slump in your relationship, at work, or wherever you have performed well.

But that’s the thing about a slump, to be in a slump, you have to have done something well in the first place. Albert Pujols of the Los Angeles Angels is one of the premier hitters in the past 25 years.  He’s been putting up Hall of Fame numbers since he became a pro.  But this year, he moved from St. Louis to L.A. and hasn’t been able to find his sweet spot until recently.  Much was made about his large contract and small productivity. Pujols had to revert back to what it was that made him one of the best hitters of all time and concentrate on achieving greatness.

There’s a difference between choking and slumping.  A choke is a one-time event.   You miss a 10 foot putt to win the tournament.  A slump is missing 10 of those putts because your mind is not right.  This phenomenon of a slump is so prevalent that doctors like Dr. Rob Gray from the School of Sport and Exercise Sciences at UAB has spent extensive time studying what creates a slump.

Gray says, “We think that when you’re under pressure, your attention goes inward naturally.  Suddenly it means so much, you want to make sure everything’s working properly.  Focusing on what you’re doing makes you mess up, but why?  How do your movements change?  How can we focus on correcting those issues instead of telling you to stop trying so hard?

That’s usually the “easy” answer.  Stop trying so hard.  But those words usually enhance your slump because breaking out of a slump isn’t easy.

We’ve all had to recharge our batteries at one point in time.  So how did you do it? For me, I try to remember what steps I took to achieve the level of success I had, but most important, I need to get out of my own head. It’s easy to talk yourself out of being great.  The great ones thrive under pressure while others talk themselves out of success. Whether it’s shooting the game winning free-throw or asking out a girl for the first time, you can’t be great unless you go for it and find a way to break the slump.

Has there been a time in your life that you were in a slump? How did you get out of it? What slump-busting steps did you take?

A Glimpse of Greatness

by Don Yaeger


Ice in Their Veins: 

The Great Ones Are Not Afraid to Take Risks.



This summer marks the 40th anniversary since the passage of Title IX, which launched a new era in terms of opportunities for female student-athletes, and opened the door for countless young women to pursue their dreams of competition.


In honor of this historic anniversary, July’s newsletter is dedicated to the Greatness of one of the earliest beneficiaries of the new legislation: Ann Meyers, one of the very first women ever to sign a four-year athletic scholarship to attend an American university.


A stand-out athlete in numerous sports growing up, Meyers made history as the first person ever to be part of an Olympic basketball team while still in high school,competing in the Montreal Olympics in 1976 as part of the silver-medal-winning Women’s Basketball team.  That same year, she was granted a basketball scholarship at UCLA where she would become the first four time All-American in women’s basketball. While at UCLA, she forged a lifelong relationship with legendary men’s Bruins coach John Wooden, who considered her a second daughter. I met her through Coach Wooden and within minutes I understood why he called her “infectious.”


In 1978, Meyers led the Bruins to the national championship and became the first NCAA Division One basketball player ever to achieve a quadruple-double in a single game–that is posting double-digits in fourstatistical categories of points, assists, rebounds and steals.(Only one other college player, Lester Hudson, has registered a quadruple-double.) Meyers became the first woman ever drafted by what was then called the Women’s Professional Basketball League and, in 1980, she was signed by the NBA’s Indiana Pacers, making her the only woman ever given a player’s contract in men’s professional basketball.


She forged trails in broadcasting, working as a color commentator and analyst for men and women’s basketball games during an era when a female sportscaster was nearly unheard of. For the past three decades, Meyers has worked as a sports analyst for CBS, NBC, and ESPN and currently serves as the Vice President for the Phoenix Suns (NBA) and President and General Manager for the Phoenix Mercury (WNBA). She has earned numerous national athletic and broadcasting awards and continues to be one of the most respected professionals in her field.


Ann recently authored a book on her life, “You Let Some Girl Beat You?”, which is a wonderful read filled with great lessons for young women.


In short, Ann Meyers took the door that was unlocked for her through Title IX and blew it open. Being first at anything–and she often was–meant leaving that door open for others.

Tips from the Great Ones


Ann Meyers was not one to walk away from a challenge simply because it had never been done before. Even though opportunities for female athletes were quite limited at the time, she relished the chance to forge new paths and be a stand-out talent in realms where she had relatively few role models. There is a certain kind of toughness that is required to be a pioneer–and Meyers has it.


Have you ever found yourself automatically turning down opportunities simply because they were untried? Have you ever wished you could take a bold step in a new direction . . . but struggled with having the confidence to actually proceed? Don’t let fear of the unknown hold you back. Don’t be afraid to be the first person to step through a newly-opened door! You may be surprised to see how many people follow you.


Meyers recognized her unique position to make history and pave the way for others, and she pursued those goals with tireless  excellence. Perhaps you are standing at a crossroads in your professional career, unsure what to make of new opportunities before you. The Great Ones know that pursuing goals occasionally requires taking risks–but they also know that those who take the first risks can help make the way easier for others. It might be scary or uncertain at times, but the rewards can come back to you ten-fold in not only the success you achieve but in the legacy you leave.

Have You Thanked Your Competition Today?

by Don Yaeger

I had a speech last week in Nebraska and before I caught my flight home, I made my way over to the US Olympic Swimming Trials in Omaha to catch up with two of the greatest competitors on the planet.  Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte have established in the pool what Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer had on the golf course or Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe had on the tennis courts.  Anytime they are in the same event, all eyes are locked on the two best swimmers on the planet.

As most everyone knows, Phelps won an unprecedented eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics and will compete for seven more at the London games later this month.  But Lochte has, by Phelps’ own admission, been “the best swimmer in the world over the last two years.”

In conversation during the trials and since, one thing has stood out to me: like the very Greatest winners in most any walk of life, these two enjoy and respect their competition.  And they both know that the reason they are achieving such super-human numbers is because they have the other pushing them!

As Phelps said that day when I was in Omaha, “I am swimming better times today than I did even in Beijing…and Ryan is a good part of the reason.  I have a different energy when he’s in the same pool, even greater if he’s in the next lane. I bet he’d say the same.”

Too often in our hyper-competitive world we find ourselves despising those with whom we’re competing…I know I do on occasion.  But the truth is that we are better when our competition is better.  It is a fact of human nature that most of us achieve more when challenged.

Thinking of Lochte and Phelps – and the way they openly praise each other for the “push” each offers – made me wonder if I owe a competitor an email of thanks.  I’ve never received an email like that so I’m not sure exactly what the etiquette is, but I’m going to write one before the week is out.

In London, Phelps and Lochte will compete against each other twice again.  They will go goggle-to-goggle in the 200 and 400 individual medley races.  Here’s hoping Olympic organizers put Lochte and Phelps side by side for all to enjoy!

Is there a competitor in your life or your work who has pushed you achieve?

Don’t Let Others Take You to Where They Are

“Don”t Let Others Take You to Where They Are”
by Don Yaeger

Full disclosure: This was not one of my finer moments.

I was in New York recently for meetings and walked to Starbucks for my morning “starter.” As I was standing in line, a call came in from someone I had been trying to connect with for a few days. I took the call. Two minutes later, it was my turn to order and I was trying to do so without interrupting my caller. The cashier couldn’t understand my order, so I tried again.

Then the tall, lanky guy behind me in line looked at me and said, “Hang up your (expletive) phone and order.”

Stunned, I asked my caller to give me a second and placed my order, adding “and please let me pay for my friend’s drink,” pointing to the man behind me. I’ll admit I felt pretty good about myself and I walked to the end of the bar and continued the call. A few seconds later, he walked down and stood right next to me. I made eye contact, expecting a thank you. Instead, he continued: “I don’t know where you’re from, but in New York, you don’t do that (expletive). You hang up your (expletive) phone.”

I finally asked my caller if I could call back. He’d heard the background conversation and understood.

Looking at the man, I said: “I walked away once. I don’t walk away twice.” He stepped back and started looking me up and down. I asked what he was looking for. “I’m looking to see if there’s anything on you that will tell me where you work,” he said. The woman making our coffees then offered a slight joke: “I think you’ll find out in the police report,” she said to the man.

Coffees were delivered, but as I said, this wasn’t my finest moment. I walked outside the Starbucks and stood by the door. I’m not sure what I was going to do, but I wasn’t quite ready to let this go. The tall, lanky guy stayed just inside the door, staring at me and not coming out. I waited a couple of minutes, mostly realizing how stupid I was being, then just as I turned to walk away, the man burst through the door, ran across the street and, as he did so, yelled a few more expletives at me. There was no way I could have caught him, but instinct had me take a first step in that direction.

Just then, an African-American man with dreadlocks and baggy clothes grabbed my arm. Startled, I looked at him and he said “Where did you get that Starbucks?” The question threw me off because I could have sworn I had seen him inside Starbucks just a few minutes earlier. “Right here,” I said incredulously, pointing to the Starbucks sign.

“I know. I was just trying to take you out of the moment,” he said, nodding to the man who was now a half-block away.

Then he looked me in the eye and said: “Don’t let others take you to where they are. Go and have a nice day.”

He walked away and my less-than-golden moment became golden.

Changing the World, One Pencil at a Time

“Changing the World, One Pencil at a Time”
by Don Yaeger

One of the greatest parts of my work as a speaker is getting to watch other presenters at events share their amazing stories. A couple of weeks ago, at a celebration of a company’s top performers,  I met Adam Braun ( ) and it was a jaw-dropper. I couldn’t wait to join in the standing ovation.

I can’t do it justice, but here is a synopsis of his story: a basketball player at Brown University, Adam saw a movie that included a scene from India that inspired him to go abroad for a semester of learning. He signed up for a “semester at sea” program that met with near-Titanic results when the ship was hit by a 60-foot wave in the north Pacific. He described the moment “not as one of near-death, but certain death.” Rescued from the ship along with his classmates, Adam continued on with a different sense of purpose and while studying in India he met a young boy. There he asked a question he would ask many children on his journey: What do you want most in the world? The boy’s answer: a pencil.

Most would have simply handed over a pencil. Adam Braun decided to build a school. (By the way, he did give the boy his pencil, too!)

He discovered that 67 million children in the world had no access to ANY school. Adam decided to change that and on his 25th birthday, hosted a party asking guests to show up with $20 instead of a gift. Four hundred friends showed and he had $8,000 toward the building of a school. Working for Bain & Co, Adam took a sabbatical and travelled to Indonesia where he identified the village for his project. As the school was built, he shared pictures and video with his burgeoning network. More contributions flooded in and, fast-forward a bit, Adam left his job to found Pencils of Promise. ( ) The organization was built on several powerful principals, including transparency and a vision that it is “For Purpose” rather than just “Non-Profit.”

To date, Pencils has built more than 50 schools in developing nations and Adam has an aggressive goal to build another 50 this year.

Adam wrapped his speech with two quotes that I’ll hold onto forever.

The first: “Big dreams start with small unreasonable acts.” Adam describes himself as an impossible-ist, a person who believes in the impossible.

The second was: “Make small decisions with your mind, but make big ones with your heart.”

Children all over the world are grateful for Adam’s heart.

Have you seen a speaker or learned of an organization that tugged on a heartstring?