I’ve got a bookshelf in my office that is far too small and looks like the used version of the leadership section at Barns and Noble. I love a good book, and while some might say the books on my shelf aren’t pleasure reads, I disagree. I love reading about different leadership styles and coaches – hearing how the great ones do it, understanding their why and challenging myself to think about what I can do to improve as my coaching journey continues. Below are five of my favorites – in no particular order but all close to my heart. I hope you enjoy them just as much as I do!
I know, on the surface squash and lacrosse could not be more different – the individual nature of squash is a far cry from our 12 woman team pursuit. Yet this inside look at the Trinity College Men’s Squash Team and the way coach Paul Assaiante, the winningest coach in college sports (17 national championships, 438 wins and just 16 losses!!), pushes his team towards greatness, it is easy to see the similarities. As coaches of collegiate student athletes, on the court or on the field, we are all striving for the same things. To provide a positive, meaningful and challenging environment that fosters growth as people, athletes and students, all the while competing for (hopefully) a few W’s. Paul is open and honest about his own personal growth through the years and discusses what he has learned about leadership, life, and motivation. The book profiles his 2009 National Championship team and weaves in stories that paint a picture not of perfection like one might expect from his coaching accolades but rather that of a truly caring, thoughtful, and inspirational leader who has used his own challenges to create a team culture we can all aspire to build.
I’m not going to say I have a favorite on this list – but if I did, this book would be pretty tough to beat. An easy to read collection of small stories and anecdotes paints a picture of the key elements that go into creating highly successful cultures. From a story about a waitress starting a new job, Greg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs, and the Navy SEALS who captured Bin Laden, this book has something for everyone and will hopefully make you think about the WHY behind what you do and how you do it. Successful Culture – that mysterious, sometimes elusive, constantly sought after descriptor of our programs – it’s easy to get caught up in mimicry in this pursuit of successful culture. “I heard team X does this, and they won the conference championship last season, so that means I should do that,” or “Coach Y has won three national championships and does this with her team, so I should be doing that.” What Culture Code does is debunk the myth that there are one or two specific things you should be doing or some magic way to create culture. Instead Dan Coyle lays out a roadmap, a way to view your WHY and a way to make adjustments and changes that work for your team and help you drive your culture towards success. I’ve already read this book twice, shared chapters and small stories with my team and individual players and recommended it to just about every coach I know. It’s as good as it gets and a classic that I know I will go back to time and again.
This is another book about culture, relationship building, and leading in an authentic and accessible way. Coaching with Heart is a different look at the skills and techniques we can employ as coaches to create positive, meaningful, and connected relationships with our players as we help them creates those relationships with each other. This book is a little more theoretical than the hands-on examples in Culture Code but if you need any convincing it’s worth the read, the fact that the techniques of our very own Hall of Famers Missy Foote and Cindy Timchal are mentioned on more than one occasion should do the trick. This is another book I know I will go back to and take something different from every time – and if anyone from the IWLCA Annual Meeting Planning Committee is reading this, can we get Jerry to keynote our next convention?!
If you’ve read The Energy Bus I don’t need to tell you that Jon Gordon has the ability to share a powerful message through a simple and accessible story. The story of George Boiardi, the hard hat, and the Cornell Men’s Lacrosse team is anything but simple – but as a lacrosse coach and as someone who has been fortunate enough to know the Boiardi family – this is as accessible as it gets. It shares the story of George, his journey at Cornell and the impact he had on all those who came into his life. It paints a picture of what being a truly great teammate looks like and illustrates just how impactful doing the little things well can be. We are coaches but we are also teammates. The Hard Hat is a powerful reminder of what goes into being a great teammate. This is an inspiring look at the tragically short but amazingly powerful and positively impactful life of George Boiardi.
Sometimes in life our inspiration is obvious and tangible – other times it takes some time to connect the dots and pinpoint those moments of awakening and inspiration. For me, this little book of stories about the amazing Diane Geppi-Aikens is one of those dots. When I graduated high school in 2004 my mom gave me this book, with a cute little note inside about following my dreams and setting off on a new adventure. I was on my way to Trinity College in Hartford, CT – at that point on the pre-med path with goals of playing lacrosse in college and becoming a doctor. A coaching career wasn’t even a thought. But Diane’s book came with me on move-in day, packed in my box of things that reminded me of home – and every spring it got packed up, stored in the basement with the rest of my stuff and every fall unpacked and placed on my bookshelf again. Usually I would read a few stories when I would pack it up but I didn’t pore over it and actively envision a career as a coach. Then senior year rolled around, the prospect of a life without lacrosse becoming more real by the day, and it was too much to bear. Coaching, I thought, would be a good way to ease away from the sport, find a coaching job that would help me pay for a master’s degree, spend a few years figuring out what I really wanted to do, and then ease my way into “the real world” and find “a real job” without lacrosse. Fast forward 11 years and I’m loving my life in the real world, full of lacrosse – taking pride in my ability to carry all my groceries out of the car in one trip (read the book and you’ll start too!) – and very thankful for the lessons Diane left behind with all her players and colleagues that have been re-told in this little book. I’m also very thankful for my mom, who obviously knows me better than myself!
PS. If you love reading but can’t imagine finding the time in season to start one of these books, get yourself an Audible subscription! I’m always using my commute to listen to something new and then I buy a hard copy and actually read the book. #coachinglifehack