All great leaders, great coaches, great athletes, and great parents are lifelong learners. Every great coach I have met has been a lifelong student of coaching, leadership, psychology and more. Here at the Changing the game Project, we are always looking for the latest and greatest information on talent development, leadership, building culture, and being a great parent. This year was no different, and it was very difficult to cull this list down to a few books.
Below are the best books I have read in 2015, divided into categories of books for parents, for coaches, and for athletes. I hope you are able to find a book or two on this list for your holiday reading, and as gifts for the coaches, parents and athletes in your life. Click on any of the images or links and they will take you to Amazon (full disclosure, they are affiliate links, so the Changing the Game Project makes about .30 if you buy a book). Also, in the comments below, feel free to share any books you read this year that you would add to this list.
2015 Book of the Year for Parents
St Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny gained notoriety in the youth sports world a few years ago with his famous 5000 word letter to the parents of a little league team he was about to coach. This book takes that letter to a whole new level, and is fantastic for both parents and coaches to read. It details Matheny’s time as a youth player and the important lessons learned from his coaches, especially those who focused on developing him as a player instead of winning a specific game. He discusses how his parents created an environment to follow his dreams, and how he took those parenting and coaching lessons and brought them to a group of youth baseball players (and now, many of them to the Cardinals as well). This book may be the single best book I have ever read on how to be a great parent and coach for young athletes, and is deserving of our book of the year!
2015 Book of the Year for Coaches
The most successful sports team in the professional era is not the Yankees, or Real Madrid, or the Celtics; it’s the New Zealand All Blacks Rugby team, with an astonishing 87% winning percentage. In November 2015, they also became the first nation ever to win back to back Rugby World Cups. Their secret sauce: CULTURE! I don’t think I have ever read a book where I dog-eared or underlined so often. I eventually gave up because there is a gem on every page. Every team has a culture, whether you are coaching 6th grade basketball or college football, and coaches who intentionally create a great culture and develop good people win a lot more championships than those who leave it to chance. If you want a blueprint for success for your team, read Legacy!
2015 Book of the Year for Athletes
Jon Gordon’s books are easy to read stories that teach valuable lessons about life, teamwork, and leadership. I was introduced to Jon this year, and as you will see on the list below I devoured his work. Training Camp is the story of an undrafted rookie trying to make the NFL, a classic “little guy with a big heart” story. It is also a tale of a friendship with a transformational coach who shares eleven life-changing lessons that help take players to the next level, on and off the field.
Additional Books for Parents:
How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Over-Parenting Trap and Prepare Your Kids for Success by Julie Lythcott-Haims
The author, a former Dean at Stanford University, provides a no nonsense look at parenting in the 21st century, drawing upon her decade of work with Stanford Freshman, and her own experience as a mom. The impetus for the book came from her frustration in dealing with highly intelligent college students that could ace a test, but were woefully prepared for challenges, failure, and most difficult situations life throws your way. It provides a great path for helping your kids find their own path, and for helping them fail forward and learn from it instead of shielding them from obstacles. One of my favorite observations from the book: the year 1984 as a turning point for our kids, when the word “play date” became a part of the Webster’s Dictionary!
Breaking Away: A Harrowing True Story of Resilience, Courage and Triumph by Patrick O’Sullivan
Author Patrick O’Sullivan, a former NHL player and no relation to me, shares the details of his horrific childhood with a relentless father who was obsessed with making him a hockey star. O’Sullivan, now retired, shares some utterly cringe worthy stories in an attempt to help parents understand that having your child become a professional athlete at any cost is about the worst way to raise a healthy, happy adult, never mind someone who loves a sport enough to play long term at the highest level.
Additional Books for Coaches
Wooden on Leadership by John Wooden
A coach can never get too much John Wooden, right? His simple lessons on leadership and life are so a applicable, and I find myself quoting him nearly everyday. This is a great overview of his thoughts on leading, building great teams and championship caliber players and cultures.
The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
Author Patrick Lencioni writes for businesses and corporations, but make no mistake, EVERYTHING in this book will make a tremendous impact for sports coaches. It might be the most important team building book you ever read. Every team has culture, and we need to be intentional about how we build our teams and create great cultures. Lencioni will help you avoid the mistakes many leaders of teams make. This book is so good that I actually scheduled a trip in May 2016 to see him speak!
I was turned onto the work of Jon Gordon this year, and his simple fables of leadership, teamwork and culture building quickly became my favorites. This book is the story of the 10 qualities of great teammates, and how important it is for leaders to make sure that athletes are not “Energy Vampires” as Gordon terms them. This is a quick read that you can pass onto your athletes, use as a blueprint for your team values, and set the tone for your next season.
Additional Books for Athletes
The Hard Hat: 21 Ways to be a Great Teammate by Jon Gordon
Another home run for Jon Gordon, this is the true story of a Cornell lacrosse player whom came to epitomize the core values and work ethic of their program, before dying a tragic death. It outlines 21 rules for being a great teammate, and if you want your players to buy into a great culture, then you must tell them what they must look like, and act like, on and off the field. This is an outstanding read for any middle school or high school athlete who needs a lesson on being a great teammate.
Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable by Tim Grover
Want to know what the world’s elite athletes do to train, and take their games to the next level? Learn how from Tim Grover, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant’s personal trainer. As Bryant said in a testimonial for the book, “this is the blueprint for discovering what you are capable of achieving, getting results you never imagined, reaching the highest levels of success – and then going higher.” (Warning, this book does contain some profanity)
Chop Wood, Carry Water by Joshua Medcalf
Joshua Medcalf calls it like it is, and I have always enjoyed his books becasue they are full of great stories and interesting anecdotes about sport and life. I got to read this book before its release, and there is a ton of great stuff here for athletes wanting to take their game, and their life, to the next level.