Learning to lead through sports coaching
Top 5 books for football and cricket coaches

Top 5 books for football and cricket coaches

“What’s the best book you would recommend for a junior football coach?” is one of the most common questions I see on various football coaching chat forums and learning platforms. I’m going to expand the question a bit to include other sports – but here are my top five right now (I’m sure they’ll change in the future!).

1.    Making the Ball Roll by Ray Power

Making the Ball Roll: A Complete Guide to Youth Football for the Aspiring Soccer Coach is my stock answer to the question about what book a football coach who’s just starting out should read. To be honest, there are a lot of grassroots coaches who’ve been coaching for years who should read it.

Power expertly breaks down standard preconceptions about what a junior football coach should do – still all-too-popular with the mini-Mourinhos who focus on results above development and try to apply the adult game’s concepts to kids’ football – and instead delivers reams of practical advice about all aspects of making football a fun, positive and memorable experience for children.

2.    The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle 

Partly as a way of explaining why the ideas expressed in Making the Ball Roll are so important, I often recommend The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown 

Coyle’s argument, that deep practice and environment biologically change people’s brains and bodies to develop talent within them remains persuasive (and, as far as I can tell, scientifically valid).

It’s also one of several books I would recommend that suggest that basically if you can make practising something fun, and inspire kids to do as much of it as possible, then you won’t go far wrong as a coach. At anything.

3.    Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth

A football and some coaching space markers on the grass

Which brings us to Angela Duckworth’s Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. The kind of book that publishers call a “Tour de Force”.

Like Coyle, Duckworth makes a strong case for practice being the cornerstone of talent. The coach’s (or parent’s or teacher’s) role is to set that practice at the right level of challenge (not too hard; not too easy) and to inspire their players to stick at it.

She backs up her argument with comprehensive academic research, much of which is her own (unlike Coyle, who is a journalist rather than a professor). Like Coyle, however, she writes clearly and engagingly. 

4.    My Turn: The Autobiography by Johann Cruyff

If academic papers aren’t your thing but you don’t mind listening to the arguments of one of the most influential players and coaches the professional game has ever seen, then My Turn is the book for you.

Cruyff’s thoughts on youth development in football resonated most with me in this book. He strongly believes that junior football is about developing individuals, and that match results outside the senior first team are pretty much irrelevant. Like Coyle and Duckworth he advocates practice over instruction and innate talent, and technique and application over physical attributes like size and strength. And when you see what he achieved as a player, and what a football club Barcelona and its La Masia academy became after he’d remodelled them in his image, it’s hard to disagree with him.

Other parts of the book are entertaining as he reminisces about his career. Some bits seem self-indulgent – at times he appears to be merely settling old scores with people he’s had an argument with over the years. But as an insight into the philosophies of one of the game’s most influential figures, My Turn is a must-read.

5.    The European Game by Daniel Fieldsend

A Football on a beach

The European Game: The Secrets of European Football Success is My Turn, writ large. If you want to see how Cruyff’s ideas have permeated almost every corner of top-level European football then this book will show you. There is the French club that sees street football as the ultimate academy for the modern game; the Portuguese club academy whose ethos has produced the most enviable record of wingers in recent history, and of course the Ajax academy that, still following the dictums laid down by Johann Cruyff, regularly produces players who can perform at the highest level of the game.

You won’t find many practical tips for managing your local Under-8’s, but it will be useful insight and background info on how things are run at the most successful elite academies on the continent. You may have more in common than you think. 

Other recommended books for football and cricket coaches

Not quite making the shortlist for the time being: Bounce by Matthew Syed – hugely entertaining and insightful, but too similar to The Talent Code (which Syed quotes) and Grit to justify me including it in this list. 

Unlocking Potential: 7 Coaching Skills That Transform Individuals, Teams, and Organizations by Michael K Simpson nearly made the list. It’s a business coaching book, and a definite must-read for anyone who has to coach an employee for performance. It’s also worth reading by anyone who wants to read more widely around the subject of coaching. (And at time of writing, the Kindle version is free on Amazon – just follow the above link.)

Finally, Das Reboot: How German Football Reinvented Itself and Conquered the World by Raphael Honigstein is an entertaining and insightful look at how Germany looked again at its youth development systems on its way to becoming World Champions in 2014 – a process that inspired the English FA to do similar with its “England DNA”.

Follow the Amazon links to give any of the books a try – I hope you enjoy them and please do let me know what you think. 

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