By Carl Valle
While many people say that “readers are leaders,” sometimes important books slip through the cracks because the best information isn’t supported enough. I am a huge fan of books on training, as well as any books that bring joy on a slow day off. As a coach, I am very careful to make sure the books I suggest are worth the time and money, as continuing education is the backbone to improvement.
While many excellent books are being written and published now, many of the old texts also need a little bit of promotion to ensure we are not trying to reinvent the wheel or just polish the apple. History often repeats itself because people are not listening, and the near opposite is true, as plenty of innovation is just rehashing what was done in the past. The books that pass the test of time are usually principle-driven ones that can help a veteran coach master their craft or a new coach build a foundation.
In no way is this my Top 10 list, as I believe many books are personal roadmaps and may not be universal for everyone to learn from. Instead, this list shows why we need to rethink where we get our information from, and hopefully share fresh options that are not very well-known. Some of the books I mention will be obvious and more familiar, while some will be rare and hard to find. Whatever the case, try reading at least one of the books below; I know this compiled list has enough firepower that coaches will thank me later.The more you read, the more you should feel confident that you’re on the right track. Click To Tweet
Reading should not be an ego-feeding process; it should be a humbling one. The more you read, the more you should feel confident that you are on the right track. Be aware that many valuable minds are around us now or paved the way before us. Listed here are 10 books I feel are worth reading and should be a priority this year. You can find many of the titles on used book websites—some of them are dirt cheap, while others are very expensive.
‘The Mechanics of Athletics’ by Geoffrey Dyson
I have the sixth edition of this masterpiece because, when Dan Pfaff said he reads it over and over, I bought a bunch of copies for myself and my interns. If you are not a track coach, that’s fine, because it’s the best text for understanding the particular physics behind running, jumping, and throwing. The writing, both in terms of readability and clarity, is just pure education at its finest. It covers all the main events but, due to its age (it was first published in 1962), it doesn’t show modern advancements such as the Fosbury Flop. Most of the other details are timeless, and it was designed to ensure coaches know what happens from a “blue collar” physics perspective.
One of my biggest gripes with performance training is that many coaches stop studying their craft and, instead, just read to expand their pop science knowledge. Dan stated he reviews this book every year, so I review it monthly to keep things fresh in my own mind. I feel it has taught me about forces from the ground and body, and to not over-coach things. Tom Tellez was adamant when I sat down with him in Houston that coaches learn what to coach and what to leave alone. Too many coaches want to be part of the athlete improvement process and should be careful of what is cued, as well as which training modalities are used to overcome forces from sport. If you want to have full understanding of the interaction of the human body and the ground, this is a great primer for any level.
‘Multiple Muscle Systems’ edited by Jack M. Winters and Savio L-Y Woo
This is the densest and most challenging book on the reading list, but it’s also the most rewarding. I read this book once from cover to cover—it took me months of commitment and I really didn’t use any of the information until 10 years later. After I entered my thirties, I was able to apply much of the information, as other readings helped me fill in the gaps. The book is a few decades old, and the content is mainly research organized into several chapters that are a little repetitive, but the information is extremely important to conceptualize. It’s a whopping 800 pages cover to cover, written in small font with narrow spacing. Much of the technical writing includes very heavy math that I had to trust was both correct and important.
So why did I include this book? In addition to Boo Schexnayder suggesting it to me 20 years ago, it helps make the rest of the information I read easier by challenging me. I am not too proud to say I struggled reading this in my first few years out of college, and even now I have to look up many of the concepts in this book to fully appreciate what is going on, but it’s worth the torture. It’s OK to get confused, as the process forces any coach to look in the mirror and say, “I don’t know, but I will find out.”
‘Biofeedback and Sports Science’ Edited by Jack Sandweiss and Steven Wolf
It’s my prediction that biofeedback will grow in popularity as we start to utilize what we know with the brain. Like yoga and other fitness trends that come and go, biofeedback was popular in the past and is now starting to come alive again, thanks to velocity readings from bar sensors and real-time player tracking equipment. It may sound strange that a book from 1985 is one of my suggestions to startups today, but the human body is still relatively the same and the challenges of sport are timeless. This is a book that helps marry three important variables—technology, sport science, and biofeedback—all in an integrated fashion.The human body is still relatively the same and the challenges of sport are timeless. Click To Tweet
The best way to use this information is to look at what the authors in each chapter are trying to do and see what changes you would make to the design or approach. It’s obvious that technology can be modernized to the current standards, but the challenges of the past are not far different than what we face today. The book is an excellent collection of writings from leading experts at the time, and it covers more than just performance; it talks about rehabilitation as well. Biofeedback is weaponized coaching if used right, and finding a copy of this text is a worthwhile investment for serious coaches.
‘The Visual Display of Quantitative Information’ by Edward Tufte
The second edition of this book adds enough new information that it’s worth buying. Edward Tufte is a leading expert in data visualization, and this book is a nice break from the heavier research we read from time to time. Additionally, the principles in this book are not only appropriate for creating charts and graphs, but also for presentations to help tell a real story of what coaches do instead of the dreaded PowerPoint approach. I have gone to Tufte’s one-day workshop, thanks to a friend who gifted the education option, and it was a major milestone for me. If you attend his workshop, you get all of his works, but this text is my visualization bible.
The reason I included this book is not because I want better dashboards for coaches—although his sparklines are part of what I use today—it’s because his book is really about effective communication. The goal of visualizing data is not just about pretty charts; it’s about the moral act of sharing information properly. Most of the AMS and sports science community should use his book, as well as the Stephen Few resources, and start over. I think we can do better with visuals to help foster a clear connection between athletes and other coaches, and this book gives me confidence that we can do it now.
‘World Champion San Diego Chargers Strength Program’ by Sid Gillman and Alvin Roy
This is a tribute to my friends who are strength and conditioning coaches, and have refused to give in to the puppy training trends of those who wish to remove the necessary risk in training. If you are a fan of classic training the right way, this is the manual for you. It’s from 1964 and was given to me by Jorge Carvajal a few years ago, and I love every page. It’s solid, and includes a few myths of training that have long been proven false, but it’s also jam-packed with key principles that will never be forgotten.
I found it interesting that the Chargers’ head coach was also part of the strength team—something we see in high schools but rarely at pro levels. If more team coaches were included in the other areas of the training process, I think we would see more harmonious workouts and weekly set-ups. Also included in the manual were a few cool points from other sports personalities, and the medical professional’s perspective on injuries and the need for strength training.
The strongest part of the text (no pun intended) is the simple writing and hard-nosed statements that don’t beat around the bush. Like many of the other books, the information is timeless and necessary when flash and hype sometimes overshadow principles and values. Many of the illustrations and suggestions are great for all coaches wanting to make sure they are on the right page, especially with the need to do the basics with perfection.
‘Muscular Activity’ by A.V. Hill
If you are looking for a refresher book on physiology, don’t buy this text—it’s laced with some information that can confuse new coaches, as the terminology and concepts are not fully accurate. Some of the information, though, is frighteningly impressive for 100 years ago. Some people may be tempted to use the work of the past to help dress up an article to look like they are well-read or have researched a topic comprehensively, but this work by A.V. Hill is more an anchor than just a reference point for sports science.
Innovation isn’t easy now, but if you really want to build the future, you must appreciate the past so that rehashed ideas sound like a new artist and not just a cover band. Recent work on the force-velocity profile of athletes is again creating interest, but not much has changed since Carmelo Bosco in the 1990s and Marco Cardinale in the early 2000s. Decades before coaches and sports scientists were busy getting people on the podium, so many of the publications were either unpublished or simply handed down through mentorships. It’s our job to build on the hard work of the past and push the envelope, or debug errors that may have been unrecognized.It’s our job to build on hard work of the past and push the envelope or debug unrecognized errors. Click To Tweet
A.V. Hill dedicated his life to exploring how muscles and the internal chemistry of the body work, and it’s important to see how previous scientists operated and their thought processes to move us forward. Because research is usually collaborative now, it’s misleading to think that more eyes means more oversight, but sometimes group-think can cloud information because the project is “too big to fail.” Read this text, as it’s a short read of a collection of lectures about simple properties of muscle, and the specific wording adds a lot of energy into some very vanilla concepts. Coaches can appreciate the modeling done with primitive devices and frogs because the refinement is in the math and science, not the current technology.
‘The Spinal Engine’ by Serge Gracovetsky
The most controversial book suggested here serves two purposes for coaches. First, the reason I like extreme bias is that it exhausts the positioning and fully explores all possibilities. Second, the hip-down therapists who think foot mechanics are very secondary are prevalent, so I need to reach out and make sure I am informed on their thought process. I believe that both foot strike and total body coordination are the key to locomotion, not just one variable. Holistic attitudes are great to have, but without specialized information they’re not going to help many complex injuries or problems.
The argument for a pelvic dominant locomotion strategy is biased, but it’s wonderfully written with a lot of technical calculations that are not for the layperson. Ten years ago, the Fascia Conference was held in Boston, and this was when Tom Myers was starting to be all the rage in the performance world. In 1988, Serge was explaining the value of all biomaterials in the body, but several therapists and even coaches made the tissue system seem mystical.
My personal philosophy is that the spine is a protective shell for the nerve anatomy that runs through it, but it’s not as fragile as some coaches need it to be to sell core training exercise catalogs or continuing education. If you do a dissection like I have, the spine is not fine china but it still must be respected. A combination of Stuart McGill’s thinking, modern decathlete training concepts, and a little of Gracovetsky’s theory goes a long way. Many coaches have worked so hard in stabilizing the spine by training athletes like wooden boards or overly stiff objects, that they performed a lobotomy on coordination—and caused more harm than good.
‘Overload, Performance Incompetence, and Regeneration in Sport’ by Multiple Authors
Published in 1999, this book is a collection of articles from different researchers rather than a traditional chapter book from one author. It wasn’t the first Amazon book I purchased, but it was the first time I said to myself that, without the online seller, I would be missing out on a lot of convenience. Much of the research is a little dated, obviously, but the giants in monitoring and fatigue make this more like a greatest hits album of sports scientists than any other book at the time. Most of the views of recovery now are similar to what was published then, and coaches can still learn to really look at overtraining with a just eye instead of a biased view.
I think the main point of interest was the attempt to look at central factors biochemically at a time that was perhaps a little early. Now we are seeing an explosion of interest in the brain and I expect to see more research there because of the concerns about concussions. This text, while technical in nature, is actually easy to read and isn’t long. “Overtraining in Sport” is longer and provides great insight, but isn’t as provocative. Other recovery books have not impressed me enough to mention here, so for me, this text is the framework to understand what goes bad when loads are too much.
‘Peak When It Counts’ by William Freeman
One of the most enjoyable moments in my early career was visiting William Freeman at Campbell University, a small school in the middle of North Carolina. Dr. Freeman, an expert in periodization and a former coach himself while he was in Oregon, was teaching there at the time. When I mention this story, only a handful of people will fully appreciate how small the school is and how dynamic the man was back in the early 2000s. What I love about him was his understanding of modern sport and periodization as about planning—not esoteric ideas that sound great on paper but fail to deliver.
One of the shortest reads besides the Chargers training manual, this small book covers planning and is just a great read. Each chapter fully explains the task of preparing athletes intelligently over a season and career, and it’s just nice to have something with such clarity. The bread and butter of the book is improving the athlete, not getting into unnecessary science or sexy ideas that don’t work today. What was great about my visit to Campbell was that Dr. Freeman understood speed development and appreciated quality speed work when I talked to him. It was a trek to go to the campus in Buies Creek years ago, but asking follow-up questions to his book gave me a peace of mind that the principles of planning were written in stone.
‘Motricité Sportive’ by Jacques Piasenta
I have many books in other languages simply because other countries are sometimes more aware of great information than the U.S. Anyone in track and field that knows their coaches will be familiar with Jacques Piasenta, as he is a talent in the speed and power events. He is also a P.E. teacher, so he understands pedagogy and knows how to apply necessary sports science. Some of his ideas are not based on anything beyond personal preference, but all of his work is an example that something is there beyond luck and talent.
On the record, I don’t speak a word of French, but my friend PJ Vazel is both a historian and a coach, and has personally shared some of the behind-the-scenes information that is both fascinating and practical. The illustrations and photos are gold. Nothing is more impressive in teaching movement than this material, in my opinion. What we have is evidence of ideas working beyond illustrations and videos.
If you were thinking about buying Frans Bosch, buy this text. If you have the work from Frans and want something that is down-to-earth and pragmatic, I hands-down recommend Jacques. The text resembles ”Children Moving” meets Dyson’s “Mechanics of Athletics.” Other works by Jacques are written in Spanish, so translation isn’t perfect; to me, the winner is “Motricité Sportiv.”
Other Book Recommendations
My collection of books isn’t small by any means, and I still recommend reading the research as well as other general coaching books. I also encourage reading outside the technical side of things because it reduces stagnation and keeps the brain fresh and creative. One concern of mine is the trend I see with young coaches looking at business books when they are not private facility owners. Young coaches need to be interdisciplinary and be generalists, but the balance of books outside of their expertise needs to be biased towards training early in their career.