Friday, January 30, 2015

Good Reads



I’m writing this for the three athletes/coaches who asked me one of my favorite questions, what should I read next or what are you reading?  It seemed like a good time for a post on what I’ve been reading, what I’ve learned and how I continually educate myself as a coach/athlete. 

Social Media:

In today’s digital world, the opportunities for reading/learning surround us constantly!  That said, there are opportunities for good reading and bad reading.  Social media has the power to connect you to brilliant thoughts that open up your mind to engaging questions, interesting research or provocative stories.  It can also connect you to a lot of garbage.  (and, yes, I’m shamelessly guilty of the kid picture overload and occasional pictures of a delicious beer!)  A lesson I took from following Gordo Byrn on Twitter was to be very selective in what you allow through your filter.  If your feed is full of sponsor plugs, pictures of food and weather complaints, you could probably use social media much more effectively!  You become what you surround yourself with.  And as one of my mentors and long time A.R.T. guy said to me (when I told him he was one of the best in the field): I just surround myself with people who are smarter than me, and then I listen. 

Such truth!

For me, I take another cue from Byrn and limited my “following” list to under 100 people.  Anything more than that becomes completely overwhelming which defeats the purpose of it in the first place.  You can take a look at my list of people I follow on Twitter – the majority provide content I find educational, engaging or just plain funny (also important, you need to laugh!).

Three of my “must follows” on Twitter (a list more for coaches than athletes):

-       Vern Gambetta
-       John O’Sullivan
-       Steve Magness

Those last three have been instrumental in my current (and future) reading list.  In the past year, they’ve tweeted their own reading lists which have opened up my bookshelves to a variety of fantastic reads on coaching, communication, philosophy and human behavior. 

Triathlon Specific:

Early on as a coach, I did was probably most coaches do – I read tons of “triathlon specific” books hoping to find the formula to producing top performing athletes!  All that I did was assemble a book of mostly disappointing reads that came across as too formulaic.  It was then that I realized coaching was an art that I had to refine through open-minded and at times messy experimentation driven by some of my own experience, education and influences. 

If I had to recommend one triathlon specific book that every coach should read it would be Matt Dixon’s The Well Built Athlete.  Dixon taps into what few books do – the peripheral factors (nutrition, recovery, etc) that encompass well-rounded and sustainable fitness.  If you can combine these factors in such a way that they resonate with the athlete, you are on their path to achieving top performance.  

Mentors:

Every coach/athlete should have an “inner circle” of mentors that they trust, respect and interact with casually enough that you can ask them any question or bounce ideas off of them.  For me, this circle consists of Jen Harrison and Kurt Perham, two former coaches who helped shape me as an athlete and coach – as well as a few other close friends/family/colleagues.

As far as outside sources that I would consider mentors by way of me reading what they put out and incorporating their work into my own coaching/training, some names come to mind (and I highly recommend any book/material/social media content put forth by these individuals):  Brett Sutton, Arthur Lydiard, Matt Dixon, Phil Maffetone, Vern Gambetta. 

When looking for mentors/inspiration, look to other sports.  Some of my biggest inspiration has come from the world of swimming!  One of my favorite publications is put out by ASCA.  Triathlon is still a very young sport so I’ve found it helpful to look to other sports as well – rugby, basketball, soccer, rowing.     

Book List:

To me, nothing beats a real book in my hands – turning the pages, the smell of ink, being able to write all over the margins.  Here are some of my favorites books along with the key takeaways from each.
 
Relentless by Tim Grover: Never has a book spoken to me in a language that I completely relate to as an athlete.  This book is the mindset of aggressive top performers.  It can come across as harsh but if you have the same spirit as the book, it will read like a conversation with a best friend or coach who wants to help you get the best out of you.

The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine: after my own struggles with hormones and fertility, this book was a fascinating read that put it all together – from birth to elder age in women, how hormones shape who we are and how our bodies behave.

Mindset by Carol Dweck: what’s the difference between a growth and fixed mindset? Dweck, a researcher, discusses the difference between static and developed intelligence and how to use a growth mindset for personal development/success.

Choke by Sian Beilock: why do some crumble under pressure while others thrive?  Beilock explores performance under pressure.  Her new book, How The Body Knows The Mind, is on my bookshelf waiting.

The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle:  Coyle travels and interviews to explore how patterns of training, motivation and coaching can bring out “talent” in the most unassuming.  

Untethered Soul by Michael Singer:  a spiritual journey to explore your inner space, I walked away from this book with a life changing question: what part of me has a problem with the problem?  When I encounter “problems” in life, I now ask myself that question to reveal that often it’s the immature, insecure, impatient part of me that has the problem which means it really isn’t a problem at all.  It requires me to be a bigger person to accept it as part of my life/experience. 

The Vision of a Champion by Anson Dorrance:  what it means to succeed as an athlete and coach – how you put together a winning formula for training, coaching but more importantly communication by a legendary soccer coach.

To Chase A Dream by Paul Kapsalis & Ted Gregory:  a feel good story describing the painstaking and often defeating journey of pursuing a big dream.  Told in such an easy-going manner that I couldn’t put it down.

Top Dog by Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman: the science of competition and winning – a must read for any athlete interested in how to fire up and arrive to compete at your best, as well as interesting gender-based research that I found useful to improve the competitive skills of women.

Elite Minds by Stan Beecham – a “sports psychology” book that talks about how to develop a world-class mind for competition by dealing with fear, pain and answering the very basic but profound question of, “who am I?”

Superbodies by Greg Wells – a physiology “cheat sheet” and excellent resource for any coach’s library as well as full of interesting research on how to achieve top performance.

Start with Why by Simon Sinek – a game changer for me as a business woman, this book proposed the simple question, “why?”  Most of us know what we do but don’t know why we do it.  This question provided a foundation for how to move forward with my business.

On Top of Your Game by Carrie Cheadle – another sports psychology book with practical but unique exercises to develop and improve the tools in your mental toolbox.

The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal – explores how willpower is not a virtue but a mind-body response that can be developed, the implications of stress/temptation and how you can improve your self-control. 

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg – discusses how habits are formed and changed, fascinating research but also really digs into how deep-rooted our habits are, almost like addictions, and what works/doesn’t work in changing them.

Developing Resilience by Michael Neenan – resilience is an important trait for all athletes – the ability to bounce back when things don’t go as planned, how to do so, why it matters

Training Soccer Champions by Anson Dorrance – quick read & interesting resource with some good ideas on coaching women.

Burn Your Goals by Joshua Medcalf & Jamie Gilbert – “burn your goals, I want to see your commitment list instead” – for that quote alone, it’s worth the read, but fair warning – it’s a bit spiritual so if you can set that aside you’ll find value

Long Distance by Bill McKibben – a quick but powerful read on one man’s journey of a year training like an Olympic cross country ski champion.

Essentialism by Greg McKeown – a must read for anyone who feels overwhelmed – whether by life, choices or the inability to say no, this book boils is down to a simple question: is this essential?  Less is more is the overarching theme and how by doing less you make more progress. 
 
Stillpower by Garrett Kramer – a way of being that changed my life as a person and athlete; explores the idea that feelings come from your thinking – not your circumstances.  Overthinking, focusing and trying to fix yourself often causes the opposite of what you’re seeking.  Kramer imparted to me the importance of simply letting things pass and waiting for clarity.  Often when we are faced with obstacles we want to act or change paths – instead, this proposes to stay the path until we reach a clearer state of mind.

On my shelf to be read:  Spark by John Ratey, AntiFragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, How The Body Knows The Mind by Sian Beilock, The Championship Formula by Jack Stark, In A Pit With A Lion On A Snowy Day by Mark Batterson, Ready to Run by Kelly Starrett & more!

Do you have any good reads, resources or follows you’ve come across?  I’d love to hear about them.