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  1. 3 Books for your Christmas wish list.

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    Books for your Christmas wish list

    Here are 3 books that may be of interest for you to read. All are well written and include practical advice. A full list of books I have read this year with one line summaries is included at the end.

    As usual, please leave your recommendations in the comments section below.

    (Read our full list of recommended reading for coaches and teachers)

    Leading without leading: Wayne Goldsmith

    Books Christmas wish list

    Good for young leaders

    Practical leadership advice for everyone in your team and club.

    Wayne Goldsmith is an experienced swimming coach in Australia. He is also a coach educator and has written this book to help sports leaders apply leadership in real life. Some key points are highlighted here.

    The age of the heroic leader is over. How to enable everyone to lead.

    • Nothing enforced is sustainable.
    • Nothing imposed creates continuous excellence.
    • Culture grows from within.

    Learn to respect difference. Learn to embrace uniqueness. Learn and grow from watching genius and the atypical.

    Trying to motivate someone else is like teaching a pig to sing: it will frustrate you and annoy the pig.”

    A motivator’s real role is to provide the guidance, the systems, the structures, the technical know how, the knowledge, the skills, and the support to help clients, athletes and others to find the discipline and commitment to turn dreams into reality.

    (Wayne wrote a guest post years ago for us: “The 10 commandments of great coaching“.

    How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Scott Adams

    book recommendations for Christmas

    Extremely useful

    Much common sense advice from the author of Dilbert.

    Dilbert ruined my career. After reading the cartoon strip for several years, I developed an incapacity to sit in corporate meetings with a straight face. So much nonsense was being talked, I had to get out.

    Adams has written this book which gives examples from his life on where he has failed, but also what he has learnt along the way. This translates into very specific ideas that I found thought provoking and practical.

    For example, I have been a big advocate of goal setting in my life. I have been very goal orientated. Adams states that just pursuing goals will lead to unhappiness. Instead, adopt systems that will encourage long term success.

    If you set a target goal of “losing 10lb before Christmas”, then you will have one of two outcomes:

    1. Be unsuccessful until you achieve it, so therefore be unhappy for most of the time.
    2. Be unsuccessful, so therefore be unhappy.

    If you adopt a system of eating breakfast, only drinking 1 alcoholic drink at parties, snacking on the cucumber sticks and eating fruit for dessert, you could sustain that long term and enjoy better health.

    Adams finishes with “Get your health right first, acquire resources and skills through hard work, and look for an opportunity that gives you a flexible work schedule someday”.

    Highly recommended, wish I had read it 20 years ago (before it was written I know).

    Make Your Bed:  William H. McRaven

    books for sports coaches

    Start small, think big

    Ten points to help you get through life by this former NAVY SEAL commander.

    McRaven gave an address to the University of Texas in 2014. It contained some practical ideas for the students to help guide them through life.

    The book title refers to doing something well first thing in the morning. You have started the day by completing a task. McRaven then illustrates each point with a story from when he was on active duty.

    He is unafraid of sharing stories about when he was cold, tired and feeling unsuccessful.  These things happen to us all. It is how we deal with them that count.

    A great stocking filler, even one to share with teenagers who are in danger of being led astray by peers.

    Full list of books read so far this year

    1. The Mastery Of Movement: Rudolf Laban. Explains the basis for Laban’s work which led to Educational Gymnastics in the UK. Great at learning how to move.
    2. Caliban’s War: James S. Corey. Big space opera SF novel. Page turning excitement with decent characterisations
    3. Abaddon’s Gate: James S. Corey.Another Expanse SF novel, weaker than the first two.
    4. Experiential Learning: David Kolb. Interesting and densely packed text book on lifelong learning. Maybe more relevant today than it was in 1992 when it was written.
    5. A Whole Life: Robert Seethaler. Short, but poignant novel about a man living in Austria. Simple, rural existence and the human experience.
    6. Cibola Burn: James S. Corey. Return to form in this SF exploration novel.
    7. Movement: Physical Education In The Primary Years: Department of Education and Science. 1972 guide for teachers, short, succinct and extremely relevant today. If schools were using this now, children would benefit immensely.
    8. Parkour: David Belle. A short book based on an interview of the founder of Parkour. Very insightful.
    9. Russell Rules: Bill Russell. Mixture of leadership and basketball related anecdotes. Some very good points made, but slightly over long.
    10. The Encyclopedia of Physical Conditioning for Wrestling:John Jesse. Classic text, reread so that I keep a check on whether I have strayed away from the basics.
    11. Nemesis Games: James S. Corey Book 5 of The Expanse. The crew of The Rocinate split up. Very good novel.
    12. Babylon’s Ashes: James S. Corey. Book 6 of The Expanse. The war escalates and new characters appear.
    13. Persepolis Rising: James S. Corey. Book 7 of The Expanse, set 30 years further on and with a turn of events that puts the crew in more danger.
    14. The Wasted Generation: George Walton. A look at why so many US men were physically or mentally unfit for the draft in 1965. Great examples and shows concerns have been there for decades.
    15. Edward Wilson of the Antarctic: George Seaver. Biography of the doctor, naturalist and explorer who died with Scott. Interesting and inspiring story of this polymath,
    16. The Neo-Generalist: K. Mikkelsen & R. Martin. Series of interviews with people who have background in more than one area. Ok for some ideas, but no overall strand, reads like a series of blogs.
    17. Post Office: Charles Bukowski. Counter-culture novel of the Beat generation. Very funny.
    18. What The CEO Wants You To Know: Ram Charan. Short book, but insightful for bigger businesses. Good summary points at the end to help you focus.
    19. Children At The Gate: Edward Wallant. Novel about two young men feeling out of sorts with society. One of only a few by this author, funny and sad.
    20. The War Of The World: Niall Ferguson. Extensive history of causes and effects of war in the twentieth century. More geo-political than military account and very revealing. Excellent read.
    21. J.R.R. Tolkien A Biography: Humphrey Carpenter. Written soon after his death, this detailed look at Tolkien’s life is interesting and well referenced. Page turner for Hobbit fans like me.
    22. Golden Sayings Of Epictetus: Hastings Crossley. Small book from 1917, but full of useful insights from the Stoic philosopher.
    23. In Pursuit Of Excellence: Terry Orlick. A very useful, practical and easy to implement book on mental skills training. It has lots of good ideas and is written to be used to by coaches and athletes, recommended.
    24. The Boxing Companion: Ed Denzil Batchelor. Very interesting selection of boxing stories and histories compiled in 1964. Looks at the development of prize fighting and glove fighting, plus some fiction.
    25. Dr Jekyll and Mr Seek: Anthony O’Neill. Short sequel to the Stevenson classic, easy read, forgettable.
    26. The Culture Code: Daniel Coyle. Eminently readable book about how successful teams create a successful culture. Useful points to apply for many organisations.
    27. Dreaming in Hindi: Katherine Rich. Autobiographical account of how an American woman went to India to learn Hindi. Interesting details about the struggle to learn a new language as an adult and how culture is so important when learning.
    28. Championship Team Building: Jeff Janssen. Very usable book with lots of practical ideas on improving team communication and cohesion. I would say entry level, which is no bad thing.
    29. The Great Gatsby: F. Scott Fitzgerald. Classic American novel, elegantly written and poignant.
    30. The Village Effect: Susan Pinker. Very readable and relevant look at the importance of human connections. If you have a young person on a screen, or an elderly relative living alone, I would say must read.
    31. Greybeard: Brian Aldiss. Classic SF novel about world with no children. Set in and around Oxfordshire.
    32. Travels With Charley: John Steinbeck. Well crafted and entertaining autobiographical account of 2 months traveling around the USA in 1968. The man can write.
    33. Superhuman: Rowan Hooper. An overview of amazing feats or endeavours such as longevity, memory or endurance running. Interesting, but lightweight. Might trigger an interest into more detailed books.
    34. The Junction Boys: Jim Dent. Graphic account of a brutal Texas A&M football training camp in 1954. Too folksy a writing style for me and I was repulsed by the bad coaching by Paul Bryant.
    35. On Writing: Stephen King. Read for the second time, and it was even better. King uses an autobiographical account to highlight the process, inspiration and struggle of writing. Excellent.
    36. Enlightenment Now:Steven Pinker. Detailed account of how much progress has been made in the last 150 years. In an age of media disillusionment, this book looks at what is good in the world. Evidence based and well researched. Highly recommended.
    37. No Hunger In Paradise: Michael Calvin. Excellent report on the state of youth football and academies in England. Very revealing and quite disheartening too. Must read for football families.
    38. The Boys In the Boat: Historical and biographical account of college rowers growing up in the Western USA in 1930s. Then going on to compete in the 1936 Olympics. Well written and very interesting.
    39. Training Talk: G.Martin Bingisser. Coaching philosophy from 12 coaches. Short, with some good take home messages, especially the last chapter.
    40. The Sense Of Style: Steven Pinker. A writer’s guide to clarity, accuracy and fun for the reading public. It is informative, funny and gives great examples. If you write a lot, I would suggest this is essential.
    41. Essentialism: Greg McKeowan. A guide to working on what matters most. Useful in parts, with some good examples, especially about the family life.
    42. A Pattern Language: C. Alexander, S. Ishikawa, M. Silverstein. A long book about designing and building houses and communities. Daunting at first, but very easy to read. It is well laid out (as it should be) and has many points of interest for the layman like myself. This book has enhanced my understanding of the world.
    43. A Cup of Gold: John Steinbeck. Debut novel about the buccaneer Henry Morgan. A ripping yarn.
    44. The High Window: Raymond Chandler. Classic detective noir thriller.
    45. The Time Machine and Other Stories: H.G. Wells. Early science fiction, very Victorian in style.
    46. Danse Macabre: Stephen King. Analysis of horror films and books over a 30 year period up until 1980. Good for the most parts, but could do with an edit.
    47. The Long Goodbye: Raymond Chandler. Possibly the best crime novel ever? Superbly written.
    48. Playback: Raymond Chandler. Another Marlow novel, still good reading.
    49. Catastrophe: Max Hastings. Detailed account of the lead up  to World War I and the campaigns until end of 1914. Horrific stories, well described and analysed.
    50. The Stolen Baccilus and Other Stories: H.G. Wells. A series of anecdotal horror/ sci-fi stories before both genres were defined. Quite leaden prose, but great ideas.
    51. The Platter Story and Others: H.G. Wells. More tales from the mundane background, usually with one twist that makes the reader think.
    52. Mastery: Robert Greene. A series of case studies of people from different backgrounds. Tenuous links to make a big book.
    53. First and Last Men: Olaf Stapledon. Classic SF book set across billions of years of man’s development. Never read anything like it, very imaginative.
    54. Sevens Heaven: Ben Ryan. Account of English rugby coach in Fiji. Interesting story, terribly written.
    55. Rules for Radicals: Saul Alinsky. How to create a movement and campaign on issues by a master from the 1960s. Frightening how things have come to pass.
    56. New Grub Street: George Gissing. Masterful novel about aspiring writers in London. The poverty and struggle in the 1880s is bought to life with amazing characters.
    57. Leading Without Leading: Wayne Goldsmith. Many useful ideas contained within this easy to ready book. Self-published so a few typos and layout is a bit bland. Would be good for starting coaches.
    58. A Handful Of Dust: Evelyn Waugh. Unpleasant characters of the idle rich class in the 1920s. The penultimate chapter is the best part, but I disliked the settings.
    59. Lions and Shadows: Christopher Isherwood. Humorous autobiographical novel of the literary set in the 1920s.
    60. A Brief History of Time: Stephen Hawking. The second, updated edition, well written and very interesting book about meta physics and the Universe we live in.
    61. All The Days Were Glorious: Gwyn Neale. A short book about George Gissing visiting North Wales and how it influenced some parts of his novels.
    62. Demos: A Story of English Socialism: George Gissing. Interesting novel about one man’s interaction with socialism and its effects on his family and friends. Very strong female characters, quite depressing read, but well written.
    63. How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Succeed: Scott Adams. Useful anecdotes from the Dilbert creator. Clearly written and well laid out, some humour, but surprisingly good practical advice.
    64. Make Your Bed: William McRaven. 10 clear points from this former Navy Seal commander. Based on his address to Texas students. Would make good stocking filler.
  2. Improving coaching communication through writing

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    Coach communication: writing

    lynne truss

    Entertaining read

    On every coaching course I have attended, the tutor has pointed out the section in the workbook entitled “communication”.  There follows a group nodding of heads where every budding coach agrees that “communication is a good thing”.  If we are lucky, the tutor might divide communication further into “verbal” and “non-verbal”.  We then move onto the next important quality required to be a good coach.

    Writing is a form of “non-verbal” communication and, despite what the popular opinion may be, is here to stay. As a coach you may think you don’t write, but how about:

    • Emails
    • Text
    • Handbooks
    • Programme design
    • Rules and Guidelines
    • Letters
    • Funding Applications
    • Presentation slides
    • Blogs
    • Books

    I was asked to give feedback on a series of exercises that were going to be given out to young golfers by the “lead strength and conditioning coach”.  They were grouped into different components of fitness including:

    • “Healthy heat”
    • “Strenght”
    • “Flexibillity”

    We all make typos and that is why we ask people to proof read and correct.  But, when I pointed out the typos I was told “it doesn’t matter”. To me that attitude is showing a lack of respect to the young golfers, all of whom are told endlessly what they can do to improve.

    The same thing applies to giving presentations. Typos are common, but easily resolved. Improving the overall content and style of your presentation is a different topic, but if you are using the written form, try to improve the clarity of what you are saying.

    If you are still reading, then you might be interested in some book recommendations on how to improve your writing.

    Four books that can help you improve your written communication

    1. Eats, Shoots & Leaves: Lynne Truss

    The first book I recommend to the coach who forgets the difference between “your” and “you’re”.  It was a surprise best seller in 2003-2004. A very funny book, partly written out of frustration at reading blackboards outside shops that sell “CD’s, Book’s and Video’s” (remember videos in 2004). This will help clear up many of the daily mistakes that we all make.

    1. The Elements of Style: W. Strunk and E.W. White
    Elements of style

    Classic short text

    An accepted classic first printed in 1959 and remaining in print since. It is much more of a rules book and is of its time. However, at 96 pages short, it is extremely accessible and of use as a reference. Much of the advice will be familiar to coaches:

    It is better to express even a negative in a positive form”.

    In coaching terms, rather than say “don’t bend your knee” we might say “straighten your knee” or even better “reach for the sky” depending on what we are trying to achieve.

    Strunk and White use the following written examples of unnecessary negative words and their alternative:

    • Not honest –  dishonest
    • Not important- trifling
    • Did not remember- forgot
    • Did not pay any attention to- ignored
    • Did not have much confidence in- distrusted

    As you can see, much of this can be applied to our coaching language as we endeavour to “omit unnecessary words”.

    1. On Writing: Stephen King
    coach communication

    A good read

    An outlier perhaps, but an interesting read on creating a narrative. Aimed at fiction writers, it does give a great perspective on the writing process and how ideas are formed. The first half of the book is autobiographical; the second half gives more

    direct ideas on writing and getting published.

    This is an entertaining read and shows how King learnt from early mistakes and advice from ruthless editors (“healthy heat” would have been black lined). This section shows how he offers advice partly based on using correct grammar, partly on avoiding clichés:

    Anyone using the phrase “That’s so cool” should have to stand in the corner and that those using the far more odious phrases “at this point in time” and “at the end of the day” should be sent to bed without supper (or writing-paper, for that matter).

    1. The Sense of Style: Steven Pinker
    sense of style pinker

    In depth book for professional writers

    Finally, if you are in the serious business of writing professionally, including academic papers, books and journal articles, then this book is a must-have.  I borrowed this book from the library and then bought my own copy.

    Well written (as it should be), humorous and insightful, this is a guide to writing that will appeal to all of us who wish to convey a message clearly and concisely. It can be quite hard to follow, I got lost in the chapter about sentence trees and strings, but my understanding of grammar rules is vague.

    The second half of the book can be used as a reference as it summarises common errors and questions such as the difference between who” and “whom. My understanding of words such as “practicable and “practical” improved thanks to me reading the second half of the book (Practicable means it is easily put into practise; the –able means it is an ability).

    I would suggest this book be read after the other three.

    If we wish to share ideas and improve our understanding of the world improving our writing skills is essential.

    So much of journal writing is poorly written that trying to ascertain the pertinent facts is too difficult. We then fall back into just reading abstracts or, worse still, twitter summaries of the abstracts. This then means we are unable to truly learn and understand, let alone challenge the authors or reproduce their work.

    Other communication

    Whilst this blog is about writing, I would recommend Dan Roam’s books “Show and Tell” and “Back of the Napkin” to help you use drawings and picture boards for presentations.

  3. Summer reading recommendations 2018

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    Summer reading recommendations

    Summer reading recommendations

    Tolkien exhibition at the Bodleian Library

    Half of the year has gone, Britain is currently enjoying (enduring?) a heatwave and my American colleagues and friends are about to have their 4th July vacation. Time to share some of the books I have read this year and that you might want to try.

    The full list is below which you can scan, but here are some by categories.

    I also recommend Tolkien fans visit the exhibition at the Bodleian library to see how a great work is crafted. You can see the amount of work he discarded before being left with the trilogy.

    Reading for the beach :

    • The Expanse series by James S. Corey. If you like some inter planetary Science Fiction in the near future, then this series will keep you busy. Well written, great characters and interesting.
    • A Whole Life: Robert Seethaler. Short, but poignant novel about a man living in Austria. Simple, rural existence and the human experience.
    • Travels With Charley: John Steinbeck. Well crafted and entertaining autobiographical account of 2 months travelling around the USA in 1968. The man can write.

    Reading for the Mind:

    The Village effect

    Possibly my book of the year

    • The Village Effect: Susan Pinker. Very readable and relevant look at the importance of human connections. If you have a young person on a screen, or an elderly relative living alone, I would say must read.
    • The War Of The World: Niall Ferguson. Extensive history of causes and effects of war in the twentieth century. More geo-political than military account and very revealing. Excellent read (Thanks to Kevin O’ Donnell for the loan).

    Reading for Sports Coaches and P.E. Teachers

    • The Mastery Of Movement: Rudolf Laban. Explains the basis for Laban’s work which led to Educational Gymnastics in the UK. Great at learning how to move
    • In Pursuit Of Excellence: Terry Orlick. A very useful, practical and easy to implement book on mental skills training. It has lots of good ideas and is written to be used to by coaches and athletes, recommended.
    • Championship Team Building: Jeff Janssen. Very usable book with lots of practical ideas on improving team communication and cohesion. I would say entry level, which is no bad thing.

    The Full List

    1. The Mastery Of Movement: Rudolf Laban. Explains the basis for Laban’s work which led to Educational Gymnastics in the UK. Great at learning how to move.
    2. Caliban’s War: James S. Corey. Big space opera SF novel. Page turning excitement with decent characterisations
    3. Abaddon’s Gate: James S. Corey. Another Expanse SF novel, weaker than the first two.
    4. Experiential Learning: David Kolb. Interesting and densely packed text book on lifelong learning. Maybe more relevant today than it was in 1992 when it was written.
    5. A Whole Life: Robert Seethaler. Short, but poignant novel about a man living in Austria. Simple, rural existence and the human experience.
    6. Cibola Burn: James S. Corey. Return to form in this SF exploration novel.
    7. movement physical education

      Great book, great photos

       Movement: Physical Education In The Primary Years: Department of Education and Science. 1972 guide for teachers, short, succinct and extremely relevant today. If schools were using this now, children would benefit immensely.

    8. Parkour: David Belle. A short book based on an interview of the founder of Parkour. Very insightful.
    9. Russell Rules: Bill Russell. Mixture of leadership and basketball related anecdotes. Some very good points made, but slightly over long.
    10. The Encyclopedia of Physical Conditioning for Wrestling:John Jesse. Classic text, reread so that I keep a check on whether I have strayed away from the basics.
    11. Nemesis Games: James S. Corey. Book 5 of The Expanse, the crew of The Rocinate split up. Very good novel.
    12. Babylon’s Ashes: James S. Corey. Book 6 of The Expanse, the war escalates and new characters appear.
    13. Persepolis Rising: James S. Corey. Book 7 of The Expanse, set 30 years further on and with a turn of events that puts the crew in more danger.
    14. The wasted generation

      Independent perspective

      The Wasted Generation: George Walton. A look at why so many US men were physically or mentally unfit for the draft in 1965. Great examples and shows concerns have been there for decades.

    15. Edward Wilson of the Antarctic: George Seaver. Biography of the doctor, naturalist and explorer who died with Scott. Interesting and inspiring story of this polymath,
    16. The Neo-Generalist: K. Mikkelsen & R. Martin. Series of interviews with people who have background in more than one area. Ok for some ideas, but no overall strand, reads like a series of blogs.
    17. Post Office: Charles Bukowski. Counter-culture novel of the Beat generation. Very funny.
    18. What The CEO Wants You To Know: Ram Charan. Short book, but insightful for bigger businesses. Good summary points at the end to help you focus.
    19. Children At The Gate: Edward Wallant. Novel about two young men feeling out of sorts with society. One of only a few by this author, funny and sad.
    20. The War Of The World: Niall Ferguson. Extensive history of causes and effects of war in the twentieth century. More geo-political than military account and very revealing. Excellent read.
    21. John Jesse Wrestling

      Worth reading every year

      J.R.R. Tolkien A Biography: Humphrey Carpenter. Written soon after his death, this detailed look at Tolkien’s life is interesting and well referenced. Page turner for Hobbit fans like me.

    22. Golden Sayings Of Epictetus: Hastings Crossley. Small book from 1917, but full of useful insights from the Stoic philosopher.
    23. In Pursuit Of Excellence: Terry Orlick. A very useful, practical and easy to implement book on mental skills training. It has lots of good ideas and is written to be used to by coaches and athletes, recommended.
    24. The Boxing Companion: Ed Denzil Batchelor. Very interesting selection of boxing stories and histories compiled in 1964. Looks at the development of prize fighting and glove fighting, plus some fiction.
    25. Dr Jekyll and Mr Seek: Anthony O’Neill. Short sequel to the Stevenson classic, easy read, forgettable.
    26. The Culture Code: Daniel Coyle. Eminently readable book about how successful teams create a successful culture. Useful points to apply for many organisations.
    27. Dreaming in Hindi: Katherine Rich. Autobiographical account of how an American woman went to India to learn Hindi. Interesting details about the struggle to learn a new language as an adult and how culture is so important when learning.
    28. Championship Team Building: Jeff Janssen. Very usable book with lots of practical ideas on improving team communication and cohesion. I would say entry level, which is no bad thing.
    29. The Great Gatsby: F. Scott Fitzgerald. Classic American novel, elegantly written and poignant.
    30. The Village Effect: Susan Pinker. Very readable and relevant look at the importance of human connections. If you have a young person on a screen, or an elderly relative living alone, I would say must read.
    31. Greybeard: Brian Aldiss. Classic SF novel about world with no children. Set in and around Oxfordshire.
    32. Stephen King On writing

      Excellent read

      Travels With Charley: John Steinbeck. Well crafted and entertaining autobiographical account of 2 months travelling around the USA in 1968. The man can write.

    33. Superhuman: Rowan Hooper. An overview of amazing feats or endeavours such as longevity, memory or endurance running. Interesting, but lightweight. Might trigger an interest into more detailed books.
    34. The Junction Boys: Jim Dent. Graphic account of a brutal Texas A&M football training camp in 1954. Too folksy a writing style for me and I was repulsed by the bad coaching by Paul Bryant.
    35. On Writing: Stephen King. Read for the second time, and it was even better. King uses an autobiographical account to highlight the process, inspiration and struggle of writing. Excellent.

    Thanks for the book recommendations

    Thanks as always to book club members Pete Bunning and Robert Frost (no, not that one) for sharing ideas. The Hayridge library in Cullompton and Libraries Unlimited for lending and ordering books which saves me a packet.

    Also to Mandi Abrahams of Castle Books in Beaumaris for sending me an eclectic assortment of books I have never heard of, but always enjoy. If you are ever in Anglesey, I suggest you squeeze in and absorb.

    Thanks to all my GAIN colleagues who always have a book or twenty to recommend.

    If you have read any great books this year and would like to share, please leave a comment below.

  4. Best books on coaching and teaching 2017

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    Reading highlights for coaches and teachers

    best books for coaches

    5 great books

    Here are my top 5 books from 2017, plus a synopsis of the other books I have read this year. It is easy to jump on the “It’s new and shiny, you must get it” bandwagon. Hopefully you will find some alternative ideas in this list.

    Top 5 books (no particular order)

    1. Coaching Better Every Season: Wade Gilbert. Comprehensive guide to best coaching practice throughout the year. Research and practice based with excellent examples and guides.
    2. best athletics book

      Technically rich

      Track and Field: Athletics Training in the G.D.R. (East Germany). Editor G. Schmolinsky. Very detailed technical handbook from 1978. Ingrained with socialist principles at the beginning. The sprints, throws and jumps sections are good, the middle distance and endurance are ok. The preparation and specific and general exercises are excellent.

    3. A Dynamic Systems Approach to the Development of Cognition and Action: Thelen & Smith. Excellent book about how thought and action are developed together. Looks in detail at infant development of reaching, grasping and walking down
      dynamic groups at work

      Superb book

      slopes. Very well written and explained.

    4. Dynamic Groups at Work: H. Thelen. Superb book looking at how groups of people operate and how leadership can influence, shape and learn from this. Written in 1951, it stands up very well today. At some point the cult of the leader influenced thinking, this was very refreshing.
    5. A Manual of Tumbling and Apparatus Stunts: Otto E. Ryser. 1964 guide to gymnastics for boys/ men. Lots of very good ideas in there for the keen recreational gymnast.
    best book for p.e. teachers

    Wade Gilbert and me.

    Some of these I have added to the recommended reading list for coaches and teachers  that has accumulated over the years. There were 3-4 others which were very close and are included in the full list below.

    You may have noticed some sticky tags in the books and also notes on the front page. This was to help me remember what I have read, Wade Gilbert gave me the index tip.

    The Full List of 2017 (so far), including fiction, biographies and history books.

    1. Meditations: Marcus Aurelius. Thoughts on Stoicism and dealing with being an Emperor. In depth and insightful.
    2. Shame The Devil: George Pelecanos. Exciting crime caper based in Washington by writer of The Wire.
    3. Coaching Better Every Season: Wade Gilbert. Comprehensive guide to best coaching practice throughout the year. Research and practice based with excellent examples and guides.
    4. Jello Salad: Nicholas Blincoe. Graphic and twisted London crime novel.
    5. Reading: Frank Smith. How children learn to read despite the best efforts of programmed instruction, phonics and other interference. 1987 copy, but resonates today.
    6. The Pat Hobby Collection: F Scott Fitzgerald. Humorous set of short stories about an aging Hollywood script writer and his struggles.
    7. Track and Field: Athletics Training in the G.D.R. (East Germany). Editor G. Schmolinsky. Very detailed technical handbook from 1978. Ingrained with socialist principles at the beginning. The sprints, throws and jumps sections are good, the middle distance and endurance are ok. The preparation and specific and general exercises are excellent.
    8. Brian Aldiss rip

      Sad to lose Brian Aldiss this year.

      Finches of Mars: Brian Aldiss. Interesting SF novel about humans having to evolve to survive on Mars. Philosophical underpinning about future of our planet.

    9. Horus: Manuel Santos Varela. SF novel based on Egyptian mythology and gene splicing. Short and interesting.
    10. The Teaching Gap: J.W. Stigler & J. Hiebert. Review of a study about Maths teaching in Japan, Germany and the USA. Insightful look at how teachers can and should develop their profession, rather than listen to academics who lack context.
    11. They Marched Into Sunlight: David Marranis. Account of 1 day in October 1967 when US troops were ambushed in Vietnam and anti-war riot at University of Wisconsin. Very well written and researched.
    12. Zorro: Isabel Allende. Light fiction, little depth.
    13. The Faltering Economy: The Problem of Accumulation Under Monopoly Capitalism. Ed. J.B.Foster & H.Szlajfer. Series of essays written in 1981. Heavy going, but enlightening insights.
    14. The Heat’s On: Chester Himes. Harlem crime novel from 1966. Page turner, descriptive and atmospheric.
    15. A Dynamic Systems Approach to the Development of Cognition and Action: Thelen & Smith. Excellent book about how thought and action are developed together. Looks in detail at infant development of reaching, grasping and walking down slopes. Very well written and explained.
    16. The Gold Standard:  Mike Krzyzewski. An account of the 2008 USA Olympic basketball team’s journey to winning the Gold Medal by their Head Coach. Lightweight, but one for fans only.
    17. Jack: A.M. Homes. Entertaining novel of a teenage boy coming to terms with family break up.
    18. Border Country: Raymond Williams. Classic novel about the emptying of Welsh villages in the twentieth century. Told through story of one family, very moving.
    19. Pax Romana: Adrian Goldsworthy. Interesting overview of how the Roman Empire was created and maintained over the first 3 centuries of its existence.
    20. A Manual of Tumbling and Apparatus Stunts: Otto E. Ryser. 1964 guide to gymnastics for boys/ men. Lots of very good ideas in there for the keen recreational gymnast.
    21. Eagle in the Snow: Wallace Breem. One of the best historical novels ever. Set on Roman frontier at the end of the Empire, action, character and poignant tragedy.
    22. How Children Succeed: Paul Tough. Well laid out and organised book looking at case studies of children and environments that have overcome adversity to succeed. Great read for parents, teachers and coaches.
    23. Dynamic Groups at Work: H. Thelen. Superb book looking at how groups of people operate and how leadership can influence, shape and learn from this. Written in 1951, it stands up very well today. At some point the cult of the leader influenced thinking, this was very refreshing.
    24. The Confusion of Command: Lt. Gen T. D’Oyly Snow. Brief memoirs of the Commander of the 4th Division at retreat from Mons and 27th Division at Battle of Ypres. Shows how chaotic things were and ill prepared the BEF were in 1914.
    25. The Way We Die Now: Charles Willeford. Gritty crime novel based in Miami, interesting characters with a rambling plot.
    26. Classical Literary Criticism: Aristotle, Horace & Longinus. Thoughts on poetry, creating the sublime and drama from these three ancients.
    27. The Reluctant Fundamentalist: Mohsin Hamid. Short, interesting, relevant novel about a Pakistani man trying to find his identity.
    28. Lillian: David Emery. Biography of this British athlete from 1960s. Coached by her Dad to an Olympic medal, she died of cancer at a very young age.
    29. One Knee Equals Two Feet: John Madden. Simple, but entertaining guide to football. Has some genuine nuggets of wisdom in there.
    30. Creating Innovators: Tony Wagner. Case studies of people who are innovators in their field. Good for first 100 pages, but then repetitive.
    31. Iron and silk: Mark Salzman. Enjoyable account of an English teacher spending 2 years in China in early 1980s.
    32. The Heart of a Leader: Ken Blanchard. Quotes from his previous books with a brief explanation. Short but useful.
    33. Stanley.The Impossible Life of Africa’s Greatest Explorer: Tim Jeal. Dense, detailed story of the famous Welsh/American/English Victorian. Reveals much that had been misinterpreted and is extensively researched. Amazing stories.
    34. Peak Performance: S.Magness & B. Stulberg. Easy to read book about getting the most from your day and life. Useful anecdotes illustrating underpinning science.
    35. D:Day The Battle for Normandy: Antony Beevor. Detailed and vivid account of the invasion of France. Compared to a similar book I read 30 years ago, it is more critical of the British and of the mistakes made by all sides. Tragic loss of life.
    36. Timequake: Kurt Vonnegut. Half autobiographical, half satirical novel. Very well written and funny.
    37. Cannonball Tennis: Mike Sangster. Hidden gem from this British number 1 from 1965. Very pertinent coaching tips and enjoyable stories from this Devonian.
    38. Seven Theories of Human Nature: Leslie Stevenson.  Brief look at different word views and a critique on their rationales. Great place to start and uses critical thinking on Marxisim, Christianity Freud and more.
    39. Foxcatcher: Mark Schultz.  Autobiography of sorts, dealing with the murder of his older brother Dave Schultz. Interesting to see behind the curtain of this apparently successful Olympian.
    40. Barbarian Days, A surfer’s life: William Finnegan. Superb biography from this well known writer. Enjoyed it without being a surfer.
    41. Three Cups of Tea: Greg Mortenson & David Relin. Account of one man’s mission to provide schools to remote areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. A bit evangelical and sycophantic in parts, but mostly inspiring.
    42. Four Tragedies and Octavia: Seneca. Ancient Roman text revisiting some classic stories. One of the Stoic philosophers and has summary at the end.
    43. A Century of Humour: ed P.G.Wodehouse. Huge collection of short stories in this interesting collection from 1935. Some sublime, others very dated.
    44. The Wrong Side of Goodbye: Michael Connelly. Harry Bosch detective novel, still not a return to original form, but good holiday read.
    45. Sunset Howe: Lewis Grassic Gibbon. Outstanding  novel of rural Scotland in early 1900s. Characters jump off the page and draw you in.
    46. Cloud Howe Lewis Grassic Gibbon. Part 2 and follows the move from rural to urban areas.
    47. Grey Granite Lewis Grassic Gibbon. Part 3 and echoes the demise of Scotland with industrial unrest.
    48. The Dead Zone: Stephen King. One of his SF novels which is topical today with the rise of a psychopathic US politician.
    49. The World of Jeeves: P.G. Wodehouse. 34 short stories that feature the emminent valet and Bertie Wooster. Supremely crafted and still entertaining.
    50. The Talent Lab: Owen Slot. Some interesting ideas in this book, but quite a PR stunt I think too.
    51. Brain Rules: John Medina. 12 rules to help use your brain more efficiently. Well laid out and gives evidenced ideas from neuroscience.
    52. The Gunslinger: Stephen King. Collection of short stories that form part one of the Dark Tower science fiction series.
    53. The Classroom Society: H. Thelen. Dense text full of extremely useful insights and applications for teachers and coaches.
    54. Instant Replay: Jerry Kramer. Inside look at the1967 Super Bowl season of the Green Bay Packers. Very revealing.
    55. The Originals: Adam Grant. Interesting look at how people think differently and maybe become more creative. How to create a culture that allows dissent without collapse or acrimony.
    56. The Blade Itself: Joe Abercrombie. Entertaining lightweight fantasy novel, heavy in cliches.
    57. The Name Of The Wind: Patrick Rothfuss. Fantasy novel which resembles a collection of ripping yarns.  A good read.
    58. Complete Gymnastics Handbook: John Puckett & Edwin Bengston. Has some useful tips and a good curriculum for secondary schools.
    59. The Interpreter: Brian Aldiss. Short SF novel about life at the edges of a frontier.Character driven and succinct.
    60. The Wise Man’s Fear: Patrick Rothfuss. Enormous sequel which is entertaining but disjointed and ultimately goes nowhere.
    61. The Gold Mine Effect. Rasmus Ankersen. Lightweight book looking at 6 hot spots of talent development around the world. Good in parts, big gaps in others.
    62. A Coach’s Life: Dean Smith. Autobiography of the UNC basketball coach written in 1999. Great thoughts on coaching and how to manage a team.
    63. If These Walls Could Talk (Green Bay Packers): Wayne Larrivee. Insights about the Packers from this radio reporter. Covers the last 25 years well.
    64. Drive: Daniel Pink. Easy to follow and well researched look at what actually motivates humans. Very useful for coaches.
    65. Snakewood: Adrian Selby. Original twist to the fantasy novel. Like David Gemmell, but with potions and more unpleasantness.
    66. Body, Mind, and Sport: John Douillard.  Full of New Age gurusism, very 80s with tenuous links to “science”. Interesting points about breathing, but the rest is confusing mysticism.
    67. Uncommon: Tony Dungy. Very disappointing motivation book by the former NFL coach. Little substance.
    68. How To Support A Champion: Steve Ingham. Entertaining and reflective look at how he developed his physiology support for athletes. Must read for support staff.
    69. Man’s Search For Meaning: Viktor Frankl. How one man survived four concentration camps and lessons on life. Stunning read and very meaningful.
    70. The Drawing Of The Three: Stephen King. Part 2 of the Dark Tower series. Fun read in a western type setting.
    71. Band Of Brothers: Stephen Ambrose. Outstanding account of an airborne infantry company in WWII. Third time reading this, and still inspired.
    72. Parachute Infantry: David Kenyon Webster. Detailed account of one of the “Band of Brothers” in action after D Day. Warts and all account of life in the army.
    73. The Age Of Genius; The Seventeenth Century & The Birth Of The Modern Mind: A.C. Grayling. Interesting but somewhat muddled account of this little known period of mainly European history. Insightful in parts, could do with maps!
    74. Leviathan Wakes: James S.A. Corey. Fun and expansive SF Novel. Reminds me of C.J,. Cherryh books from the 1980s.
    75. best books for sports coaches

      Reading expands the mind

      The Captain Class: Sam Walker. Interesting look at how some of the world’s best sports teams became dominant thanks to influential captains. Pseudo scientific but good to look beyond the obvious and much quoted.

    76. The Influences Of Rudolf Laban: John Foster. Biography and analysis of how Laban shaped dance education and inspired educa
    77. tional gymnastics in the UK.
    78. Activities on P.E. Apparatus: J. Edmundson and J. Garstang. Great book from 1962 on lots of gymnastics exercises on some forgotten pieces of equipment such as boxes, ropes and ladders. Very useful resource.
    79. Anabasis: Xenophon. The story of the retreat of the 10,000 from Persia to the sea. Modestly written, but insightful. The classic film “The Warriors” was based on this book.
    80. The Warriors Reflections On Men In Battle: J Glenn Gray. Reflective account of this soldier and philosopher written 14 years after his experiences in WWII. Draws upon other historical accounts of warfare and is very revealing.

    Thanks to all who recommended

    Thanks again to the usual suspects for lending, sending and recommending.

    • Book club members Peter Bunning, Rob Frost for expanding my repertoire beyond work.
    • Mandi Abrahams of Castle Books, Beaumaris for her encyclopedic knowledge of books I have never heard about!
    • Vern Gambetta and the GAIN community for tripling my reading list every time I attend.
    • The Hayridge and Devon Libraries for lending, ordering and generally encouraging young and old to read more.

    If you have any recommendations, please leave below. Enjoy your time to read over Christmas.

  5. Brian Aldiss RIP

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    Britain’s best Science Fiction Author dies

    Brian Aldiss rip

    3 of Brian’s books off my shelf

    I am sorry to hear today that Brian Aldiss has died. My thoughts go out to his family. His books have given me great pleasure over the years right up until the current day (one of his books usually features on my reading review of the year).

    Aldiss was a prolific author and fans of SF should all obtain a copy of “Trillion Year Spree” which gives an account of Science Fiction since the onsets of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.

    The sheer amount of work that Brian produced over his lifetime is astounding. Not only did he write novels, but short stories and letters to other writers when he was editing.

    His years of editing SF magazines gave him the opportunity to read much new work from good and bad authors which gave him a broad perspective of the genre which wil be hard to match.

    His autobiography “Bury my Heart at WHSmiths” (will they?) is quintessentially British and gives excellent advice for prospective writers. Part Bill Bryson, part P.G. Wodehouse, it expresses points in a poignant yet understated fashion that brings a smile to the reader’s face.

    Aldiss was still writing until very recently, and even if his”Finches of Mars” was no classic, it was a light read with good touches and food for thought.

    Whilst the enormous Hellicona trilogy requires a serious effort which will be rewarded, I would recommend “Greybeard” to the new Aldiss reader. This  post apocalyptic future set in Middle England could be taken as an allegory for a declining Empire. (Here is the great author himself talking about GreyBeard ).

    A sad day for Brian Aldiss’ family, his many fans and for British Literature. I hope the news of his death will inspire younger readers to seek out his work from your local library.

  6. Cannonball Tennis: Mike Sangster

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    Devon has everything to offer that I want in life”

    mike sangster tennis

    Cannonball Tennis

    Says Mike Sangster in his book “Cannonball tennis”.  Mike took up tennis when he was 13 (yes 13) and went on to become the British #1 player, played in many Davis Cup matches and got to the semi-finals of Wimbledon.

    Growing up in Torquay, he was coached by the somewhat enigmatic “Mr Roberts” who offered him a few words of advice and then left him to work out his own strengths and weaknesses.

    I was sent this gem of a book and it is an entertaining read. Amongst the anecdotes of cooking meals on hotel room floors are some really useful pointers about tennis.

    On coaching juniors:

    I think nine or ten is a good age for a boy to first pick up a tennis racket.”

    Look at the source of this advice, then look at who the club coach telling you that your 5 year old needs to work on their chopper grip. (Whose interest are they serving?).

    I would say,  however that it’s better to allow a beginner to swing his racket at the ball in his own way at first, than to try and put him into a kind of stroke strait-jacket to give him an automatic, orthodox swing.

    Confusion is often caused in the minds of youngsters because the various grips are explained in a complicated way. This sort of jargon gets you nowhere.”

    mike sangster tennis serve

    Learn to throw before serving

    If you want to serve well, and can’t throw well, set about learning to throw straight away.”

    Another vital part of good serving is a smooth throw- up of the ball. Many players never learn to serve consistently because they throw the ball up differently.”

    (Why on earth are children being pushed into tennis when they simply can’t throw overhand with their good arm and pass accurately with their weaker hand?)

    Once they become tired on court, their concentration goes, and it’s much better to stop playing altogether than continue hitting aimless shots and running about lethargically and without interest.

    First principles of tennis:

    • Hit the ball back across the net. Don’t worry about how you do it. Just get it back into court.
    • Never miss an easy winner.
    • Move to the ball. Don’t wait for it to come to you.

    More advanced basics are:

    • Serve as hard as you can without double-faulting and concentrate on acquiring a strong second serve instead of always trying to ace your opponent on the first.
    • From the baseline, keep the ball as deep in your opponent’s court as you can.
    • If the ball is returned short, attack it by hitting it deep into your opponent’s court, preferably into the backhand corner, and rush to the net to volley or smash a winner.

    On tennis fitness:

    To get yourself physically ready for long exhausting matches is as necessary as it is for a carpenter to sharpen his tools. Your body is your tool; if it lets you down, it is only because you have not given it that extra-fine preparation that is needed for all sports played at top class.

    Tennis coaches may scoff at some of these points, but I would suggest that overcomplicating things is far too common. This book is a worthwhile and enjoyable read.

    Thanks to Mandi Abrahams of Castle Books in Beaumaris for sending it to me.

    Further Reading:

  7. Summer Reading for Sports Coaches

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    Book recommendations for sports coaches

    Summer is here and I have just returned from the GAIN conference in Houston where fellow sports coaches and bibliophiles shared book ideas and recommendations. Here are some of mine from this year, plus a full list of what I have read with a brief summary.

    best sports coaching book

    Wade and James

    Best coaching book

    I have to say that Wade Gilbert’s “Coaching Better Every Season” is the best practical book on coaching a team or group that I have read. It has more useful information in it than I learn in my MSc of Sports Coaching from Brunel University.

    It is spilt into 4 parts: Pre Season; In Season; End of Season and Off Season. Each comes with guides, checklists and suggestions on how to get the most from you and your team. It is very well written and researched with great practical examples.

    You can pick it up and get ideas to help your next session, or to plan your whole year. Highly recommended.

    4 other good books for sports coaches

    • summer reading for sports coaches

      4 great books

      Track and Field: Athletics Training in the G.D.R. (East Germany). Editor G. Schmolinsky. Very detailed technical handbook from 1978. Ingrained with socialist principles at the beginning. The sprints, throws and jumps sections are good, the middle distance and endurance are ok. The preparation and specific and general exercises are excellent.

    • A Dynamic Systems Approach to the Development of Cognition and Action: Thelen & Smith. Excellent book about how thought and action are developed together. Looks in detail at infant development of reaching, grasping and walking down slopes. Very well written and explained.
    • A Manual of Tumbling and Apparatus Stunts: Otto E. Ryser. 1964 guide to gymnastics for boys/ men. Lots of very good ideas in there for the keen recreational gymnast and for coaches who want their teams to be more agile.
    • Dynamic Groups at Work: H. Thelen. Superb book looking at how groups of people operate and how leadership can influence, shape and learn from this. Written in 1951, it stands up very well today. At some point the cult of the leader influenced thinking, this was very freshing.

    (H Thelen was Esther Thelen’s father-in-law, just coincidence they had the word dynamic in their book titles?).

    My Tsundoku

    Tsundoku

    My Tsundoku

    Tsundoku is the Japanese noun describing a pile of unread books. Mine had got down to 8 books before I received my annual mystery parcel from Castle Books in Beaumaris. It now contains an eclectic mix of fiction, education, comedy and history.

    Having this keeps my perspectives broad and unlimited by group think of just “fad books“. Many of these books are out of print now, but full of interesting ideas.

    Full list of books in 2017.

    Here is the full list of what I have read so far in 2017 some of which may be of interest for down time and reading on the beach.

    1. Meditations: Marcus Aurelius. Thoughts on Stoicism and dealing with being an Emperor. In depth and insightful.
    2. Shame The Devil: George Pelecanos. Exciting crime caper based in Washington by writer of The Wire.
    3. Coaching Better Every Season: Wade Gilbert.
    4. Jello Salad: Nicholas Blincoe. Graphic and twisted London crime novel.
    5. Reading: Frank Smith. How children learn to read despite the best efforts of programmed instruction, phonics and other interference. 1987 copy, but resonates today.
    6. The Pat Hobby Collection: F Scott Fitzgerald. Humorous set of short stories about an aging Hollywood script writer and his struggles.
    7. Track and Field: Athletics Training in the G.D.R. (East Germany). Editor G. Schmolinsky.
    8. Finches of Mars: Brian Aldiss. Interesting SF novel about humans having to evolve to survive on Mars. Philosophical underpinning about future of our planet.
    9. Horus: Manuel Santos Varela. SF novel based on Egyptian mythology and gene splicing. Short and interesting.
    10. The Teaching Gap: J.W. Stigler & J. Hiebert. Review of a study about Maths teaching in Japan, Germany and the USA. Insightful look at how teachers can and should develop their profession, rather than listen to academics who lack context.
    11. They Marched Into Sunlight: David Marranis. Account of one day in October 1967 when US troops were ambushed in Vietnam and anti-war riot at University of Wisconsin. Very well written and researched.
    12. Zorro: Isabel Allende. Light fiction, little depth.
    13. The Faltering Economy: The Problem of Accumulation Under Monopoly Capitalism. Ed. J.B.Foster & H.Szlajfer. Series of essays written in 1981. Heavy going, but enlightening insights.
    14. The Heat’s On: Chester Himes. Harlem crime novel from 1966. Page turner, descriptive and atmospheric.
    15. A Dynamic Systems Approach to the Development of Cognition and Action: Thelen & Smith.
    16. The Gold Standard:  Mike Krzyzewski. An account of the 2008 USA Olympic basketball team’s journey to winning the Gold Medal by their Head Coach. Lightweight, but one for fans only.
    17. Jack: A.M. Homes. Entertaining novel of a teenage boy coming to terms with family break up.
    18. Border Country: Raymond Williams. Classic novel about the emptying of Welsh villages in the twentieth century. Told through story of one family, very moving.
    19. Pax Romana: Adrian Goldsworthy. Interesting overview of how the Roman Empire was created and maintained over the first 3 centuries of its existence.
    20. A Manual of Tumbling and Apparatus Stunts: Otto E. Ryser.
    21. Eagle in the Snow: Wallace Breem. One of the best historical novels ever. Set on Roman frontier at the end of the Empire, action, character and poignant tragedy.
    22. How Children Succeed: Paul Tough. Well laid out and organised book looking at case studies of children and environments that have overcome adversity to succeed. Great read for parents, teachers and coaches.
    23. Dynamic Groups at Work: H. Thelen.
    24. The Confusion of Command: Lt. Gen T. D’Oyly Snow. Brief memoirs of the Commander of the 4th Division at retreat from Mons and 27th Division at Battle of Ypres. Shows how chaotic things were and ill prepared the BEF were in 1914.
    25. The Way We Die Now: Charles Willeford. Gritty crime novel based in Miami, interesting characters with a rambling plot.
    26. Classical Literary Criticism: Aristotle, Horace & Longinus. Thoughts on poetry, creating the sublime and drama from these three ancients.
    27. The Reluctant Fundamentalist: Mohsin Hamid. Short, interesting, relevant novel about a Pakistani man trying to find his identity.
    28. Lillian: David Emery. Biography of this British athlete from 1960s. Coached by her Dad to an Olympic medal, she died of cancer at a very young age.
    29. One Knee Equals Two Feet: John Madden. Simple, but entertaining guide to football. Has some genuine nuggets of wisdom in there.
    30. Creating Innovators: Tony Wagner. Case studies of people who are innovators in their field. Good for first 100 pages, but then repetitive.
    31. Iron and silk: Mark Salzman. Enjoyable account of an English teacher spending 2 years in China in early 1980s.
    32. The Heart of a Leader: Ken Blanchard. Quotes from his previous books with a brief explanation. Short but useful.
    33. Stanley.The Impossible Life of Africa’s Greatest Explorer: Tim Jeal. Dense, detailed story of the famous Welsh/American/English Victorian. Reveals much that had been misinterpreted and is extensively researched. Amazing stories.
    Steve Magness book

    Steve and Me

    I am currently reading Peak Performance by Steve Magness and Brad Stulberg, which I will review when finished.

    Thanks for reading and sharing ideas and the books. Thanks to the Hayridge Centre in Cullompton as usual for being a great library and to Mandi Abrahams of Castle Books for sending me the good stuff.

    If you have any other book recommendations or suggestions, please leave a comment below.

  8. What the academics are keeping from the public

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    “The average number of readers of a scientific paper is…”

    before the beginningSir Martin Rees in his book “Before the beginning: our universe and others” discusses science, evidence and why information fails to get through to the public (Answer at the bottom of the page).

    University undergraduates are told by their lecturers that they must reference academic journals and that they need to be current. Books are less relevant as they are “out of date”. Naseem Taleb in “Antifragile” (a book) calls this “neomania“: the obsession with something new.

    Rees has this to say about journals:

    But these journals- what scientists call ‘the literature’– are impenetrable to non-specialists.  They now just exist for archival purposes, largely unread even by researchers, who depend more on informal ‘reprints’, email and conference.”

    Does that ring a bell for coaches who are wading through articles?

    Information distortion

    In the age of the tweet, the soundbite and 24 hr rolling news coverage, Rees explains that information can get distorted. Ben Goldacre talks about this in “Bad Science” where he postulates that science gets bad coverage due to the media being dominated by humanities students.

    Rees (the cynic) says “the distortion is even greater because some sceintists (and some institutions) are far more effective than others in communicating and promoting their researches.

    In the pseudoscience world, have you ever wondered why “power” is often narrowly defined by the ability to be tested on a force platform? Answer: where does most of the research come from? Which researcher is on the board of the company that makes the force platform?

    This power “research” is then disseminated as gospel (negative results are rarely published in journals, skewing the system further).

    Even if we see a well designed study, Rees suggests we bear in mind what Francis Crick has to say “no theory should agree with all the data, because some of the date are sure to be wrong!”

    Why we should ask difficult questions

    Francis bacon on learningOf course, we get what we deserve.  Francis Bacon said this in “The advancement of learning” (1605).

    “For as knowledges are now delivered, there is a kind of a contract of error between the deliverer and the receiver; for he that delivereth knowledge desireth to deliver it in such form as may be best believed, and not as may be best examined; and he that receiveth knowledge desireth rather present satisfaction than expectant inquiry.”

    Steve Myrland says that we believe our own fallibility more than the person presenting to us and that “those parts of presentations that are most confusing to us tend to be the parts we question least.”

    This then allows the “expert” to carry on building up an awe inspiring reputation that remains unchallenged.

    I see this a lot in pseudoscience journals from the UKSCA and NSCA: academics who have less coaching experience than our local primary school teachers are given platforms to promote their unfounded theories. Unfortunately those of us who coach have little time to write, let alone look at the references to check the validity of their claims.

    Thanks to Dr Rob Frost for lending me the book.

    Further reading:

    Answer: 0.6! (cynically, Rees wondered whether this included the referee).

  9. Coaching book reviews

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    Book Reviews

    Whenever I work with other coaches and discuss how they develop their own practice, reading books is always high as a favourite.  Unfortunately, a lot of them seem to be “sciencey” such as Syed’s bounce, but actually add to misinformation, rather than informing our practice

    Here are a few that I have read over the last year that apply specifically to coaching, in no particular order.

    Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training by Mark Rippetoe (recommended by Adam Taylor and Tracy Fober).

    Just when I thought I knew a thing or two about coaching the deadlift, squat, press, clean and snatch, I read this.  Although it says “starting strength”, I would recommend this to experienced coaches rather than novices due to the detail involved.

    This book explains the key barbell lifts with excellent diagrams and photos.

    I learnt a lot from his explanations and have used some of his cues to help the athletes I coach already with great effect.

    Rippetoe writes well and uses humour to highlight his points: “A Smith machine is not a squat rack, no matter what the girls at the front desk tell you.”  He does advocate barbell training to the exclusion of almost everything else, which is too narrow a focus in my opinion for transfer to the sporting arena. However, if you want to get strong in the gym and lift safely and effectively, read this.

    The 4 disciplines of execution by Chris McChesney and Sean Covey (recommended by Greg Thompson).

    This book focusses on how to choose “Wildly Important Goals” (Wigs) and then how to implement then effectively. It is very clearly written, with good examples and takes the reader through the process of finding your Wig and then acting on them.

    The authors use examples of good and bad goal setting, and highlight the dangers of having a list. To paraphrase: “if everything is a priority, nothing is a priority”.

    I like the use of a compelling scorecard, with just one priority on it, and clear measurement on whether the team is achieving it or not. The litmus test is if you can wake up a team member at 3am, ask them “what is our number 1 goal” and they tell you in 1 sentence.

    Highly recommended, can be used as part of a team, or for your own projects. I have found myself much more productive since adopting these principles.

    Where Else Would You Rather Be by Marv Levy (Review by Simon Worsnop who recommended it to me).

    This is the autobiography of Marv Levy, former Head Coach of the Buffalo Bills. It is well written, with a dry sense of humour accompanying the narrative. Levy is not a typical football coach, having a Masters degree from Harvard and a rich appreciation of history and literature. Unlike many managers/coaches, he also has an ability to treat sport for what it is within the grand scheme of things. His comments regarding World War 2 that I remember from the 1980s, illustrate this, and are comparable to former Aussie fast bowler turned commentator Keith Miller’s whereupon hearing a captain was under pressure, commented “pressure? Having a Messerschmitt up your arse, now that is pressure!”

    Levy played College Football but was never drafted, and the narrative follows his journey from schoolteacher and third team basketball coach to a four-time Superbowl Head Coach.

    Not only does the book take you through the historical coaching journey, but also describes the philosophy of football at the various stages of his career. It is interesting to understand how his mentor George Allen used the draft to swap players to create a successful team from virtually nothing using a clear philosophy and goal.

    His time in Canadian Football is of interest in how tactics can be switched to the opposite of what is expected in order to thwart the well-laid plans of an opposition. However, probably of most interest to today’s rugby coaches will be the section on how his coaching philosophy developed at the Bills, with an almost “Saul on the road to Damascus moment” after a final play-off game. This epistemological rupture with past practice was of paramount importance in the Bills future success. Without want to spoil this for the reader, it is well documented within the book showing how this affected match play, practice, player attitude, fitness and decision-making.

    The reader does not need an in-depth understanding of American Football to appreciate its relevance to coaching both on and off the field, and it is not littered with references to religion or psychobabble that sometimes mar American books.

    Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek.

    Sinek bases this book on an observation from the US marines that the officers only eat after the Men. The premise is that we are there to look after the people we lead. He uses anecdotes from the military to highlight why this is important and how selfless actions are common in that environment.

    He then switches to why we may have developed this as a species, including a “circle of safety” of about 150 people. This is the number of real people we could include in our tribe where we have meaningful relationships.

    Sinek is pretty scathing of the baby boomer generation and how they became the “Me generation”.  He mentions dopamine fixes a lot, which used to come from having secure relationships and feeling safe. Now, it comes from facebook “likes”, “retweets” and worryingly, stock market traders’ bonuses. This leads to either a short attention span, or dysfunctional behaviour that has an adverse effect on others.

    He uses examples from the USA such as Peanut Corporation of America’s cutting costs resulting in salmonella contamination and BP ‘s safety cut backs that led to the Deepwater Horizon disaster. (British readers: think of how Thomas Cook responded to the death of 2 children on their watch). He links this to the size of organisations and their reliance on numbers, rather than people.

    I see this all the time in sports partnerships and NGBs: we want athlete scorecards or measures of “impact” “sustainability” and “engagement”, rather than talking to people face to face! This results in a misguided measure of what is important and people at the bottom then have to produce numbers to keep the people at the top happy, rather than doing their job.

    Sinek uses Jack Welch as an example of how an overemphasis on “shareholder value” in companies means the customer gets short thrift. Welch later changes his approach 8 years after retiring and says “Your main constituencies are your employees, your customers and products.”

    This book is a must read for those within organisations big and small. It has a few too many “folksy” anecdotes which feel like padding, but there are many good points and illustrations.

    Eleven Rings by Phil Jackson and Hugh Delehanty (recommended by Patrick McHugh).

    This is an inspiring and well written autobiography of a great NBA player and coach. Jackson has developed a coaching philosophy based upon humanity and people. He quotes extensively from Eastern philosophy texts and was adopting mindfulness before it was called that!

    For example coaching from a monk, Wayne Teasdale: “For work to be sacred, it must be connected to our spiritual realisation. Our work has to represent our passion, our desire to contribute to our culture, especially to the development of others.

    He recounts his early years as a player, and then his years with the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers. In that time he had to deal with some world class players and their egos. He gives detailed accounts of what worked with some, and how he worked with others.

    The book is excellent at describing how he was trying to create teams that could think and act independently on the court. This meant he was instructive in practice, but let them play on game day. “I don’t believe in using practice to punish players. I like to make practices stimulating, fun and most of all efficient.”

    This book was a real page turner, and worth rereading.

    The Education of a Coach by David Halberstam. 

    This Bill Belichick biography was written 10 years ago, when he had just the 3 Super Bowl rings! It details the rise of the highly successful New England Patriots coach, and how his coaching style and philosophy has developed.

    It starts with his immigrant grandparents, and the work ethic that was developed through his family and early life. It progresses through his early career and how his diligent scouting reports opened doors for him, despite his youth.

    For me, it is Belichick’s attention to detail and his ability to analyse the opposition that stand out in this book. He recognises what he is good at and coaches to his strengths, he seems to know that he is hardly an empathetic “people person” and so surrounds himself with people who possess those skills.

    You probably have to understand football or be a fan to like this book, but it is another page turner.

    Legacy: 15 Lessons in Leadership by James Kerr (recommended by Danny Newcombe)

    This is an easy to read book, with very clear examples and a wide range of lessons from aspiration to planning to humility. Each chapter has a clear structure, uses quotes, research and outside examples that can be easily related to outside of rugby and sport.

    For example , when looking at transforming the culture after a poor series of performances, the inner circle of All Blacks came up with “Better people make better all blacks”. This simple mantra sums up the vision the Coaches had that by developing the players as individuals, the whole group would benefit. Indeed, without developing the individuals, progress would be difficult.

    Whilst the All Blacks are on the cover, and there are plenty of All Black anecdotes, Kerr samples heavily from other sources. Like Sinek, he looks at the US Military and how they are trying to move from “Command and Control” to “Mission Command” where decisions are made on the ground.

    This is essential for coaches because it is the players who play and make decisions based on what is happening in front of them in real time. Therefore, the players need to know the intent and overall mission goal, which the coach designs,  and then go out and execute it.

    My favourite quote is an Old Greek proverb “A Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they will never see.”  A bit different from “Just win on Friday”!

    Inside out coaching by Joe Ehrmann (recommended by Patrick McHugh).

    Yet another book by an ex American Football player, but this time the message is very transferable to every youth sports coach. The “Inside Out” refers to knowing oneself as a coach first before you are able to transform your coaching.

    The first part of the book is a very honest and sometime brutal account of Ehrmann’s early life. He details some truly harrowing experiences, and how he dealt with them at the time, and who helped him.  He also looked at some fictional or historical characters for inspiration and says:

    They show that coaching cannot be reduced to strategy and technique. Great coaching demands introspection, integrity and integration of the coach’s life history.

    In part 2, Ehrmann describes his transformational coaching programme that he does with young people now. He includes how he is able to reach the hearts, minds and souls of the disaffected youth. This includes anecdotes from his playing years and advice for other coaches and parents taken from his programme.

    For example, helping players discover their identity in their teenage years when they ask questions such as “Who am I? What do I stand for? Who will love me and whom will I love? Whom will I stand with? What can I do with my life?” which is taken from Erik Erikson’s stages of social and emotional development.

    These are the questions that are going on in teenagers’ subconscious, sometimes conscious, and so Ehrmann creates an environment which allows the players to answer them.

    Ehrmann is trying to improve the lives of young men and uses sport as the vehicle to do this. This type of book is rare, and I found it very useful, coaching mainly teenagers myself.  A must read for coaches of teenagers.

    Recommended reading list for strength and conditioning coaches

  10. Teaching Literacy on World Book Day

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    Happy World Book Day

    They marched into sunlight

    Interesting and well written

    I hope you get a chance to read a good book. I am currently reading “They Marched Into Sunlight” by David Marannis. Do your children enjoy reading? Without a good book (in their terms) it is unlikely they will learn to read well no matter what ill-advised literacy scheme their school introduces.

    If you encourage and enable your children to choose interesting material to read, they will read by choice, rather than through coercion. If this is football match reports, instructions on how to make a fairy garden or the amount of sugar contained in breakfast cereals, it all counts as reading.

    Children often learn to read despite the efforts of education policies, rather than because of them. My children read well because we help them choose interesting things to read, share time with them and take them to the library where the staff share an enthusiasm for reading.

    Frank Smith on Literacy

    world book day

    How children learn

    Frank Smith  wrote two books in the 1970s about the myths and flaws of much language education:

    • “Essays into Literacy”
    • “Reading”

    In them he debunks the obsession by teachers on slowing down the learning process by going through phonics and instead extolls the virtues of learning through listening and sharing.

    It would be difficult to exaggerate the complexity and unreliability of phonics…. Children who believe they can read unfamiliar words just by blending or sounding them out are likely to develop into disabled readers.

    My children’s school told all the parents to encourage their children to use phonic cards when reading. They then abandoned that scheme for another because new teachers found it difficult to understand!

    Why Accelerated Reader Decelerates Reading

    My children’s school introduced a scheme called “Accelerated Reader” about 2 years ago which reduces the process of reading to a competition on who can read the most words. Books are ranked on number of words and each child takes a short term memory recall test at the end of each book.

    Children are rewarded and praised for getting 100% on each test (recommendation is for 90% before going up a level) and targets are placed around the classroom showing which children are Winning. Little communication is done with teachers about the joy and love of the subject of reading, instead the interaction is with an ipad (technology is cool, paper is boring).

    Smith on computers:

    The negative side of computers in literacy education is that children, parents and teachers will become persuaded that these nonsensical and pointless activities are what constitute reading and teaching reading.”

    He also  talks about the anxiety caused when children have to recall facts in the short term: they are reading to pass the test and this disrupts their flow.

    Frank Smith Literacy

    Reading is more than tests

    My daughter, who reads for at least an hour every night of her own volition, was so put off by having to do a test on each book she said,

    Daddy, I don’t like learning anymore.”

    When I explained this to the school and asked them to provide evidence about the long term benefits of this scheme I was given the following reasons:

    • Boys are competitive, so they like it
    • The local secondary schools use it.”

    I reminded them of my daughter’s gender and then asked why they insisted on using a scheme with no evidence to support it and which had stopped one of the best readers from loving reading. No answer was given.

    Smith says “To teach reading and writing as if their most important uses were for completing tax returns and job applications is like using a telescope as a doorstop.”

    If you pick up every book knowing you are going to be quizzed at the end, then you will simply choose simplistic books to get higher scores. My kids have figured this out and know how to “Juke the stats“. Sometimes we have to do this in life, but we should have the honesty to tell children that this is what we are doing.

    However, if you read books, magazines and Pokemon guides which are interesting, challenging and diverting, you will love reading.  Read for fun on World Book Day rather than have the fun sapped out of reading.