Airplane reads and the goal of coach development

I listened to a podcast last night with a prominent strength and conditioning coach, hosted by another strength and conditioning coach, and the prominent coach boasted about not reading any books on strength and conditioning. Instead, he reads business books to improve his coaching.This is common, if my Twitter feed is any indication, as coaches now gravitate toward business and self-help books.

I do not read a lot of basketball books, although I have read Andy Glockner’s (meh) and Steve Shea’s (very good) books recently, but my nonfiction reading fits with my varied occupations (professor, author, coach, consultant to coaches), as it generally centers around learning, movement, and the human body (As an example, the last five nonfiction books that I have finished: The Natural Method: Georges Herbert’s Practical Guide to Physical Education (Ed Thomas); Smart Moves: Why Learning is Not All in Your Head (Carla Hannaford); The Thinking Body: A Study of the Balancing Forces of Dynamic Man (Mable Todd); The Only Rule Is It has To Work (Ben Lindbergh & Sam Miller); and How to Support a Champion (Steve Ingham). Physical education, motor development, human movement, team organization, high performance: Basically, the various disciplines in which I spend my time or hope to spend my time. I also read books about other sports because I do believe that sometimes we are too close to our own discipline or sport, and reading something similar, but different, can open our eyes. I may not see something in basketball because I am too close, but if I read about it in soccer or volleyball, maybe I draw the parallel, and it opens my eyes to something that was right in front of me in basketball.

Now, maybe I should follow the crowd and spend more time reading business books. I technically-speaking am an entrepreneur, and consequently should be reading business books on self-promotion, marketing, and sales, but I do not think of myself in that way (probably to my financial, and possibly professional, detriment). I think of myself as a coach, and my desire is to improve my knowledge base in areas directly related to coaching.

I know many coaches love military books and draw many parallels between CEOs and generals and coaching. I would not disagree completely. However, I do not understand how it became almost a badge of honor to admit that one does not read books in the area of his or her occupation and expertise.

Business and military books aren’t bad, necessarily, and a lot of coaches do run businesses (gyms, clubs, etc), but a number of these books are fairly trite. They are easy reads. Coaches pat each other on the backs for reading the latest New York Times Bestseller. Honestly, the majority of the books that I have read based on recommendations from coaches have been bad. It took me a long time to read Antifragile because so many coaches were recommending it, and I disliked many of their other recommendations. Even the good books are the watered-down summary of a professor’s actual research (think Grit or Mindset), or the well-told story of somewhat misunderstood research of someone else (Outliers). Many of these books make people feel good about themselves because they use pieces of research to confirm what people want to believe.

Are there exceptions to this? Sure. Have I read every book? No. Are there good ones? Yes. Should coaches avoid the business/self-help aisle? No. However, if you want to develop as a coach, maybe read a book that challenges your beliefs, or one that is more closely-related to your own discipline. A smart reader can learn something from almost any book, good or bad, but that does not mean that we should avoid books within our discipline. It’s not a badge of honor for an S&C not to read any S&C books; it’s ego.

By Brian McCormick, PhD
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League
Author, The 21st Century Basketball Practice and Fake Fundamentals

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