Now that I get to make my living as a writer and a speaker, I have many perks. Perhaps my favorite is that I get to write off all of my book purchases as a business expense, research for past and future writing! In 2013, I read a ton of great books, but here are my three favorite, the most thought provoking books of the past year that I believe should be on the reading list of every coach and parent. Click on any of the titles or images to go to Amazon and find out more about each book (or order quickly for stocking stuffers). In no particular order:

The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance By David Epstein

Finally, somebody had the courage to say on a big, public stage, “Yes, talent matters, genes matter!” Sports Illustrated Senior Writer Epstein’s thorough examination of the science behind human performance debunks quite a few myths, and caused me many times to disturb my wife and say “Hey honey, let me read you this amazing story quick.”

Epstein explains why Jamaican’s dominate sprinting events, yet will not threaten Ethiopia in distance running. He enlightens us as to why a Kenyan boy will likely run faster than a northern European, even if they have similar height, weight, VO2 max, and coaching. He examines the science behind training sensitivity – why two athletes given the same exact training will respond and develop differently. All in all, he shows us why some athletes, based upon their genetics, are cut out for certain sports, and not for others.

Epstein tackles a subject that many in the field will not research, and will not comment publically on, because of the racial and prejudicial overtones that such discussions have led to in the past. The book is badly needed, though, and is very thoroughly researched, and written in a very approachable manner. If you have always believed that talent matters, and that not every kid can be a soccer star, or a basketball point guard, or a 100 meter gold medalist, but have lacked the courage to say so publically, this book will arm you with all the facts you need to stand and scream “Yes, some people are born with more talent than others!”

Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing
by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman

NY Times Bestselling authors Bronson and Merryman, famed for their book Nutureshock, deliver again with Top Dog. This book was another jaw dropper for me, as it examines reams of science on performance, motivation, victory and defeat. It is not just  a sports book, as it incorporates work from politics, psychology, sports, economics, education and more.

As a coach, I was convinced that grouping high level young players with the weakest kids would help the weaker ones develop. Not so says the science.

I thought the parents of most of my players, and most of us coaches, were just nuts. Not so says the science, as both players and coaches have a chemical reaction in their brains when watching teams or players that they have a close relationship with. We rage because our brain has a reaction which makes us think it is us out there.

Why are some people warriors, and others worriers?

Can you teach your kids to be competitive?

If you have ever wondered any of these things, Top Dog is a book that you will devour, yet will also find yourself putting down time and again to contemplate something you just read. It is one of the most thought provoking books I have read in a while, and radically altered my thinking in many ways.

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character
by Paul Tough

This book is mainly about education, parenting and poverty, and is an incredible read if you like the works of the Malcolm Gladwell’s and Daniel Pink’s of this world. The central premise if this book is that character, and not IQ, is a far greater determinant of success. Best of all, character can be taught.

Tough’s book discusses the work of noted researchers Dr Carol Dweck, Dr. Angela Duckworth, and others, and provides a compelling narrative that teaches us how to instill character in our kids, in our students, in our athletes. It also shows how these things we call character, such as grit, compassion, honesty, etc, can be used to improve the lives of every child, regardless of the circumstances in which they were born. It shows how to use failure, and how not to use it, to breed success. It also demonstrates why some things that you believe will make your kids successful – intelligence and good grades for example – may not be as powerful indicators as we are led to believe.

As a father and a coach, I know that reading this book had a great effect upon me, and led me to focus my teaching on a few areas I had previously thought of as less important. I hope it has the same effect upon you.

(As mentioned above, click on any of the titles or images to go to Amazon to read more or grab yourself a book. For full disclosure, these are affiliate links, meaning that if you buy the book, I get a 4% commission. But every penny helps spread the mission of the Changing the Game Project, so I thank you in advance.)

Please share your thoughts and comments on these below, or any other thought provoking works you read in 2013. Our readers are always looking for great books and new insights, so please let us know.


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