The Books I Read in April 2022

April was a good reading month. I read four great books, including a few that had been on my shelf for years. I re-read Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art and Turning Pro, two great books I read every year. I also read a book from Ryan Holiday’s February 2022 Reading List. Ryan sends out a monthly e-mail with the books he’s read. If you aren’t subscribed, I recommend signing up.

Anyways, here are the books I read in April.

The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson

Winston Churchill’s first day as prime minister of the United Kingdom was the day Hitler invaded Holland and Belgium. This book takes you through the next twelve months of Churchill’s tenure and how he led through this time in history. Given the situation around him, Churchill demonstrates true leadership. 

I read this book after Ryan Holiday recommended it in his February Reading List. It was a great read. Given the situation in Ukraine, this book takes you back to a similar situation over 80 years ago. Churchill’s first year as prime minister was chaotic, but his story is valuable.

Two good quotes: 

“On ne règne sur les âmes que par le calme,” meaning, “One leads by calm.”

“I never gave them courage. I was able to focus theirs.”

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

The War of Art is about winning the creative battle within. Your creative battle is uniquely yours. It could be writing, education, or setting personal goals. Pressfield argues that creative battles are won internally. He says producing good work isn’t about doing anything special. Instead, it’s about showing up every day. Your work takes care of itself when you sit down and do it.

Pressfield says we all have something inside that the world needs us to share. But it is up to us to share it. But something that makes it difficult is what he calls Resistance. Resistance is what keeps us from doing our work. It is procrastination, excuses, distraction, and anything else that tries to stop us from working.

Two good quotes: 

“We don’t tell ourselves, ‘I’m never going to write my symphony.” Instead, we say, ‘I’m going to write my symphony; I’m just going to start tomorrow.”

“Remember our rule of thumb: The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”

Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield

This book is the follow-up to The War of Art. Turning Pro is about deciding to be a professional in your life. We all have the choice to be the best version of ourselves. Pressfield refers to this process as changing from an amateur to a professional. And he says that this process is under our control. To turn pro, we must change our minds. 

Similar to The War of Art, Turning Pro is about our true calling. Many of us run from what we know we should do. This book explains the steps to take to move towards what we’re here for. This is a great book for all leaders, parents, coaches, and anyone with an urge to create.

Two good quotes:

“The sure sign of an amateur is he has a million plans and they all start tomorrow.”

“The professional does not wait for inspiration; he acts in anticipation of it.”

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

Natalie’s book has been on my shelf for several years. I’m glad I finally read it. In it, Natalie discusses the path to freeing the writer within yourself. She describes what she calls writing practice. She combines principles from zen meditation into a writing practice that is unique and beneficial.

Once again, this is a book about the process. Writing is an underrated means to improve ourselves. Writing helps us think better and articulate our thoughts more clearly. We can all benefit from improving our writing. This book, through a series of essays, shows us how to do that.

Two good quotes:

“We must continue to open and trust our own voice and process. Ultimately, if the process is good, the end will be good. You will get good writing.”

“Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open.”

To Win Consistently

It’s hard to win. In anything, winning is a combination of preparation, strategy, and luck. With the many factors involved, consistent winning is nearly impossible. Can you think of teams or people that win a lot? How many can you name? There are some, but not many.

So why is consistent winning so rare? What’s the difference between winning sometimes and winning all the time? Think of legendary winners. Coaches like Nick Saban at Alabama or Pat Summitt at Tennessee. Teams like the All Blacks or UCONN women’s basketball. They’re winners. And they win all the time. But how?

It’s not about what they do, but how they do it. Consistent winners never focus on winning. They understand that winning doesn’t define success. For the consistent winner, the scoreboard is a distraction. Results distract them from what must be done today. Successful teams and coaches don’t focus on winning games or championships—they focus on what they control. Presence and focus define them. A great effort in the current drill, a perfectly executed repetition, and a competitive attitude are the focus, not winning games. They focus on winning days, not games or championships.

To win days, focus on the process. All the small things—like your attitude and effort—everyone else is too busy for matter. Well, they matter to winners. Good teams focus on the process, not results. Trophies, records, championships. They’re all distractions. Those distractions are what most people focus on. And that’s why they fail.

The pictures and trophies are irrelevant to winners. But this is where you’re told to focus. None of the results and accolades matter. All that matters is your effort, attitude, and attention to detail. And not just in the stuff you like doing—they matter in everything. Being on time matters. Touching the line matters. Standing exactly where the coach tells you to is important. Those little things build upon each other. They either build towards success or away from it. If you can control everything you can and ignore the rest, you have a chance to be great.

If you want to be great, never focus on it. Focusing on being great guarantees you never will be. Trying to put a ring on your finger or wanting your name in the paper is a distraction. To be great, focus on what you control—the things right in front of you. Don’t think about winning or being recognized. Be great in the small things. They don’t seem to matter, but they do. And they lead to big results.

To inspire millions of people, start with one. Before you write a book, write one good paragraph you’re proud of. Winning the national championship or going undefeated sounds awesome. But before you can do that, you have to do the little things right. Give great effort, have a positive attitude, and pay attention to details in practice today.  If you can do that, you have a chance to be great.

Consistent winners focus on the small picture. They don’t dream too big. Great coaches don’t talk to their teams about championships. At least they shouldn’t. They’re too busy focusing on today’s practice. To win consistently, don’t think about winning. Start focusing on what you can control. Be the best you can be today.

Advice to All Coaches

Vern Gambetta is a strength and conditioning coach with over 54 years of experience. A few weeks ago, I came across a post of his I found valuable. After contacting Coach Gambetta, I am excited to expand on his advice.

I love Coach Gambetta’s perspective in this article, but I disagree with his title. This advice is not just for young coaches and people that need to hear it—it’s for everyone. These points should be required reading for coaches every year. This advice is something I wish I had when I started coaching. It is practical. It is important. And it needs repeating. Hopefully, you find something valuable you can use in your coaching. Coaching is an important role. And it is more important than ever to understand the importance and strive to be the best you can be.

The bold points below are from Coach Gambetta’s post. My thoughts and expansions are listed below each one.

Be prepared to pay your dues. You don’t enlist in the army as a general.

It takes time to become a good coach. You don’t become a head coach overnight, and you shouldn’t want to. Paying your dues means you study and learn through experience. This makes you a better coach. Remember: as coaches, we are leading people. This is an honor and great responsibility. We don’t want to lead unprepared. We pay our dues by watching, studying, and asking questions. 

Practice humility. No matter what your athletic or academic accomplishments are, you are going to have to prove yourself as a coach. Check your ego at the door.

Every prior accomplishment is thrown out the door when you start coaching. Nobody cares about prior success or recognition. All that matters is how you coach and treat the people in front of you. Be the best person you can be. Leave your ego at the door. 

Keep learning. Keep a notebook of your ideas and observations. Write in it as often as possible. It will be an invaluable reference as you progress through your career. I have filled Moleskine notebooks in my 49th year of coaching.

This is valuable and underrated. The best coaches are the best thinkers. We learn to think by slowing down and working thoughts out on paper. It’s no accident that Coach Gambetta recommends keeping a handwritten notebook. Writing by hand slows you down and makes you think. It forces you to confront what you know—and, more importantly, what you don’t. Take the time to slow down and write by hand. Everyone will be better because of it. You’ll learn what is going on, and you’ll have a place—your notebook—to reflect on your journey.

Listen and watch. You have two eyes, two ears, and one mouth for a reason.

“I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening,” Larry King famously said. Watch and listen more than you speak. You learn by watching, asking questions, and listening. Rarely do you learn by sharing your opinion. Talking means you think you know something. The best lessons are learned by paying attention and asking questions.

Dress professionally. That should not need explanation.

How can we expect others to be professional when we aren’t willing ourselves? The first step in being professional is dressing the part. Take pride in being professional.

Be fit. Look the part.

Coaches must train if they want to train others. A rule of good leadership is to never ask someone to do something you haven’t done yourself. In the weight room, we have the opportunity to do just that. If we don’t make training and nutrition a priority in our own lives, how can we expect someone else to?

Learn the culture of the sport(s) you are working with ASAP. Do your homework.

Spend your free time studying the sport. Learn the roster. Remember people’s names. Doing your research goes a long way. People notice. Immerse yourself in the culture of the sport and coach. Be able to speak their language. Remember: you are there to help—and serve—them.

Be the first to arrive and the last to learn. Earn your stripes.

The only way to learn is to spend time in the environment. If you’re only around to train people, you don’t have time to think and study. Coaching is about experiences and studying, and you can’t do one without the other. Good coaches have a process of coaching (experience) and researching  (studying) that makes them better. Good coaches feel like there is a lot to learn.

Never let anyone outwork you. Forget what you are being paid. Get the job done.

You won’t make much money in the beginning. And you probably won’t make much ever. But that’s not the point. Coaches have an important job to do. Be the hardest worker in the room. Not to say that money doesn’t matter—it does. But it shouldn’t be your only focus. If it is, you won’t last long.

Do the grunt work. In fact, volunteer for it.

Don’t wait around expecting to be told what to do. Nobody likes to hold hands. Take initiative. Clean the facility. Put things back where they belong. Keep your desk organized. Be the one doing the grunt work.

If you are working with athletes that don’t speak English, learn the language. It will open doors for you.

Great advice. Coaches are there for their athletes, not themselves. What better way to show you care than by learning their language? This will go a long way with the coaches and athletes you work for. People notice when you invest in them.

File the theoretical peer-reviewed stuff you learned in class. You are in the real world now. On the job, it is about producing results. Make the athletes better.

Nobody cares what you think you know. What works? What makes people better? Most of the stuff you learned in school is worthless. But the process of learning is valuable. If you stop learning, you stop growing. Coaches are lifelong learners. Don’t assume you know anything. 

Maintain professional distance from your athletes. You are not their friend; you are their coach.

This is more of a problem today than ever. Coaches are not there to be people’s friends—they’re there to coach. That’s a relationship built on trust and respect. Athletes must know you care about them. But that doesn’t mean you’re their friend. Athletes have plenty of friends. Be a professional. Be the coach people need.

Rome wasn’t built in a day. Learn patience. It takes time.

The weight room is the ultimate test of patience. Results take time. Being a good coach takes years and decades. Changing your body takes time. Nothing good happens without time and effort. Don’t expect to be a good coach in a few years. Strive to be better each day and know your job will never be mastered. And then you might be able to look back and have done a good job.

Coaching is a profession. Never lose sight of that.

Since coaching is a profession, coaches must be professionals. Professionals take their work seriously. They show up every day with a good attitude and get their jobs done. Professionals don’t complain, make excuses, or take days off—they do the work. Treat your job seriously because it is. Coaching is important, and you never know who is watching your example.

The head coach is the boss. Be loyal and respectful.

Whether you like it or not, the head coach is the boss. They’re ultimately responsible for the success of the team. Your relationship with the coach is as good as you make it. A good relationship leads to trust which leads to better outcomes on with you in the weight room. Good outcomes in the weight room lead to (hopefully) better athletes. Respect the head coach and build a good relationship.

Never forget that coaching is not about sets and reps or Xs and Os. It is about people.

Coaching is about people. It always has been and always will be. Knowing the science, sets and reps, and Xs and Os are important, but it is a pre-requisite to coaching. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you can’t coach. To be a good coach, you must build relationships. You have to care about people. What you know is important, but you first must show you care. If you care about people, you can help them.

If you want respect then show respect.

People won’t listen to you just because you want them to. There are plenty of smart, ineffective coaches. But nobody listens to them because they expect respect to be given. It doesn’t work like that. Respect—like anything worthwhile—is earned, not given. If you want respect, give respect.

When it is all said and done, be sure that you have had as many experiences as possible, not one experience many times.

As a coach, you’re responsible for the experiences you have. If something isn’t going well, change it. Nobody is coming to save you. Nobody is going to hand you knowledge or a new job. Keep a beginner’s mindset towards your work. If you don’t look back ten years from now and wonder what the heck you were thinking, something is wrong.

Looking for the Edge

A good way to feel like you’re missing out is to constantly look for new things to do. There is information everywhere waiting for you to come looking. You can’t escape all the new and exciting things. There are rabbit holes everywhere waiting for you to fall in. Not that going down all rabbit holes is bad, but too many is trouble. More information is not always better. More can be bad. In the wrong hands, more information is a distraction. And you don’t even know it. At least not yet.

New things have never been easier to find. Think about it. Phones shove information in your face at frightening speeds. Social media provides second-by-second updates of stuff you didn’t know you needed. Your friends tell you what they’re doing, making you feel like you need to do it too. More information means more confusion, leaving you less confident and more confused. Simple decisions are harder to make. And you are less effective.

Looking for more information or an “edge” over the competition is a bad place to start. It’s a heavy burden to carry–a constant pressure you apply to yourself. New information makes you feel like things should be better. For no reason other than you see different things. It makes you feel like what you’re doing isn’t good enough. Like things need to change. But you don’t know why. You see things done differently so you feel like you’re wrong. The more you look for new things, the more you feel the need to change. This is a dangerous cycle. Constant change never leads to consistent results.

I’m not saying that new information is bad or that you shouldn’t look for ways to learn. Lifelong learning is important. You should look for ways to be better. Good leaders learn something new every day. But be careful of the reason you’re looking for new information. Understand that new doesn’t mean better. What you’re doing now might be exactly right. And just because someone else is doing something doesn’t mean you should too. Or that it’s right. You learned that lesson in grade school. Follow it.

Look for ways to be better, but be careful. New information should be compared to what you already know. Before you change, think. Think about what you do well. Consider the new information. Does it improve what you do? Can you see a reason to change? If you do, change. If not, don’t. Never change to change. Change can be good. But change can be bad.

Copying others is a mistake. This happens all the time in sports. Coaches see successful teams so they want to do what they do. The practice plans. The drills they do. The plays they run. The words they say. Coaches do this so they can copy “successful” teams. They let results distract them. If a team wins, they are assumed to be successful. When winning teams do something, others try to copy. Or they are pressured to copy. Leaders ask, “This (winning) team does this, Why don’t you?” That question leads to disaster.

But copying someone never helps. If you copy, you don’t know one critical piece of information: the reason why. Someone who copies is imitating, not thinking. Anyone can copy. Few can think. Few can create. And even fewer understand what is happening. When things go wrong, you don’t want to be the coach or leader that copies. Copiers are caught flat-footed. Their teams are in big trouble because they don’t have a copied plan for their specific situation. It’s better to be the person creating plans and thinking things through. You’ll know the reason why. And you’ll be able to adjust if needed. As a result, your team will be better.

New information is good if it doesn’t distract you. Comparing yourself to others is the way to fall behind. When you focus on beating the competition, they will beat you. Competitors want you to focus on them. It’s the best distraction. Instead of focusing on what you need to do each day–like your competition does–you try to beat others. The better team focuses on what they control–their actions and attitudes. Winners focus on the process of getting better. Losers focus on what others are doing. Focusing on the process leads to victory over those distracted by the prize.

See You (Hopefully) Never, Social Media

2022 feels like a good year to eliminate things. Instead of setting goals to accomplish or trying to get more, I want to get rid of things from my life. This will help me focus on things that matter, like my family, reading, and being a better person. I don’t think there is a better place to start than eliminating social media. For everyone consumed by social media, it seems that few people talk about its consequences and ability to distract you. Social media does a great job stealing life. 2022 feels like a good year to get it back.

Social media slowly takes over your life, if you let it. One day you use it to connect with someone or check a game score, and the next thing you know you can’t go five minutes without scrolling Twitter. Or checking your Instagram feed. Or surfing Facebook pictures. That list can go on forever, but the point is that social media is a trap. A well-designed trap. It is a trap that slowly takes over your life. It has, at least, taken over parts of mine.

And that is the main reason I want social media gone. I’ve tried limiting my time on it and blocking it, but that hasn’t worked–all I do is bypass the time limits and scroll away. Maybe that strategy works for you, but it hasn’t for me. So my solution is to go all in and get rid of it. We’ll see what happens.

The more I’ve used social media, the more I feel used by it. The more time I have spent on social media, the more I realize that I am not the one spending my time; social media is stealing it from me. And I have yet to see any return on the time invested. It seems to me that social media is a bad investment. Like any good business person, a bad investment means one thing: eliminate it. It is time to cut my losses and get rid of a bad investment.

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