By Carl Valle
I expected only a small amount of reads from coaches on my first book list, “10 Books Performance Coaches Should Read This Year.” Instead, there was a massive influx of coaches and sports medicine professionals reading it internationally. My guess is that the article’s popularity was due to the fact the books were rare or less commonly known. I decided to add a little fuel to the fire by mentioning 10 more books for you to read in 2018. Like an Oscar or a Hall of Fame snub, it’s important to understand criteria first before judging why I include one text and not another.
Why I Don’t Include Some Classics
Before you throw tomatoes, I want to make sure that coaches don’t get upset with me for not including popular works from Bompa, Verkhoshansky, and Zatsiorsky. It would be easy for coaches to wonder why I didn’t include other works like Starting Strength or the Weightlifting Encyclopedia either. I realize book lists typically include all of those, but if you are in the profession, you read those in college. It’s not that those books are not worthy—they certainly are—but they are more prerequisites than reinforcement books like the ones I list.
There are plenty of technical books on testing athletes and deep primers on sports science such as information on tendons and understanding physiological conditioning evaluation, specifically from Human Kinetics and similar publishers. Texts on biomechanics or biochemistry are wonderful starting points, and I recommend those resources as well. However, I include specific examples of books that may be the right fit for some coaches rather than books that just look the best for everyone on paper. Finally, I left out a lot of motor skill and coordination development books, not because the topic isn’t important, but because they deserve their own article.
What About Leadership and Management Books?
I admit that I hate most leadership books, but I still read them to make sure I leave no stone unturned. For the most part, the near-addiction to leadership books is due to the insecurities of those that feel they are not getting the right message across, rather than them truly lacking in people management skills. While many of these books sound great, I rarely see changes that are real evidence of progress. I love leadership books because they are fascinating and teach so much about getting others to do what you need them to do, but I rarely see teams turn their franchise around after off-season reading of the bestsellers in the Barnes & Noble store display.I don’t see teams turn their franchise around from off-season reading of Barnes & Noble bestsellers, says @spikesonly. Click To Tweet
I downplay most of the texts on leadership because the results of others may not be duplicable. After all, former team head coaches like Pat Riley are great because they are themselves, not parroting the past. While coaches like Steve Kerr are influenced by their mentors such as Greg Popovich from the Spurs, they are able to apply what they learned because they are, again, themselves. Mentorships like I mentioned in “The Essential Guide to Continuing Education for Coaches,” are more than reading about your favorite coach, even if it’s an autobiography. Instead, it’s a long process of witnessing precise situations with all of the necessary details.
Thoughts on Pop Culture Books vs. Craft Books
I am all for learning outside of the box, but if you can’t apply the basic principles of strength and conditioning, don’t tweet Malcolm Gladwell or Michael Lewis covers. My biggest pet peeve is those in high performance positions who believe that their teams are being held back by esoteric factors that are so small, even those in the marginal gains tribe think they are sweating the small stuff. Nothing reeks of elitism more than the over-promotion of ideas so far removed from sport it’s a leap of faith to believe a true connection even exists.
Mastering strength and conditioning is about mastering a craft, and craftsmanship matters more than ever. Several “old school” coaches are frustrated, as sport science knowledge only matters if you can apply it, and that means coaching skills. I believe that coaching requires time with coaches. I still recommend getting out of the coaching comfort zone and widening your thinking, but as a way to enjoy the simple act of reading and not be tied down by professional development. Reading should be fun, but remember to separate entertainment from what helps develop your craft.
I include recently published books and some older reprints to create a balance—similar to my previous list—because it’s good to learn from history. I have a lot of other recommendations of lesser-known authors like Jan Melen or rare books such as the work from Antti Mero, but many of those are glamor books, as they are not easily accessible to everyone.
The Top 10 Strength and Conditioning Books to Read in 2018
Here are 10 books I stand behind and recommend to anyone in the strength and conditioning world to become a better coach. If you are in a private facility, these may not be as important as business books or marketing guides, but they are pure information to make you better in the craft of strength and conditioning.
Strength and Power in Sport – Edited by Paavo Komi
This is the book a strength coach needs to have when starting out. We have way too much soft science now, with books by coaches explaining what they believe rather than what the science says to be true. While it is essential to be aware of methodology books—typically, books by coaches or groups of coaches—eventually a coach needs to be on their own and forge their own program. I don’t like most books on technique or exercise (this is not one of those), as I would rather learn in person.This book is a complete reality check on the science behind power development for an athlete, says @spikesonly. Click To Tweet
This book is a complete reality check on the science behind power development for an athlete. It’s a little dated, but the framework is the best roadmap to anyone in the “iron game.” Komi’s other edited work, Neuromuscular Aspects of Sports Performance, is likely a better option for many coaches who stay abreast of the science, but for new coaches or less-researched coaches, Strength and Power in Sport is awesome.
La Pliometría – Gilles Cometti
Interested in French Contrast? If you want to know more about jump training beyond high-powered plyometrics, you are going to have to know a little Spanish. Cometti is the brainchild behind much of the Werner Gunthor training that most coaches have already seen on video, but this is the direct information. The issue is that the plyometric information is great, but it’s not for everyone to copy and paste into their training program. Also, while Cometti has isometric protocols and EMS suggestions, you should look at the entire process he has for development, not just his example exercise series.
I really like much of the book for phases of deep training, but it’s not a book for developing a youth athlete. Many coaches love seeing advanced training, including me, but the temptation to introduce something too soon is a problem I see. Sloppy mechanics paired together back to back isn’t French Contrast, it’s American “junk food.” Regardless, the illustrations and information are worth buying the book and studying it in detail, and Cometti will challenge your beliefs. Again, some of the training is intense and you need to be careful as PJ Vazel warned long ago, but it’s definitely something you should at least read.
Advanced Strength and Conditioning: An Evidence-based Approach – Anthony Turner and Paul Comfort (Editors)
This is another one of those resource books that keep you honest as a coach. It’s easy to get lost in the sports science and drift to some methods that are more style than substance. The editors did a great job assembling scientists who knew the physiology and biomechanics, and could shape them into something useful for coaches. From time to time, I read science books and can smell the lack of real-world application, as they are written by ivory tower experts, but most publications from sport scientists are useful to coaches because they know what the disconnect is.
I am a huge fan of this collection of great thought leaders, and the text is an international representation as well. If you are a coach who wants to keep your training effective and don’t care if it’s dry and without any fluff, buy this and read it immediately. Overall, I believe this book is a classic example of something all strength coaches should start with when beginning their journey in strength and conditioning.
The Human Machine – George B. Bridgman
If you want something full of research and training exercises, skip to the next book. If you have done a cadaver review because you are visual and need to see anatomy come to life, then artist George Bridgman is your guide. I read this book every year because it’s short and to the point. Bridgman is also near-poetic in his descriptions, and turns stale anatomy drawings into concepts that make you a better mechanic.
While I have Anatomy of Movement and other works, I don’t feel they are useful to most coaches who need to visualize how the body moves instead of seeing still images with anatomical undertones. Since this title is older and costs just a few dollars at a used book store, I think it’s great airline reading. When I travel, I bring a book that is older and inexpensive, knowing there is a chance I will lose it while on the go. This is my favorite example of something you will love for that purpose, too.
Strength and Conditioning: Biological Principles and Practical Applications – Marco Cardinale, Robert Newton, and Kazunori Nosaka (Editors)
Marco Cardinale and his peers nailed this book. It is the perfect complement to Strength and Power in Sport, and goes hard into the core sciences of sports performance. The one part of the book that is the most ironic to me is the focus on “Cargo Cult Science” that warns us not to drive off the cliff of biology. If you want a book that has some of the best sport science as a guide, this is for you. If you want a how-to book and need help with exercise technique and writing workouts, this isn’t for you. If you want something that is an intermediate step from college classes to something more relevant in performance, this the bridge.
To me, it’s like taking a survey class after college to prepare for something deeper as a coach, and I recommend this to those looking to stay sharp with strength and conditioning science. The book is also well-written, and the language is technical enough to enrich you but not so bogged down that it is slow and boring. Again, this is the perfect sport science book, not a text that will help you teach a clean or prescribe better sets and reps perfectly.
Principles of Sports Training – Dietrich Harre
I was going to put Frank Dick’s work here, as his Sports Training Principles is also a great read, but due to the backlash on biomotor abilities from Mladen Jovanovic, I felt it was going to be more pain than it was worth. Like the force-velocity concept that has limitations, some of the principles of training are not perfect models but they are strong enough to read. If you want another foundational book, Dietrich Harre is one of those authors you need to know. The book is older than most coaches, but it’s also timeless because it is a book of principles.
I am a big fan of the German training systems and know my Russian texts as well, but many of the foreign books are popular just because they are foreign. Bondarchuk and Issurin are great resources, but if I had to pick an appropriate option for all coaches, including team sports, I would go with Harre. This text is simply just a great resource, not because the author has a mysterious name. I came to this text after learning about it from Gary Winckler, a coach who I admire and respect, and I am very grateful he suggested this work to me because it served me well over the years.
Baxter’s The Foot and Ankle in Sport, 2nd Edition – David A. Porter M.D., Ph.D., Lew C. Schon, M.D., and John V. Marymont, M.D.
This is a curveball, I know, but we need to educate coaches on the foot more. Yes, you could consider this a sports medicine book, but strength and conditioning coaches are the front line for keeping an athlete from going down with an injury. This book is an overview of the foot and ankle, and should be read by anyone in the sports field. What happens below the shin needs to be well understood because the first thing that hits the ground is the foot.Read this book and take copious notes, as the foot is the missing link in many coaching careers, says @spikesonly. Click To Tweet
I have the book Complex Injuries to the Foot and Ankle and that is simply a collection of research articles; this is more explanatory. This book is a real investment, of both price and time, but it’s worth it if you want to feel empowered for when a foot injury occurs. I have seen strength coaches shy away from the foot too many times, as it’s the most complicated of joint systems in the body. Reading this will build confidence in the knowledge that it’s not a scary mess of bones, muscles, and connective tissue. Read this book and take copious notes, as the foot is the missing link in many coaching careers and I know this has helped me.
Children Moving: Approach to Teaching Physical Education – George M. Graham, Shirley Ann Holt/Hale, Melissa A. Parker
Long-term athletic development, or LTAD, is now littered with bad information and bogus pseudoscience that has ruined current pedagogy. Some great texts exist, but if I had to pick just one, this classic physical education book is the perfect book for future athletes. It’s better to focus on games and movement competency by the experts than to try to miniaturize sports performance into LTAD concepts.
Year after year, I warn private facilities that if they don’t model after Jeremy Frisch at Achieve, they will likely get frustrated in the long run by athletes that can’t move well. Sure, a lot of agility experts exist, but start with youth movement rather than sport-specific change of direction. The most important chart in my office is the coordination chart that breaks down movement into the most elegant blueprint to success I have ever seen.
Neuromechanics of Human Movement, 5th Edition – Roger M. Enoka
I update my personal library with each new edition of this text, and always give the earlier version to a young coach who may be a little tight financially. Roger Enoka’s work is not an easy read, but if you can pass through it a few times, it’s worth the investment. I am still absorbing the information from 20 years ago, as the nervous system and movement aren’t things that you learn overnight. It’s a lifelong journey.
My suggestion is that you read the book cover to cover and suffer a bit, and then, on the second read, skip around topics to focus on areas that interest you. After reading it twice, read it annually during the beginning of the season to make sure you are on the right track. The book is perhaps the most demanding of all those suggested, but it’s my bible for movement science because it really dives into the science creating the changes I am looking for. I love that the publisher updates the text, as it’s hard to keep science current with new discoveries and changes.
Tapering and Peaking for Optimal Performance – Iñigo Mujika
I should have included more conditioning books, and if I did it again, I would take out one of the strength texts and replace it with something more endurance-based. Most conditioning books, though, are simply not applicable to strength coaches because they are continuous endurance works; something that is great for marathoners but not for soccer players or similar. You can make a case that this book is not a good candidate for strength and conditioning libraries and you would be correct, but it’s worth a read just for the fact that peaking is not something that is cut and dry.Coaches focus too much on building an athlete and forget the athlete detrains when the season ends, says @spikesonly. Click To Tweet
My favorite part of Mujika’s research is actually not on tapering or peaking, but detraining. Sports coaches are too focused on building an athlete and they forget that after the season is over, the athlete detrains, and we need to understand the process more. His work on detraining is something I wanted desperately for the BSMPG years ago, as many team sports detrain the wrong qualities during the season. I wish the content was more speed- and power-oriented, but the structure of general tapering is useful for everyone to understand for both macrocycle planning and organizing a weekly microcycle.
Reload Your Library
The list contains books I think need more of a voice, as I see way too much hyper-specialization in areas that will not get a bunch of college or high school kids better. I am all for statistics books or other guides on managing data, but if you are not producing good data to begin with, start with the core reading. If you have the books above, it’s likely I have preached to the choir, and that’s not a bad thing. However, if you see a lot of texts you don’t recognize, it’s likely you took a path too far from the soul of strength and conditioning, and these will help you find your way back.