Updated: Short list of Soccer Books

I’ve updated my list of soccer books. There are many I am sure i am leaving off, but here are a few

Entertaining, informative, useful….

Inverting the Pyramid: Not your traditional beach read, but I read it on the beach three years ago over my Christmas break. It’s an excellent look at the tactical development throughout the history of the men’s game. Great coaches and players are discussed as well as the changes in formations over the years. You will learn a lot, but I also found it to be a page turner.  Jonathon Wilson knows his stuff and is a great writer. Highly recommend.

 Team Building: the road to success:  Written by Rinus Michaels, but dedicated to Vera Pauw (former Houston Dash Head Coach) and Bert Van Lingen for their help. The book includes Michaels’ journey as a coach through the different levels.  ‘Team building” is one of the three keys to creating a successful team. The other two are the talent you are working with and the match mentality.

Focused on Soccer: How to win the mental game Bill Beswick is always a sell out at the convention due to his depth of knowledge and entertaining style.

Here are his key to building a mentally strong players and a successful team.

Fever Pitch: Entertaining, as are all of Nick Hornby’s book.  This book captures the dedication of a true fan.

The Modern Soccer Coach   There’s a whole series of books with Curneen’s philosophy of the game and useful and practical games and tips. I believe this was his first. Many useful nuggets of information and games.

More recently Curneen has published Pressing and Coaching Your 4-3-3. Curneen emphasizes aligning your game philosophy to your tactics in the latter.  

The Last 9 Seconds   You want your team to score more goals?  All about goal scoring.  Jay Martin reviewed this book positively a few years back in the soccer journal.  (This and a little swimming book called Two Lengths of the Pool.)  That’s what drove me to buy it and I was not disappointed.

Very tangible information and practical. It also helped me think about how to train goalkeepers.

How Simple Can it Be?  I enjoyed this. Raymond Verheijen has a clear picture of how he thinks the game should be trained and played. He is not afraid to say what he thinks, which makes it entertaining on top of useful.

The Original Guide to Football Periodization This is a gem of a book. Although tactical periodization did not originate with Verhiejen he provides a clear, logical explanation and method of implementation.

The Barcelona Way How did Barcelona create such a winning program? You’ll uncover their philosophy, commitment to culture, a lot about Cruyff, Pep etc.

How to Watch Soccer More memoir than anything than structured explanation that the title implies. I enjoyed it.

The Future at their Feet

Best ball pump

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Responsible for Results

I have been working on a “leadership ladder” for a high school team. The ladder begins appropriately with “lead yourself,” but one of the rungs en route to the top is “responsible for results.” In order to talk about each rung I look for books, video and quotes to illustrate the point.

Anyway, at this rung there are several keys to success, one of which is dealing with pressure.

The Inner Game of Tennis remains one of the best books for athletes dealing with performance.

Steve Kerr, one of my favorite coaches, often references the books value for him as a player. No surprise then that I use video of him talking about making big shots in big moments. Not the superstar, but a very good player off the bench willing to take the big shot.

Winner Take All (Updated)

This past week The United Soccer Coaches annual convention was held in Chicago. By any measure the convention was a big success. We celebrated coaches, met to discuss and organize, and were able to take part in remarkable educational opportunities.

I was particularly impressed by the presenters, panelists, entrepreneurs, athletes, coaches and leaders who are working as advocates. There are some people making a real difference through sport. I realized I have to educate myself more. Not just about the problems, but about the solutions. About language. About what I don’t know that I don’t know.

So I bought Winner Take All by Anand Giridharadas. Looking forward to it.

Update: After having read about a third of the book am appreciating its view of the value and benefits of a good government. Reminds me of another book I recently read by Micheal Lewis (of Moneyball and The Undoing Project fame) called The Fifth Risk. If these things interest you I recommend it.

In addition, the book has me thinking quite a bit about the journey of Dorothy Day a Catholic lay person who shifted mid-life to found the Catholic Worker and live among and with the poor she served. Day’s autobiography The Long Loneliness is still one of my favorites.

I’ve added another read to my current list. I’m rereading Montaigne who retreated from society to figure out how to live a better life. Sometimes in the craziness of our current times I’m tempted to do the same. This is like a short respite.

Two books:

The Complete Essays

How to Live

I would welcome any other recommendations of books I should be reading or podcasts that are out there.  

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The Magic of Thinking Big

Harness the Power of Belief

I’m enjoying this book. I started it afraid it would be a version of “the secret” type thinking or magical thinking.  What I’m finding instead is a reminder to stay positive, hopeful and active in any pursuit of achievement.

The book reminds that negative beliefs are self fulfilling. This does not mean that positive beliefs are a fast track to where you want to go. Achievement requires positive and thoughtful actions. But there is an interplay between the voices in our heads and the choices we make.

The book recommends we create a plan for self development and growth. In order to put a positive voice to work you must prioritize action over all else. What you do matters. Nobody will put that action plan for development in place for you. This is on you.

The book suggests it is just such a program with 3 prongs:

  • What to do
  • How to do
  • Achieve results

Your “What to Do” begins with copying the attitude and success of others. Although the book is rife with examples, you have many examples all around you. People you know or public figures. Pay attention to the successful ones, the ones you admire, the ones who achieved what you wish to achieve

“How to Do” is detailed in each chapter. He suggests you read the entire book first. Then take a week with each chapter really considering the principles therein. Apply those principles every day of that week. Then in the evening review how well you did.  When you have completed this weekly step then re-read the entire book every month for a year.

This is what I intend to do. He says to establish a schedule for it. I’ll detail it here.

Finally, this book seems like a book my father would have read and used. I’ve written briefly about my father before. We made a little fun of him sometimes because he was a deeply practical man in the midst of a family full of artists and academics. I was the youngest and had not yet found my place, but I admired my father’s kindness, work ethic, stoicism and approach.

In other words, this will be a fun experiment.

January update: On the other hand, I then read this at the smart site Epsilon Theory and am reminded to keep my values and my skepticism always on hand.

If you don’t care about what it is that you actually did, a smart person can make a comfortable life in America by selling little more than confident answers to the earnest questions of corporate executives and really wealthy people.

Gridiron Genius

“It hasn’t happened yet.” Branch Rickey at 74 when asked to recount is most significant accomplishment

I picked up Gridiron Genius after listening to Michael Lombardi on a podcast. I wish I could remember which one–it was an investing podcast–so I could plug it here. I do remember that I immediately bought  the book Lombardi (no relation to Vince) had just released.

The book describes the lessons he learned from a lifetime in football front offices and specifically the lessons gleaned from three leaders, Bill Walsh, Bill Bellichick and Al Davis.  It also details the missteps by others and some of the approaches and strategies Lombardi took himself.

A few things stand out:

Pro Level

The pro game is different from the college game.  I know this seems obvious, but the reason I mention it–I think coaches should spend more time looking at the nuanced lessons from the coaches at their level.

For instance, preparing for a draft is very different from recruiting for your school.  At both levels you need to evaluate talent well. Particularly evaluate the ability to play at the level of your program, fit your style and culture and have the appropriate character to succeed. Character always matters.

Recruiting requires sales skill and persuasion. Drafting requires a strategic approach. You are unlikely to get the top 5 players available, but you may be able to get your top 5 picks.  You have tools like trades and time outs that you need to employ well. Some trades are more valuable in advance of the draft and others are more valuable on the day of the draft. Digging into those kinds of distinctions are the fun of a book like this and where the gold is found.

Lombardi’s book reveals many of these detailed decisions making it excellent reading for a pro coach.

Work Ethic/Pay Your Dues

On the other hand, the work ethic required to be great at any level is enormous. There are no short cuts–don’t discount this when you set your goals. He recounts how Walsh valued “working smart” but this was not a short cut, it was simply a different way to work hard.

Lombardi himself did legions of work preparing for drafts or learning about players when he had no promise of a job or a paycheck.

This paid off for him in the long run.

Standard of Performance

This phrase sums Bill Walsh up. His great book, perhaps the greatest coaching book at the pro level, Finding the Winning Edge, describes his standard of performance in detail.

Here you get a good, but much shorter look at Walsh’s  “Standard of Performance.”

His Standard of Performance wasn’t a way to define his genius; it was his genius. It was the compass that guided everything he oversaw–coaching, scouting, managing—allowing him to transform the 49ers from a laughingstock to a powerhouse in fewer than 1,000 days. By accomplishing that feat, Walsh essentially used football to prove the famous dictum of another management expert, Peter Drucker: “Culture can eat strategy for lunch.” That’s why, for people inside the NFL, people in the know, Walsh’s Standard of Performance is as much a part of his lasting impact as his West Coast offense. Maybe even more

I have often thought of Walsh and Drucker as similar and am happy to have someone who worked so closely with the former validate this.

This book is worth it for a coach at any level just for the insights about Walsh and leadership.

Leadership Requirements

 One of his duties during his front office career was to hire coaches. Lombardi details his process including a checklist for hiring a coach.  The checklist needs to be modified by sport and situation, but the example of process is excellent.

Like Walsh he thinks a coaches strength as a leader is more important that his knowledge of the game. I agree.

He spells out clearly the five qualities he values:

  • Command of the room
  • Command of the message
  • Command of self
  • Command of opportunity
  • Command of the process.

Build Your Team

Building a team is an inexact science. Collecting talent is not building a team.

You want to do your best to minimize the risk and improve your odds by creating a strong system for evaluating character as well as talent. 

A small but important point he makes about selecting talent–consider the level they are competing at. It’s a big leap to the NFL.


I highly recommend this book. It’s great for the pro level front office professional or coach, and good for any level coach or leader.

Happy Holidays

The Art of Learning

One of my favorite books over the past two years has been Josh Waitzkin’s The Art of Learning.  Last time I “read it” I actually listened to it while I drove from New York to the opposite side of West Virginia and back.

I found it very compelling, but did not have the opportunity to mark up the book, jot down notes and revisit parts that liked. So I’m reading it again, or for the first time with pen in hand.

It’s better than I remember it. There is something of note on literally every page.

Waitzkin is interesting because he became the best at two entirely different endeavors. He was a chess champion at a young age (9-17), the source of inspiration for the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer,” and a World Champion in Tai Chi Chuan Push Hands, a form of martial arts, later as an adult.

In the book he dissects the process of learning, which requires that he very thoughtfully think through the steps in his process of learning.

His first chess coach is a great example for youth coaches and his Tai Chi coach valuable for adults, but at the heart of this book are the insights of an elite performer who has taken great responsibility for his own journey and success.

Notes  (theme/topic/insight)

His first coach–Excellent Example for Youth Coaching

There are many individual and nuanced points Waitzkin makes about his first coach, but the bigger point that stands out is ability to find balance in his approach. He nurtured love of the game and discipline around principles.  Sometimes the training was serious and other times all about the fun of competition.

Losing didn’t bother him–he just took this as an opportunity to learn, whereas winning was thrilling.

His first teacher Bruce Pandolfini, a master level player himself–provided a critical environment that was more focused on love of the game and learning than on winning tournaments.

Began with building trust and learning about each other. Only then progressed to teaching the game.

Taught principles and let him learn them through playing. No memorization.

Found the balance between a disciplined approach to the game and the competitive street approach he found in the park. Difficult balance to find.

Acted as a guide more than as an authority

Had him explain thought process out loud after decisions. (Similar to Peak)

Was not an authoritarian, but also did not give false praise or patronize. Built confidence in this honest approach to the decisions.

After asking about thought process asked questions to guide him to a better decision.

Not afraid of silence

First year–no tournaments. “…learning and passion first, and competition a distant second.”

Played in central park against adults. Did not expect winning to be easy.

He put him into positions to learn how to finish a game and do well in the middle of the chaos. Most kids his age were memorizing opening moves and learning how to crush lesser players right out of the gate.

Waitzkin was learning to be at ease in the stressful times. “As the game went on, their confidence shrank and I became a predator. Noticing these tendencies, Bruce started calling me Tiger. He still calls me Tiger.”

Most importantly he created a safe environment for him to grow:

I was unhindered by internal conflict–a state of being that I have come to see as fundamental to the learning process. Bruce and the park guys had taught me how to express myself through chess, and so my love for the game grew every day.

Used visualization, studied classic games, continued to get more and more complex after JW’s return from his first defeat.

Finding your next coach

Outgrew his coach same year as Searching for Bobby Fisher came out (fame outside chess world)

New coach at 16, midst of growing fame, tried to change his style and approach, studying the masters–time of alienation from game.

Two coaching styles to choose from:

Yuri Razuvaev was like Yoda

  • training like a spiritual retreat, individualized to the person
  • “learn hard from soft”

Compares to mom with horses–“don’t break the horses spirit…make your intention the horse’s intention.”

Mark Dvoretsky–most important author for chess pros in the world(only at home with chess)

Developed and advocated a comprehensive training program same for all, break them down and fit into his program

–full-time coach was protege–started studying Karpov, asked wrong questions, lost trust in own intuition

–factor in leaving game, but not the only factor

“…the fields of learning and performance are an exploration of greyness–of in-between. There is a careful balance of pushing yourself relentlessly, but not so hard that you melt down. Muscles and minds need to stretch to grow, but if you stretch too thin, they will snap….The effects of moving away from my natural voice as a competitor were particularly devastating. But with the perspective of time, I understand that I was offered a rare opportunity to grow. much of what I believe in today has evolved from the brutal testing ground of my final years of chess.”  p89

William C Chen  –Tai Chi master

–understated teaching style, shared through osmosis

–spoke softly, moved deeply

–“gems were afterthoughts, hidden beneath the breath, and you could pick them up or not”

–very mortal, no fancy words, no spiritual claims (like Yuri Rzauvaev/Yoda)

–insight, but wisdom was very physical

–“he read the body like a great chess player read the board”

–“if I was ready I would learn”

–breathing should be natural state (before years of stress)

–calm healthy presence comes from breathing well–oxygenate the body

in Push Hands–allowed him to learn by doing, getting beaten by better students, small corrections, slowly molded him into shape


After his first significant loss the family left on a long-term fishing trip. Painful experience that quickly dissipated.  Parents created this environment.

The break and time spent on a boat and in nature allowed his unconscious mind to work. Gained creative new solutions to chess problems, but not directly.

With Tai Chi–integration. “Had been an athletic guy who practiced a sport of the mind…I felt trapped in a cerebral bubble like a tiger in a cage.”

Why leave chess?

Chess champion suddenly found the game “alien and disquieting” due to his new celebrity as the subject of the famous “Searching for Bobby Fischer.” He no longer found the solace and depth in the game. He was 17 and isolated from the grandmasters of his game despite having won 8 national championships.

He found the book Tao Te Ching which extolled the wisdom of Buddhism and Taoism. He already loathed fame and the book helped in his path for inner tranquility.  He sought out Tai Chi and extended his focus from only chess and his brain to his body as well.

Intrinsic Motivation:


Developed deeper commitment that went beyond winning.  He dug in from losing and responded with hard work.

I arrived at a commitment to chess that was about more than fun and glory. It was about love and pain and passion and pushing myself to overcome. It might seem absurd, but I believe that year, from eight to nine, was the defining period of my life. I responded to heartbreak with hard work. I was self-motivated and moved by a powerful resolve

Motivated by love of game allowed him to handle pressure

Burning passion for the game allowed him to keep normalcy even as an 11 year old because he was playing for the right reason

At 19/20-traveled the world, introspective, inconsistent competitor,but dove deep into psychology of chess and life

–“I was no longer primarily refining the skill of playing chess, but was discovering myself through   chess.”

–Still famous at home and his focus had shifted–less of a competitor at chess

In order to be a great competitor need to return to freedom of a child, but must maintain “harmony with your unique disposition.”

Tai Chi– practiced for hours each night as he learned 60 basic moves  (Peak–deliberate training)

“It took full concentration to pick up each valuable lesson, so on many levels class was an exercise in awareness. While his method worked very well for me, it also weeded out students who were not committed to serious practice.”

Open to the timing of learning something new– “humility training”

Devoted to training –learned with “open pores’–no ego (others would try and explain themselves when corrected)

Mental Representations

(Mental representations is term from Anders Ericcson’s Peak my notes on Peak here)

Made good decisions without always knowing why. Intuitive and unconscious.  Saw multiple moves ahead.

“…sensed a logical thread to positions that seemed irrational”

“numbers to leave numbers” –deliberate training to build mental reps

  • critical position from a game,where intuitive had not been up to the game
  •  recalled his attacking positions
  • pick apart opponent’s defenses
  • integrating the evolving structural dynamics it had not quite understood before
  • “soaked in countless patterns of evolving sophistication”
  • thinking –unhindered, free, faster
  • 6 hours at a time, 30 hours a week, until–“all complications dissolved”
  • “I couldn’t explain this new knowledge with variations or words…”
  • “I am describing a process in which technical information is integrated into what feels like natural intelligence.’

“Techniques that are hidden within form started to come out of me spontaneously…partners would go flying away from me without my consciously doing much at all. This was trippy, but a natural part of systematic training.”

“In both fields players tend to get attached to fancy techniques and fail to recognize that subtle internalization and refinement is much more important than the quantity of what is learned.”



As a superior competitor he could dictate the battle– did not need to play a predictable safe memorized game. Comfortable in chaos

“One of the critical strengths of a superior competitor in any discipline…is the ability to dictate the tone of the battle.”

Endurance compared to peers–mental as well as physical

Losing hurt “losing is brutal”

Importance of regaining presence after making a serious error–avoid the downward spiral as a competitor– momentum is not by accident.

–Don’t let the first mistake get to you (avoid compounding errors)

–Don’t push with hollow overconfidence–

–“Distance between winning and losing is minute”–make your way back to the momentum you had

–De present to this moment where it can go either way–pause, breath, be aware or get up and go (“psychological flushing”)

“Growth comes at the point of resistance”–find challenging opponents

Entity vs Incremental Theory (Growth mindset) and Impact on Process vs Goals:

Addresses fixed (entity) versus growth (incremental) mindset

Need to find balance between these.  Don’t just make it process goals–need a focus on results as well.

“Too much sheltering from results can be stunting. The road to success is not easy or else everyone would be greatest at what they do–we need to be psychologically prepared to face the unavoidable challenges along our way, and when it comes down to it, the only way to learn is by getting in the water.”

Evokes Carol Dwecks recent addition to her work “false growth mindset'”

Page 45 walks through how to build this in a specific young athlete

“–beauty of the roses lies in their transience’

Enjoy win–note lesson learned–move on

Empathy for loss–dialogue for discovery–let young athlete become astute on his own

“A heartfelt, empathetically present, incrementally inspiring mom or dad or coach can liberate an ambitious child to take the world by the horns.”

As adults–put yourself out there, win or lose, take the lesson–try your hardest –“Growth comes at the point of resistance.”

Psychological Strength/Processes

Experienced flow playing chess during an earthquake in India–made him dive into performance psychology

Developed method for finding flow–First learn how to avoid being distracted by mini earthquakes of our lives

Methodology for triggering states of flow

1. Learn to flow with whatever comes –develop the “soft zone”

2.  Use whatever to our advantage

3.  Learn to be completely self sufficient

4. Create own mini earthquakes–mental process feeds inspiration

  • Contrast to “hard zone”–  need the world to cooperate with you, perfect circumstances, quiet
  • “soft zone” quietly, intensely focused, apparently relaxed, mental juices turning, resilient
  • don’t fight it, but work with it ‘become at peace with the noise’–started training with blaring music
  • become aware of tricks others use to distract (don’t become the victim
  • wasn’t until into martial arts career that really learned how to use his anger/moods that arose
  • most training is in everyday life

“My whole life I have worked on this issue. Mental resilience is arguably the most critical trait of a world-class performer, and it should be nurtured continuously….when uncomfortable, my instinct is not to avoid the discomfort, but to become at peace with it.” (p. 60)


Tao Te Ching

  • hermetic Chinese sage Laotse
  • inward focus, underlying essence
  • see false constructs around you
  • resonated with his views “numbers to leave numbers”
  • helped him resolve conflicts with fame and ambition

On the Road by Jack Keroac (freedom)

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig  (depth over breadth)

  Tai Chi vs Push hands

“Goal was not winning, but simply being” vs a martial art (idea to unbalance opponent), similar to chess “to defeat a 1,000 lbs with 4 oz”

Learning Process–Beginner’s Mind and Invest in Loss

“Investment in loss” –giving yourself to the learning process

Give up old habits

“…If a student of virtually any discipline could avoid ever repeating the same mistake twice–both technical and psychological–he or she would sky rocket to top of field.”–impossible, thematic errors occur (try to pick these out)

Early years of Tai Chi– “my mission to be wide open to every bit of information…learn from every error’

Clear interference — similar to The Inner Game of Tennis

Trained w/ those far more advanced–week after week, show up and get hammered “invest  in loss”

–stopped fearing the impact, could take it, opponents started to slow down in his mind, could read intentions, and get out of the way, found his weaknesses, and then started to win…eventually this partner quit working with him as he started to win (Dweck’s Mindset work, see above entity) Opponent could not “invest in loss”

Beginner’s mind–vulnerable time, make sure you allow time to internalize skills, learn

–How do you maintain this humility and safety when no longer a beginner?

–Notes that after the movie came out he could not allow himself to “invest in loss” in chess any more

“It is essential to have a liberating incremental approach that allows for times when you are not in a peak performance state. We must take responsibility for ourselves and not expect the rest of the world to understand what it takes to become the best that we can become. Great ones are willing to get burned time and again as they sharpen their swords in the fire.”–p 113

Dive into the detailed mystery of the micro in order to figure out the macro–obstacle is attention deficit culture, hurts us as learners

All about fundamentals, releasing tension and cultivating energetic awareness

–“at times i repeated segments of the form over and over, honing certain techniques while refining my body mechanics and deepening my sense of relaxation”

Small movements for hours– building ‘feeling” (takes back to mental representation) –similar to early stages of chess, developing principles that were in mental framework and could then be applied to much more complex situations

“Making smaller circles”–like “numbers to leave numbers”–“touch the essence of a technique,and then to incrementally condense the external manifestation of the technique while keeping true to the essence.” –gives good example on p120

Takes many weeks and months, maybe years! with just learning the right way to punch–built technique, power, and “body just knows”


Know something done well, versus knowing a lot.

—-Depth beats Breadth.–true in chess and push hands.

A Short list of soccer books

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