104: Don Yaeger: The master storyteller who has written 28 books including one on Walter Payton, gone one on one with Michael Jordan and an expert at helping you Find Your Greatness.

June 12, 2019

Don Yaeger

Don Yaeger is a Leadership Speaker, longtime Associate Editor for Sports Illustrated, executive coach and 11-time New York Times Best-Selling author. Don focuses on the key theme of achieving greatness, learned from first-hand experiences with some of the greatest sports legends in the world. As an executive coach, he is hired by organizations to coach their leaders, management teams, and employees on building a culture of greatness by studying great teams in sports and discerning the business lessons we can learn from them. Throughout his career, Don has developed a reputation as a world-class storyteller and has been invited as a guest to almost every major talk show – from The Oprah Winfrey Show to CNN to Good Morning America. How many people can say they went 1 on 1 with Michael Jordan in a game of basketball and won? Don can!

On this episode of Finding Your Summit Podcast, well-known and well-travelled confidant for champion athletes, Don Yaeger shares his stories of spending time with the all-time greats. From Walter Payton to Michael Jordan to Tug McGraw, he has covered them all. He takes us back to discovering his love for journalism in grade school when he was accidentally placed on the student newspaper team. He discusses the time he was embedded with the mujahideen in Afghanistan as they fought and won against a far more superior force. Listen in as Don discusses the dramatic turn his life took after he was diagnosed and treated for stage 3 thyroid cancer. Don Yaeger is a man that has risen above his competition by mastering the art of storytelling. He may not be the most articulate or intellectual, but he knows that if he can tell stories well enough then he’ll remain “memorable and be of value”. Don’s story reminds us that in life there is no true destination, but rather the joy is in the journey!


What You Will Learn:

Don talks about the things that inspired him to become a journalist early on in his life. He says, “Some of the most incredible things that will happen to you will not be planned” when referring to how he was accidentally put on the student newspaper team in high school at age 13. He talks of his love for competition and still plays sports everyday.

Don shares about NFL icon, Walter Payton, and his incredibly disciplined lifestyle.

The moments Walter was most proud of were when he was able to do something for someone else who couldn’t repay him. After appearing on Oprah, Don recalls getting a phone call from Walter to help him write his book.

Don shares about how his life changed when he went through a bout with stage 3 thyroid Cancer. At age 40, he spent 3 days alone in a lead-walled room undergoing radiation. This gave him ample time to ask himself, “What’s missing?”. He had money and success but realized he had never had children of his own, so him and his wife split up amicably, he remarried and had 2 beautiful children.

Don discusses Keys to Greatness learned from his years spent with champions. He quotes legendary basketball coach John Wooden: “You’ll never outperform your inner circle”, “Always re-evaluate your inner circle and ask is this a reflection of who I want to be”, and “make sure you have the ability to be your best when your best is needed”.

In 1988, Don spent weeks following the mujahideen in Afghanistan as they fought the Russians. Here he learned firsthand the importance of having a strong belief (“the why”) in what you’re fighting for. His biggest lesson learned: an inferior foe with a greater belief can outfight a superior opponent.


Don Yaeger has adapted to the curveballs that life has thrown him and knocked them out of the park. As a child, he lived abroad in Hawaii and Japan and didn’t touch foot on the continental U.S. for the first time until he was 13 years old. He was excited to sign up for JROTC but was soon informed that JROTC was cancelled for the year and he was signed up for the Student Newspaper team! As an adult, Don battled stage 3 thyroid cancer, and during his cancer treatment, Don went through a 3-day period of isolated radiation which allowed him to figure out what was missing in his life. During this experience he realized that although he had money and fame he wanted children.


Don is someone that believes “life prepares us for greatness”, and he parlayed this accidental placement on the Student Newspaper team into an award-winning career in journalism and writing.  He considers this to be one of the best things that happened to him in his life even though it wasn’t planned. Yaeger will be releasing his 28th and 29th books this year on Joe Namath and Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Kyle Carpenter respectively. After realizing that he wanted children, Don made changes in his life and now has 2 children. Because of this experience Don encourages us to slow down and take the time to ask ourselves “What’s missing?”, and he believes that what we go through in life “prepares us for greatness”!

Links to Additional Resources:

E-Learning Course

Be sure to check out Mark’s new e-learning course here. Mark has a free PDF that gets you started. He’s also got an assessment tool designed to help you achieve your goals.

Free 10 Question Assessment: https://www.findingyoursummit.net/assessment/test?id=1