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The Champion Forum Podcast

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The Power of Trust, Building a Championship Team and Becoming an Excellent Storyteller with Don Yaeger

Thank you for listening to The Champion Forum Podcast with Jeff Hancher! You are a product of the people you spend time with, and today’s guest has spent hundreds and thousands of hours with some of the most successful coaches and athletes in the world. Don Yaeger is south after for his perspectives on building a championship culture, and today I'm excited to share our conversation on mentorship, building a championship team, developing trust, and how to be a great storyteller.


About Don Yaeger

Don is an award-winning keynote speaker and celebrated New York Times Best-selling author. Throughout his career, he has had the opportunity to interview and write about some of the greatest coaches and athletes. The knowledge he has gained combined with his personal creative abilities and communication skills has led to his career as one of America’s most provocative thought leaders. He is especially sought after for his perspectives on greatness, team building, and how to develop a championship culture.


How do you get a great mentor and make the most of the relationship?

The key to getting a great mentor is to reach out and ask! I created a relationship with my mentor John Wooden through a mutual friend, Shaquille O’Neal. When I finally asked him, he said, “What took you so long?” He laid out expectations for me and told me what I could expect from him. A big part of that was going in with a game plan and deciding what I wanted to get out of our monthly meetings. Your mentor can’t just give you the answers. You as the student have to decide what you are coming to learn and ask the right questions.


Why don’t people ask for mentoring?

People fear rejection. What if they are too busy or say no? How will that make me feel? But they also fear what will happen if they say yes and the pressure and expectations that can come from an intimate relationship with a person you look up to. Either answer can seem daunting.


What work have you been most proud of?

In journalism or writing for someone else, the key is that they have to learn to trust you. They won’t share any of the really good stuff until you do. I was asked by Walter Peyton to write his memoir as he was nearing the end of his life. From the very beginning, he said, “I trust you.” We knew we would only get some number of weeks together. He knew he would not be there when I was writing the book, so he had to be as open as possible to give me plenty to work with. After that book, other athletes seemed to believe that if Walter Peyton trusted me, they could trust me too. Some things are transferred to you that you can’t earn yourself and Walter Peyton transferred trust.


What does it take to build a championship team?

My book Greatness was the culmination of 2500 interviews over 30 years of journalism where I asked about the habits successful coaches and leaders built into their daily routines to separate themselves. That book is about hating to lose more than you want to win, not allowing yourself to make excuses, seeking mentors, and more. Successful leaders believe in something greater than themselves, which gives them the humility to be great. The best teams don’t just know their sense of purpose, they feel their why. They feel who they matter to and why what they do matters.


How do you create a culture of accountability and support?

You have to start by being accountable yourself. Set the expectation and be the one who does it consistently. Whatever you declare the rules are, you should be prepared to live to them. Many top performers get away more than other people get away with, but this does not work! If you declare it a standard, hold everyone to it. Accountability is so important because it speaks to who you are and how you see them. Nothing creates a greater chasm than failing to have clear expectations I expect a lot of my high performers. But I also expect certain things from my young enthusiastic person, and they need to know the expectations are different. 


Connect with Don Yaeger

Elevate and Dominate - New book with Deion Sanders (Coach Prime)


Application Activities

  1. Don reflected on the impact of being trusted by Walter Peyton. He described that trust as a gift he could not give himself. Who gave you something you could not give yourself? Who took a chance on you or let you take a risk? Take a moment to reflect on that person and give them a call or write them a letter expressing your gratitude.

  2. Part of Don’s expertise comes from spending thousands of hours with successful athletes. What area do you want to be an expert? What are you doing to build meaningful relationships with people who are experts in that area? Seek out 4-5 leaders in your field and find ways to get around them. Prepare a list of questions you can ask when you get the opportunity to meet them to make the most of your time.

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