16 Characteristics of Greatness

October 22, 2009

Offering personal accounts from some of the greatest winners in sports, Don Yaeger, a bestselling author and long-time associate editor of Sports Illustrated, provided a passionate description of what it takes to be great during Thursday’s General Session of the 102nd American Land Title Association.

Yaeger has developed a reputation as a provocative journalist. The variety of topics he has covered is so vast that every major talk show – from Oprah to Nightline, from CNN to Good Morning America – has invited him to be a guest. Over his many years of working with the great ones, including Michael Jordan, John Wooden and Walter Payton, he has distilled 16 consistent characteristics of greatness.

Yaeger shared some of those characteristics during his riveting dialogue, interjecting emotion-laced stories of how certain athletes used adversity as a driving force to succeed. One of the traits Yaeger said all champions understand is the value in rubbing elbows – realizing the importance of working with others to help each other grow.

“The value of an association is why you are here,” Yaeger told the ALTA convention attendees. “You are here to grow from each other.”

The other two top characteristics of greatness, according to Yaeger are that champions hate losing more than they enjoy winning, and they have faith in a higher power.

Among the many heartfelt stories Yaeger offered, was an example of the value of association. He shared how a nearly 7-foot basketball player failed to make his school’s basketball team as a junior and senior. While working as an auto mechanic, a basketball coach at a community college noticed Sven Nader and offered him a spot on the basketball team. At the end of the second year on the team, Nader evolved into one of the top junior college prospects.

The junior college coach called up UCLA basketball coaching legend John Wooden that he had a hole in his lineup and suggested Wooden needed Nader to help the school’s, and maybe the country’s best player at the time, to help Bill Walton become even better.

While Nader never started a college game, Walton would call Nader his toughest opponent. Nader would go on to play professional basketball and is now an executive for Cosco.

“Most of us are the Sven Naders trying to get better,” Yaeger said. “If you are the best at what you do, it’s your job to be a mentor and reach out to others and say hello. If you are not, it’s your job to learn.”

Yaeger’s complete list of 16 characteristics of Greatness:

  1. It’s personal: They hate to lose more than they love to win.
  2. Rubbing elbows: They understand the value of association.
  3. Believe: They have faith in a higher power.
  4. Contagious enthusiasm: They are positive thinkers. They are enthusiastic and that enthusiasm rubs off.
  5. Hope for the best, but: They prepare for all possibilities before they step o the field.
  6. What off-season? They are always working toward the next game. The goal is what’s ahead, and there’s always something ahead.
  7. Visualize victory: They see victory before the game begins.
  8. Inner fire: They use adversity as fuel.
  9. Ice in their veins: They are risk-takers and don’t fear making a mistake.
  10. When all else fails: They know how and when to adjust their games.
  11. Ultimate teammate: They will assume whatever role is necessary for the team to win.
  12. Not just about the Benjamins: They don’t play just for the money.
  13. Do unto others: They know character is defined by how they treat those who cannot help them.
  14. When no one is watching: They are comfortable in the mirror. They live their life with integrity.
  15. When everyone is watching: They embrace the idea of being a role model.
  16. Records are made to be broken: They know their legacy isn’t what they did on the field. They are well-rounded.


Contact ALTA at 202-296-3671 or communications@alta.org.

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