Coaching can be an intimidating craft. There is so much to learn. To do it well you have to understand mechanics, physiology, and human psychology at a minimum. It’s no wonder we get asked for book recommendations so often.
Knowledge is power, but it’s hard to know where to start.
What I thought I would do is offer 10 starting points. These books are by no means exclusive. You can’t learn everything within these pages, far from it. The work of reading and learning is never done. But you should know that a great book is more of a rabbit hole than anything. A portal to someplace new. A turbo-boost for your imagination.
I know that some of these books don’t seem like required reading, but you’ll find endless piles of wisdom stacked-up high in odd corners. For that reason, read everything of interest. It doesn’t have to be obviously relevant at first, just avoid anything that you already know.
Do not preach to your own choir. Avoid coddling yourself at all costs. Instead, make your time count. Refine and improve your mind. Root all around for provocative, bold, stirring, fresh, and challenging ideas, then get out into the world and apply them. Test them. See for yourself what is true and useful, and what is not.
The very best words will resonate with you, they will ring your bell. They will sound very, very different, so seek them out. As Haruki Murakami wrote, “If you only read books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”
To think differently is a priceless thing. So, with that said, here is your start.
10 great books…
1. Principles and Practice of Resistance Training.
You can trace the bulk of American Sports Science back to Dr. Mike Stone and his pioneering research. Many of his students would later become my mentors in human performance. I was also fortunate to learn from him personally, and came very close to becoming his PhD student.
It just wasn’t to be. Next life, maybe.
My training knowledge all rests on a foundation of Dr. Stone’s ideas. This still influences and directs my training. Let me say, if you want to understand really understand programming and the physiology of strength, this is your book.
2. Your Inner Fish
A great mechanic know’s their way around every square inch of an engine, inside and out. In many ways a great coach is no different. If you want to stimulate and manage adaptation in the human body, you need to understand how the thing is put together.
You could read up on your Anatomy & Physiology, and you should. I just think that memorization of structure alone is not all that useful. You can get a much better understanding of form and function if you also understand how the structures emerged in the first place.
The structure of your joints. The manner in which your limbs exert force. Everything about your body and how it functions…it has a very long history. Neil will tell you all about it.
A Roman Emperor sits down and writes some of the most intimate and practical philosophy you will ever come across. Even thought the book is from around 170 or 180 AD, it couldn’t feel more current. It almost seems as thought Marcus is right there with you, teaching you everything about life, work, creativity, you name it.
If you read one philosophy book ever, this would be a great choice. You will think better because of it.
4. The Stress of Life
Programming is a bit of a game.
You have to push the body very hard in the gym. More tension. Better position. Higher and higher work loads. That’s all essential, but if you don’t understand the cumulative nature of physical stress and it’s consequences then the effort won’t get you very far.
Wear and tear are a bitch. You win the game by stimulating alarm, then sparing your flesh undue harm and stress. That’s why we program. The root of every periodization model can be traced back to Dr. Seyle’s work, and his model.
Why not learn from the master himself?
5. Evolution Rx
The book market is flooded with books on the Paleo lifestyle. To be honest, most of the best ideas are just being churned and recycled now. It’s hard to find fresh voices through all the buzz.
Dr. Meller was the first person I heard talk about the modern western lifestyle, and how it’s incongruent with our evolutionarily history. His experiences as a physician and anthropology researcher are super duper interesting.
6. On the Warrior’s Path
You can learn everything there is to know about training and still be a shitty coach. That’s because the craft of coaching is something that develops in time. You have to work, and work, and work at it. In time you develop a level of mastery, understanding and respect for the craft that’s hard to describe.
Maybe it makes more sense to put in the context of martial arts. I love all of Daniele’s work, but this book my favorite. He lays out the philosophy of fighting beautifully. I think it’ll allow you to view training with a fresh new perspective.
7. Exuberant Animal
I never put much thought into strength, movement quality and play before I read Frank’s stuff. I mostly studied strength training methods, because that’s how you got stronger in the gym, right? …Very true. But you can train much more efficiently if you understand how the human body should move.
Frank takes an informal, anthropological approach to movement. He also leaves you with an appreciation for the play, and why you should make room for fun in training.
8. Flow in Sports
We train, compete and coach because it’s fun, right? More than that it’s transformative, transcendent and euphoric. When we are in a state of flow the meters tick off effortlessly. Heavy snatches can’t miss. Time under the barbell seems to stand still.
Dr. Mihaly’s worked to form a scientific understanding of the flow state, and he lays down some ideas about how you can get your athletes there more often. That’s important.
All of Robert Greene’s booked are heavily researched and very direct. He distills history down into some very pointed, very practical lessons.
In Mastery, the overall message is clear – Talents and gifts don’t really mean shit. You have to work very, very hard to become great at what you do. You have to pursue it intensely. You have to give it a ton of your time.
Get your notepad ready. Just about every page is filled with notable material.
10. How to Win Friends & Influence People
This is a book that Mike and Doug actually just recommended on Barbell Business. It’s a classic. One of the most practical and wisdom packed books every published. If you haven’t read it, do so now. You will become a better business person, partner, parent, coach, you name it.
I hope you enjoy the books. Remember, when in doubt, read…read…read. You’ll always go someplace interesting if learning and discovery remain a daily priority.