As you may know, I am an avid reader, especially when it comes to youth sports, psychology, coaching, leadership and sport science. I buy a lot of books, and I drive my wife crazy because our bookshelves are overflowing, yet still I purchase more. And every year, I like to compile a list of the best books I have read for our readers.

If you are thinking of getting a book or two for the coach, parent or athlete in your life, this year I have broken my favorites up into a few categories: Books for Coaches, Books for Parents, and Books for Athletes. I also name my 2014 book of the year. Enjoy.

The Changing the Game Project 2014 Book of the Year:

To Chase A Dream: A Soccer Championship, An Unlikely Hero and A Journey That Re-Defined Winning by Paul “Whitey” Kapsalis and Ted Gregory

You have probably not heard of this amazing book by Whitey Kapsalis, a retelling of his quest to play for Indiana University, but you should have. I read it in one sitting, and it evoked so many emotions and memories for me as a player that at times I thought I was reading my own story. Kapselis made the IU team by the skin of his teeth as a freshman, and season after season was told by the coaches that it was unlikely he would make it again next year. As he battled through doubt, injury, and at times despair, he clung to a dream to one day play for Indiana soccer, and in doing so became an IU legend. If you are a former athlete who remembers chasing your own dreams, a coach looking for some inspiration for your players, or the parent of an athlete who needs some inspiration, this book is for you. We all need to remember how important it is to chase a dream from time to time, and this book is the perfect reminder.


Great Books for Parents:

WINNER: Any Given Monday: Sports Injuries and How to Prevent Them for Athletes, Parents, and Coaches – Based on My Life in Sports Medicine by Dr. James Andrews

There is a ton of misinformation out there about early sport specialization, playing through injuries, and sport safety. Conventional wisdom often leads us down the wrong path. Thankfully, Dr. James Andrews, arguably the world’s most famous sports orthopedic surgeon, has shared his experiences and recommendations in dealing with many of these issues and more. I often tell parents at my live events, “Don’t take my word for it, here are the words of a doctor,” and the doctor I get my advice from on how to properly raise a young athlete in a healthy way is Dr. Andrews.

In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day by Mark Batterson

Oftentimes in life, our greatest opportunities lie just behind our greatest obstacles. This book tells the story of the Old Testament hero Benaiah, a famous warrior who gained notoriety by literally chasing a lion into an icy, snow filled pit and emerging victorious. Batterson uses that story as a metaphor to explain how life often positions us in the right place at the right time, only in Batterson’s words “the right place seems like the wrong place, and the right time often seems like the wrong time.” As a coaches and parents, we want athletes that are lion chasers. We want fearless, confident competitors, risk takers, and athletes who are unfazed by pressure. This book will be your guide to raising your own lion chaser.

Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John Ratey

Did you know that exercise stimulates the same part of the brain that we use for learning? Did you know that just 30 minutes of cardio work helps you perform better at work or in school? Did you know that one American school district in Naperville, IL revamped their entire PE program based upon this knowledge, and as a result has a district wide obesity rate of only 3%, and is one of the top performing districts in the entire world in science and math? Read Spark by Harvard Psychiatrist John Ratey and I can pretty much guarantee you will go for a run or ride your bike next time you have a big day at the office coming up! It’s a paradigm changer.

Great Books for Coaches:

WINNER: InSideOut Coaching: How Sports Can Transform Lives by Joe Ehrmann

While this is not a new book, it was new to me this year, and this is hands down the best book on coaching I have ever read. To be honest, this book should be handed to every new coach, in every sport, every single year. You should not be allowed to coach kids without reading this book. We have so many coaches who know a lot about sports, and nothing about kids or their potential impact upon those kids on and off the field. Ehrmann lays it all out when he sayssports don’t build character unless a coach possesses character and intentionally teaches it.” Coaches will either be a transactional coach, who serves himself first, or a transformational coach who changes lives and builds both better athletes and better people. Get this book for the important coaches in your life.

Coaching with Heart: Taoist Wisdom to Inspire, Empower, and Lead in Sports & Life by Dr Jerry Lynch

Dr. Lynch has been part of 34 national championship teams in the last two decades as a sport psychologist, and his experiences with transformational coaches have shaped this book. Lynch advocates the importance of leaders who coach with their heart, value every individual as a person and not a pair of hands or feet, and build cultures of sustained excellence. The best coaches lead with the heart, and Dr. lynch will teach you how to do this with your own teams.

The Championship Formula: How to Transform Your Team Into a Dynasty by Jack Stark

Stark was the sport psychologist for the Nebraska football dynasty under Tom Osborne, and now works for Hendrick Motor Sports. His insight into what cultures of excellence do to create sustained success and develop great people on and off the field is a valuable tool for any coach. This book is a step by step guide into the people and the process of building a dynasty.

Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’’t by Simon Sinek

Sinek is one of the thought leaders in the world of leadership. This follow up to his great book Start with Why is a fantastic look at the culture within teams and organizations that function well. He examines all sorts of teams, from corporate America to the US Marine Corps, and outlines the common principals that distinguish these cultures of excellence. My big takeaway from this one was the reinforcement of the idea that a culture built on love and respect, AND NOT fear and punishment, will produce the strongest, healthiest, and most successful teams.

Great Books for Athletes:

Unbroken (The Young Adult Adaptation): An Olympian’s Journey from Airman to Castaway to Captive by Laura Hillenbrand

Also not new this year, but I read it again because it is so good! So many young kids think life is not fair, or “I have it so tough,” but really, do they? This is the story of Louis Zamperini, the American runner who was on course to be the first man to break the four minute mile barrier before he was drafted, shot down over the Pacific, drifted for weeks in a life raft, and spent years as a Japanese POW during World War II. It would be pretty hard for even the most cynical young athlete to think “I have it tough” after reading this amazing, award winning book.This link is for a new young adult version, but the original is an epic book!

The Champion’s Mind: How Great Athletes Think, Train, and Thrive by Dr Jim Afremow

There are a lot of sport psychology books out there, but this one by Dr. Jim Afremow is the best I read this year. Afremow shares the same techniques and tips his professional and Olympic athletes have used to win Olympic medals and professional championships. It is easy to read, and provides a lot of actionable steps for an athlete who needs a roadmap for the mental side of sports.

Burn Your Goals: The Counter Cultural Approach to Achieving Your Greatest Potential by Joshua Medcalf

Medcalf’s work is unconventional, and he calls it like it is. That is why I love him! Medcalf is the mental skills coach for numerous college and professional athletes, and in his work he has found that most athletes have great goals, but make very few commitments toward achieving them. His unapologetic style and straightforward action steps will benefit any athlete, and have made Medcalf one of the most sought after mental skills coaches in the US today.

(For full disclosure, these links are Amazon affiliate links, so if you click through and buy the book I do get a commission…about 30 cents.)


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