Get creative with your team reading this season

written by Erica Quam

Coaches always ask me, "What books do you recommend I help me and my team?" 

The only thing we can truly count on in life is that our lives are constantly changing. Successful leaders read - in the background of everything else they're doing. A good book can shift perspective and expand minds.


As a coach, you're a leader. You're in charge of a team of people. You have the power to make such a crucial difference in the lives of your athletes. You model habits that change their lives!

If you're excited and inspired about what you're reading, you provide a spark of motivation to your athletes - by exposing them to a diverse body of knowledge and resources. Reading - for curiosity and life-long learning is a habit they can take into the rest of their lives too! 


Team reading helps your team build trust early on in the season. Your incoming freshman are looking for ways they can fit into your team culture. They can be instant contributors to the team conversation and bring in their fresh new perspective.


Some of the coaches I've worked with have done a great job using their team reading as a theme for the season. A book can anchor your team to a theme that you can revisit again and again throughout the year. Plan ahead how you can weave it into different parts of your season - and add it to your calendar!


You can't possibly teach your athletes all of the things you WANT to teach them. Even if you did, some of them won't actually hear it or have stopped listening (especially by the time summer rolls around...)! Having a variety of subjects for them to choose from takes pressure off of you.

Plus...letting them choose - and giving them choices gives them autonomy and lowers their levels of stress and anxiety. You'll get fewer eye-rolls if they have a say in what they read and probably be more willing to share a few of their favorite "nuggets" with the group.


Your athletes love their phones. Let them use their phones to get creative. Have them present the "theme" of their reading to the team - using videos, movie clips, songs, or even hashtags.

If nothing else, it will be entertaining and make it a lot more memorable - when they bring it to life.


Try breaking the book up into sections and using short segments to spark a team discussion. Do it as a large group or have people parter people up. Keep it simple. Ask your athletes, "What did you all think about this? How can this apply to you?" 

1. Your Brain At Work by David Rock

David Rock isn't a neuroscientist. He cares about this information he's writing about and he brings brain research to life - for actual people! He gives you actual ways of managing yourself and steps you need to take to be more productive and less overwhelmed. You (and your athletes) can take it, learn it, and actually implement it!

I can't believe how much I love this book. It's easy to understand and makes SO much sense. I think it's a great read for you - to build awareness about yourself. Plus...there are so many tangible things you can pull from this book to use with your team.

2. The Upside of Stress by Kelly McGonigal

Kelly asks people to acknowledge the reality of stress and begin to see how stress can help us tap into our strengths. 

I've read parts of this book to my yoga students and they've loved it. A big concept here based on current research: “we get stressed because” versus “we get stressed so that”. 

Kelly introduced new research to students at Stanford teaching them how to deal with test anxiety and social anxiety in a way that helps them thrive. "It was like the first time students would leave looking happy rather than demoralized because I had met the reality of their lives which is that stressful."

3. From Values to Action: The Four Principles of Value-Based Leadership by Harry Kraemer

If you like books on leadership, this is a clear and simple book to add to your collection. Kraemer proposes that "leadership has nothing to do with titles and work charts. It has everything to do with the ability to influence people." He argues that strong values are the key to real leadership: you have to relate to others before you can influence them and before you can relate to them, you have to know yourself first. 

If you plan on doing any activities on values with your team this season, don't miss the opportunity to tie that into leadership!

4. Playing Big by Tara Moehr

What I like about this book are the practical exercises you can adapt and use this with your team. Tara talks about the inner critic, the inner mentor, looking at fear, unhooking from criticism, hiding, leaping, and communicating with power. 

Break it up and cover a chapter each month - depending on what you see your athletes struggling with. Or better yet - ask them which chapter your team should talk about this month.

5. Learning Games: Leadership by Kim Smith and Leslie Shevlin

Now, I've got to admit, I don't my hands on this one yet...because it's hot off the press. AND it's on it's way! Leslie is the Head Men's and Women's Swimming Coach at Willamette College in Salem, OR and comes to my coaching summits each year. She contributed to this book and has used these activities first-hand with her team and with members of the student athlete advisory committee. 


1. Get the actual book.

I know. There are tons of ways to "read books" today. You can get an electronic version to read on your phone. You can listen to books being read to you. This may be a great thing to do when you're traveling or commuting. And if it's the only way you can do it, then great. 

There's something different about having your own copy of the actual, physical book...different in terms of how your brain receives the information and remembers it.

2. Read with a highlighter.

Highlight the parts that you'd want to come back to and re-read again. Take notes as you go - in the actual book. Reading helps to stir up memories of the past or ideas for the future. You can connect with what you read experientially at times. The act of taking notes and writing things down - words, ideas, phrases to come back to - can help you remember what you read.

3. Take notes on a notecard as you go.

It's valuable to have a process for how you read. It's so easy to get distracted and pulled away when you're reading. Give your brain as many opportunities as possible to remember the actual content.

In short, these are a few of my recommendations to get and have on your shelves throughout the year to reference, ground, and inspire you and your team. 

Do you have another book you're going to use with your team this year? I'd LOVE to know what it is! Share it here so other coaches can benefit!