There are many good reads that have shaped my professional perspectives over the years. These are reads that I find on the bookshelf closest to my desk and ones that I often recommend to coaches, sports parents, and graduate students. This is a list of “5ish” because I can always find a few more that I love and you will notice that found a few good excuses to sneak a few of these others into the following lines. Check them out and enjoy:
1. Mindset by Carol Dweck – After so many years of excellent research, it was great to see Dr. Dweck share her insights in a book marketed for the masses. An easy read – with wisdom that is spot on when considering the optimal mindset for high performance. This is a book that I have recommended to many youth sport parents. The feedback from parents after reading it is amazing… it really seems to hit close to home.
2. The Power of Mindful Learning by Ellen Langer – An quick read with numerous implications for any educator or coach. Clarifies how practice leads to learning, what concentration is, and how to create quality memories. I picked it up in 1996 and a year does not go by that I don’t flip through it. Langer’s Mindfulness also sits on my bookshelf and is another read that gets at learning and motivation, but did not quite make the “top 5” list.
3. Golf and the Spirit by M. Scott Peck – I often say that I believe this is the best sport psychology book out there that was never meant to be a “sport psychology” book. Best known For the Road Less Traveled, Peck takes a moment in this book to reflect on the passions of his life – golf, spirituality, and the practice of psychology/psychiatry. The whole book is solid, but the “back nine” (second half of the book) has given me many professional insights – in particular check out chapter 10 (Teaching and Learning) and chapter 14 (The Human Condition). Almost daily, when sitting down with athletes Peck’s idea of the importance of putting our ideas “on trial” rings in the back of my head. Ineffective thinking rarely is changed without first requiring “briefs for the prosecution, and briefs for the defense, and then appeals and counterappeals, until a judgment is finally brought in.” If you want effective thinking that lasts an athletic career – thoughts must be “put on trial.” A great read and a great gift for any philosophical, golf enthusiast.
4. How We Decide by Johah Lehrer – Decision making is such a significant part of athletic performance. This is a read filled with interesting stories and many insights from neuroscience. It was released around the same time as Gladwell’s Outliers so perhaps it did not get all of the media and mainstream attention it deserved. It has many practical implications for anyone interested in decision making under pressure. It shines some light on the question, “How much thinking is too much thinking?” As a new release its pages are not as well worn as some of the others on this list, but I am sure it will get tattered and torn before too long.
Note – 8/5/2012 – I’ve been trying to figure what to do with the above book recommendation since the recent revelations about Jonah Lehrer’s casual relationship with truthfulness. I still believe How We Decide is a valuable book and one that gets some nice thinking going about neuroscience (an important area to read and watch closely in this era). I believe the lesson to be learned is that this and most pop-science books need to be the starting point for inquisitive reading, not the final word. Just as when one reads Malcolm Gladwell they should be driven to read Ericsson’s works (10 year rule is Ericsson), when you read How We Decide I encourage you to track down some sources he cites (of late I’ve been enjoying Haidt’s examination of moral behaviors). How We Decide led me to look closer at the neuroscience of performance and in many respects is responsible for my picking up Effortless Attention: A New Perspective in the Cognitive Science of Attention and Action. This is a much heavier read, but tightly edited and has a depth that pop-psych books lack. Yes, Jonah Lehrer is a liar, but I’m leaving How We Decide on this list. I just hope that you will chose to read it critically and seek out the science it cites (wrestle with the research it’s worth it).
5. Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control by Albert Bandura – This book will put most people to sleep very quickly, but that is not because of lack of quality, but rather the depth and thoughtfulness of each page…. paragraph. This book pulls together Bandura’s life’s work of self-efficacy research – simply flipping through the references is stunning, reminding any reader that Bandura “is” self-efficacy. The book shows how the concepts of self-efficacy can be seen as making the world go round. From schooling to athletic performance to health and wellness to the workplace – Bandura shows how personal and collective efficacy can shape them all. Certainly not a light read, but one that offers many insights and understandings.
Honorable mentions – While these five seem not to be leaving the edge of my desk anytime soon, there are many others that could have made the “cut” – Creativity by Csikszentmihalyi, The Expanded Family Life Cycle by Carter and McGoldrick, Meeting at the Crossroads by Brown and Gilligan, The Seasons of a Man’s Life by Levinson, Real Boys by Pollack, The Relaxation Response by Benson, The Road to Excellence by Ericsson, and A Way of Being by Rogers.
I am sure many more will come to mind as I post, but this is a good list of reads that have shaped my professional views. Ironically, it would appear that there are very few sport books on the list. Appearance can be deceiving. Look close. I know you will find that most great insights on player development and on teaching an effective athletic “mindset” lie in the pages referenced above. This being said I’m sure a “5ish” list on sports and athletic performance books is likely to hit the blog sooner than later.