5 Books Every Athlete, Coach, and Leader Should Read (2017 Edition)

If you influence just one single person, YOU, my friend, are a leader.  Like it or not, somewhere someone is looking up to you as role model. This is something we should all take a very seriously because having influence is having power and having power means we have the ability to create a positive change in the people around us. This change can be exponential if we are impacting the right people at the right times. The following books have helped me become a better leader, employer, coach, and role model. If you choose to pick up any of the following books please remember, to paraphrase a quote borrowed from Legacy, better people make better leaders. We must work on improving and elevating ourselves if we plan on elevating others.  There is no greater responsibility and privilege in the world than leading other people.. iron sharpens iron.


5) Training Camp – What the best do better than everyone else by Jon Gordon


Jon shares with us a fable about excellence, a story about an undersized undrafted rookie running back trying to make the NFL, Martin Jones.  With the help of Coach Ken’s PlayBook and eleven life changing lessons about becoming your best, Martin learns that becoming his best is less about making a team and more about a lifelong pursuit of excellence.




“Do not be concerned with what the moment produces; be concerned with what you produce in the moment.”


“You were made to become great in order to benefit the greater good, not yourself.”


“One person in the pursuit of excellence raises the standards of everyone around them.”


4) Legacy – What the All Blacks Can Teach Us About the Business of Life by James Kerr

This is an inspiring true story about how the New Zealand rugby team, The All Blacks, changed the culture of their team from the inside out.  The pages of this book radiate irrefutable wisdom by illustrating anecdotes of the All Blacks success, the people involved in their success, and their impressive reign on and off the field.  James Kerr uses the fifteen LESSONS IN LEADERSHIP used by coaches, managers, and players to propel them to the top, manage bumpy roads, and ultimately act as the team’s singular operating system. Their team mantra? “Better people make better all blacks.”  A summary of this book can be best explained by James Kerr himself: “A rugby team has fifteen players who work together towards a common purpose, to WIN. These principles work in the same way.  Each has a role, each has a responsibility, each a position on the field.”



“Success is modest improvement consistently done.” – Sean Fitzpatrick (captain 92-97)


“The more you have to play for …the better you play.” (emotional rewards trump material compensation)


“Instill in your team members a sense of great self-worth…that each member, at any given time, can be the most important on the battlefield.” – General David Patraeus


“The best leaders remain true to their deepest values.  They lead their own life and others follow.”


“It’s not the mountains ahead that will wear you out, it’s the pebble in your shoe.” – Muhammed Ali


3) The Hard Hat – 21 Ways to Be a Great Teammate by Jon Gordon

Based on the inspirational true story of George Boiardi, Jon Gordon illustrates 21 strategies we can all utilize to become a better leader, teammate, and coach. Playing for Cornell in 2004 the senior captain, #21 George Boiardi, tragically lost his life on the field blocking a shot in the chest. There’s no better story depicting unselfish leadership, loyalty, compassion, and teamwork than the life of George Boiardi.  I STRONGLY encourage all of my athletes to learn more about George’s life, the lasting impact he had on everyone around him, and how we can all be better teammates, leaders, and role models.




“Well done is better than well said.” – Ben Franklin (George’s mantra)


“If you want to be good, focus on making yourself better.  If you want to be great, focus on making yourself and your team better.”


“Great teammates don’t just impact you for today, they impact you for the rest of your life.”


2) Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday

I’m not going to lie here, the best summary of this book is said in the Editor’s own words:


“Many of us insist the main impediment to a full successful life is the outside world.  In fact, the most common enemy lies within: our ego.  Early in our careers, it impedes learning and the cultivation of talent.  With success, it can blind us to our faults and sow future problems.  In failure, it magnifies each blow and makes recovery more difficult.  At every stage, ego holds us back.


Ego is the Enemy draws on a vast array of stories and examples, from literature to philosophy to history.  We meet fascinating figures such as George Marshall, Jackie Robinson, Katharine Graham, Bill Belichik, and Eleanor Roosevelt, who all reached the highest levels of power and success by conquering their own egos.  Their strategies and tactics can be ours as well.

In an era that glorifies social media, reality TV, and other forms of shameless self-promotion, the battle against ego must be fought on many fronts.  Armed with the lessons in this book, as Holiday writes, “you will be less invested in the story you tell about your own specialness, and as a result, you will be liberated to accomplish the world-changing work you’ve set out to achieve. “


Many of us, myself included, get caught up in trivial crap that just doesn’t matter. Odds are many of the things we fret about are ephemeral, meaning whatever is making us angry, sad, depressed today or this week won’t even be a thought in our minds a year from now. 90% of the crap we get caught up in just doesn’t matter in the long term.  Personally, this book has taught me to shed unnecessary negativity… just remove the people and circumstances that bring negativity into my life.  We should be dedicating this time and energy to the things that truly matter in the long term: personal growth, professional development, and elevating the people around me.  This book helped me look inward, helped me question what really matters to me, and ultimately helped give me strategies to manage myself first so I could be better at managing others.




“[The New England Patriots] hold themselves to a standard that exceeds what society might consider to be objective success. Because of that, they don’t much care what other people think; they care whether they meet their own standards.  And these standards are much, much higher than everyone else’s.”


“Any fool can learn from experience.  The trick is to learn from other people’s experiences.”


“He who will do anything to avoid failure will almost certainly do something worthy of a failure.”


“As our island of knowledge grows, so does our shore of ignorance.” – John Wheeler (physicist)


“The only relationship between talking and doing is that one kills off the other.”


“Responsibility requires a readjustment then increased clarity on purpose.  First, setting top level priorities and goals of the organization and your life.  Then enforcing and observing them to produce results and only results.”


1) Tribes – We Need YOU to lead us by Seth Godin

Everyone needs to read this book. I don’t care if you are a coach or boss or parent, you need to read this book. Not only will you find Seth’s message insightful and interesting, but you may just surprise yourself and start thinking about leadership in a different way. Tribes are built around one another, one common idea, or one particular leader. A tribe begins when one individual is bothered by something, determines that IT needs to be improved, and embarks on making IT change.  Unlikely leaders will appear during this change to help challenge the status quo, build a culture around the cause, and commit to seeing the challenge become the change their community needs.  We all belong to many tribes (a family, a team, a community, a school, etc) and some tribes you may prioritize higher than others.  I am lucky enough to have my Compete Tribe; my extended family of colleagues, coaches, and athletes.  My tribe is why I get out of bed in the morning.  I hope everyone reading this post takes as much pride in their tribe as I do in mine.  And if you are already part of the Compete Tribe, thank you.  You are the reason why I love what I do.




“Real leaders don’t care [about receiving credit].  If it’s about your mission, about spreading the faith, about seeing something happen, not only do you not care about credit, you actually want other people to take credit…Credit isn’t the point. Change is.”


“The secret of leadership is simple: Do what you believe in.  Paint a picture of the future. Go there. People will follow.”


“If your organization requires success before commitment, it will never have either.  Part of leadership is the ability to stick with the dream for a long time.  Long enough that critics realize that you’re going to get there one way or another…so they follow.”


If you have read or get the chance to read any of these books in the future I would like to hear your thoughts and comments of what you liked, disliked, and learned. I didn’t stumble onto any of these books on my own, I was lucky enough to have been recommended these books at some point and found the time to read them. If there are any books out there that changed your life or you think would benefit me or my athletes please share. Always appreciate the consideration, thank you in advance. I’ll leave you with this gem from last year’s post,  The 4 Books Every Athlete, Coach, and Leader Should Read (2016 edition) from Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle is the Way.


“In the meantime, cling tooth and nail to the following rule: not to give in to adversity, not to trust prosperity, and always take full note of fortune’s habit of behaving just as she pleases.” – Seneca


To good health to you and your tribe in the New Year.



Joe Drain

[email protected]