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  • Writer's pictureJack Mullaney

10 Books I Enjoyed in 2020

By now, you've probably read all of the "Best Books of 2020" lists you can handle. That's okay. I promise mine will be different in at least two ways:

  1. These books did not all hit the shelves in 2020. Unlike the authors of most "Best" lists, no publishing house is mailing boxes of new titles to my front door in hopes that I'll provide some free advertising (For the record, they shouldn't be. Take a look at the number of viewers on this blog...). However, there's a benefit to that. I picked up some of these books because they have stood the test of time, continuing to be recommended long after they were published.

  2. I read for two reasons: to improve as a coach, or to learn about something that piques my interest. As you might guess, that basically excludes fiction, and a lot of others that make it on more conventional lists.

I've divided the list of 10 into two groups: books I enjoyed from the lens of a track coach, and books that I think anyone would enjoy. A quick note: between studying for the CSCS exam and starting grad school this year, I had fewer options to choose from, but all the time spent sheltering in place compensated for some of that.

Okay, let's get to the list.

Books I Enjoyed as a Track Coach (listed in no particular order):

Game Changer: Turn Your Passion for Health and Fitness into a Powerful Purpose and a Wildly Successful Career, by Dr. John Berardi

This book may be intended for health and fitness professionals, but it serves as a playbook for a coaching career as well. What I liked most about it is that Dr. Berardi is very clear. He brings structure to a career path, and challenges the reader to not only define their purpose, but implement systems that guarantee their actions will align with their strengths and values.

Gridiron Genius: A Master Class in Building Teams and Winning at the Highest Level, by Michael Lombardi

With experience working under NFL legends like Bill Walsh and Bill Belichick, Lombardi paints a picture of what it's like in some of the most successful organizations in football. From player acquisition to special teams strategy, it all comes down to one thing: preparation. While this book is centered on optimizing all aspects of a football team, there are numerous lessons that can be transferred to the track (or other sports, for that matter) as well.

Let Your Mind Run: A Memoir of Thinking My Way to Victory, by Deena Kastor and Michelle Hamilton

Despite the performance gains that super shoes have brought to road racing, Deena Kastor's American Record of 2:19:36 from the 2006 London Marathon still stands. What resonated so much about Deena's story was that, despite being the fastest American woman over 26.2 miles, her path to the top was anything but linear. Like so many athletes, Deena was physically gifted but often got in her own way. Her journey to develop a mindset that served - rather than worked against - her goals is an inspiration to all who run.

Peak: The New Science of Athletic Performance That Is Revolutionizing Sports, by Dr. Marc Bubbs

This was one of the most underlined books I read this year. Dr. Bubbs advocates for sport coaches to become "expert-generalists" in the profession. In other words, educate one's self on all aspects of the performance equation to create better connections between disciplines and understand the bigger picture. This book dives into the value of sleep, nutrition, immunity, athlete monitoring, recovery, and mindset. I found the chapters on blood sugar, endurance nutrition, and periodized recovery to be most fascinating.

The Science of Running: How to Find Your Limit and Train to Maximize Your Performance, by Steve Magness

This is a book to reread every year. What I love about Magness' style is that he has a good understanding of his reader, and works to make complex physiological concepts easy to comprehend. For example, he uses the scenario of a delivery truck dropping off supplies at a department store to explain the VO2max equation. In the later chapters, Magness describes how to think about individualizing and periodizing training. He provides examples, but what's great is that they simply serve to underscore the theory, rather than stand alone without explanation (as most training plans are).

Books Anyone Could Enjoy (i.e. the non-track coaching books):

Ego is the Enemy, by Ryan Holiday

Many are probably familiar this one, as it was written as something of a trilogy on Stoic philosophy along with The Obstacle is the Way and Ego is the Enemy. All three are very good. This book dives into ego, and how it can get in the way at any stage of a professional career. Using various examples from history, it serves as a reminder that the work - rather than who gets the credit - is what's most important. Holiday reminds us that remaining consistent in the highs and lows is what ultimately leads to sustained success.

Man's Search for Meaning, by Viktor E. Frankl

This one has been on my list for years, and after finally getting around to it, I'm disappointed I didn't read it sooner. Frankl's story is both sobering and incredible. Between 1942 and 1945, he survived four different concentration camps. This experience is recounted in the first half of the book in vivid detail. As a psychiatrist, Frankl spends the second half introducing his theory of logo-therapy, which holds that our primary drive in life is the "discovery and pursuit of what we personally find meaningful." Through this discovery and pursuit, Frankl was able to cope with the suffering he endured both during and after his time in the concentration camps.

Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don't Know, by Malcolm Gladwell

In the seemingly polarizing year that was, recommending this book feels both appropriate and risky. Simply put, it isn't for someone unwilling to open their mind. Gladwell takes a deeper look into how we develop an understanding about people we don't really know (i.e. strangers), and why in many cases, that understanding is flat out wrong. Each chapter focuses on a misunderstood person or event that made headlines in the last century, how they were perceived, and why that proved to be inaccurate. In my opinion, Gladwell is one of the closest to mastery when it comes to writing, and his knack for engaging the reader is on full display in this book.

Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism, by Anne Applebaum

I would read a lot more books in the political genre (okay, maybe not that many) if they all brought the transparency that Applebaum brings in Twilight of Democracy. She does three things that made it excellent from my point of view:

  1. She is open about all the experiences and relationships in her life that influence her bias.

  2. She writes about places where she has on-the-ground experience living and/or working as a journalist.

  3. In being transparent, she gives her point of view and lets the reader decide if they want to take it or leave it.

The book documents the shift towards authoritarianism across the globe while focusing on four countries: Poland (where Applebaum lives), Hungary, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Applebaum highlights the simplicity that authoritarian ideas offer, which she argues can make it appealing in an increasingly complex world. It's an engaging read, and one that offered a good perspective in the lead up to our presidential election.

Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man, by Emmanuel Acho

I've already reviewed this one in a previous post, so I won't say too much more here. This is an important read, especially for someone like me, who grew up in a mostly white suburban community.

 

And that's the list. If you've read (or choose to read) one of these books, I'd love to get your thoughts. If you have any suggestions, I'm always looking for those, too. Here's to more reading - and more learning - in 2021.


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