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Friday, March 26, 2010


Each month on his website, Don Yaeger, a four-time New York Times best-selling author and award-winning motivational speaker, shares one of his 16 Characteristics of Greatness through the eyes of a great winner from the world of sports. At the end of the e-newsletter, find tips on how to apply this winning characteristic to your life. The 16 Characteristics of Greatness are incredible and we share it with our team in great detail to start each season. Here is an article Don wrote on Coach K to talk about characteristic #1 -- It's Personal:

The truly Great hate to lose more than they love to win.
As March Madness heads into its second weekend, we're reminded how awesome and how humbling the great game of college basketball can be. Duke's head coach Mike Krzyzewski, whose team plays in its 19th Sweet Sixteen game on Friday, has felt both the emotional peaks (three national championships) and valleys of the game's post-season.

It was in one of those valleys that Coach Krzyzewski, (affectionately known as Coach K), experienced a career-changing moment. At the end of the 1983 season, his third as Duke's coach, the Blue Devils were wrapping up a less-than-mediocre year. They were headed to the ACC Tournament where they had to face No. 2 ranked Virginia in the first round.

Duke didn't just get beat -- they got pummeled. The final score was 109-66, the worst loss the Blue Devils had ever suffered in the ACC tournament.

Later that night, Coach K agreed to meet a few friends at a restaurant. As he was walking toward the table, one of those friends actually grabbed all the knives off the table and laughed, "Coach, we don't want you to do anything rash." Trying to make light of the situation, another friend lifted his glass of water and offered a mock toast: "Here's to a night let's soon forget."

Coach K didn't laugh off the loss and he didn't join the toast. Instead, he lifted his own glass and said, "Here's to a night we will never forget." He wanted to make sure that the sting of losing that night was something that stayed with him throughout his career. He never wanted to have another game like that one.

The next fall, Coach K welcomed his team back at the start of the basketball season. At that first practice, he walked them on to the court and above their heads, in bright red, the scoreboard was lit with the numbers 109-66, reminding them of the last game from the previous season. Their coach wanted his players to remember how badly they had been beaten, and wanted them to remember how much it hurt. He started off a new season by remembering the pain of the previous one's ending.

That next season, Duke won 13 more games than the one before. The following year, they made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament. And the year after that, they played for the National Championship against the University of Louisville Cardinals.

Coach K will tell you that the moment when he went from good to Great wasn't in a championship game. That moment came in... a loss. And it was not just any loss, but one of the worst in his career. That painful moment was one he wanted to make personal for each and every one of his players. He made sure they remembered how much losing hurt and, by making that loss personal, made sure they would work overtime to never experience that feeling again.

Tips from the Great Ones

Coach K believed that if his team did not hurt from their loss and remember the pain, they wouldn't learn from their mistakes. He made the loss to Virginia personal to himself and to the team. Since then, under Coach K's leadership, Duke has won eleven ACC Championships, three NCAA Championships, and earned ten Final Four appearances -- the third highest number of Final Four showings in history.

The agony of defeat can do wonders for improvement. Bill Gates has said, "Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning."

Coach K makes sure his team learns from losses by instituting a "no-excuses" rule. It would have been easy for Duke's coach to have excused his team's loss to Virginia, which was led by 7-foot-4 Ralph Sampson. But no excuse was offered. As Krzyzewski has shown by example, the truly Great don't explain failure away. Instead, they internalize it. They use it as fuel to make them better. And the better you are at something, the better you want to be.

Society looks at failure with a scornful eye. School, work, friends, even family can make us feel guilty about failure, but those moments can also teach us to do whatever we can to avoid it in the future. Losses are only harmful if the opportunity is wasted -- if we don't gain experience for the next time around.

Everyday we must learn from our mistakes, offering no excuses for them while striving constantly to be better. By taking Duke's loss against Virginia personally, Coach K was able to motivate his team while taking himself from being a good coach to one who espouses Greatness.

Check out Don's website -- I guarantee you won't be disappointed: