Tag Archives: Book Review

Win Forever™, Quietly

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The central thesis of the Carlo Ancelotti‘s book ‘Quiet Leadership’ is that effective leadership does not necessarily require stereotypical ‘loud’ skills.  In Ancelotti’s words,

“The kind of quiet I am talking about is a strength. There is power and authority in being calm and measured, in building trust and making decisions coolly, in using influence and persuasion and being professional in your approach.”

The book is a good read with many testimonials from the great players he has coached (Ronaldo, Ibrahimovic, Beckham, Maldini).  Interestingly, all the testimonials include some version of the statement ‘Of course his tactics and training were good, but what was most important was to his success was his personality.’  A major recurring theme of his book is that a coach must work within the range of his own personality.  A coach must be genuine.  If he is not, then the players will not follow him.pete carroll

The central thesis of Pete Carroll‘s book ‘Win Forever’ is win forever.  The introduction to the book is one of the most inspiring chapters of any coach’s book I have ever read.  He describes the moment of reaching a crossroad in his career.  Using the time to reflect on his personal philosophy and values, he realised that his coaching until that point had not been true to those philosophies and values.  By deliberately taking the time to develop a training system that was true to those values and philosophies he was then able to do a much better job in his next two coaching jobs and became the Pete Carroll we know today.

After reading the introduction, I was excited to read the rest of the book.  Jose Mourinho also talked of taking the time to create his personal ‘manifesto’ (although at the beginning of his career, perhaps explaining why he has had no crossroads), so I expected that the book would go through that process as he did it and provide some valuable new insights.  As is the way of the world, hopes prematurely raised they are inevitably crushed.  The rest of the book was an explanation of his coaching methods, with numerous mentions of how I too could tap into these methods through his company and website, not coincidently entitled ‘Win Forever™’.  If I followed the ‘Win Forever™’ formula, I too could win forever.  The methods themselves are interesting, moreso if you haven’t read any of the great coaches from previous generations (Lombardi, Walsh, Landry).  If you have read those coaches, all you need from this book you can read the introduction on amazon.com’s ‘Look Inside’.

So what is really the central thesis of ‘Win Forever’?  Carroll explains that his coaching career didn’t not reach its potential until he took the time to understand himself and create a process that was uniquely his.  Therein lies the fundamental disconnect in the book.  The main portion of the book then tells the reader (over and over again) that the way to success is to buy his methods.  The methods that work because they are uniquely fit in with his philosophies and values.

So Pete, should I develop a coaching process that is uniquely mine and fits with my personality?  Or should I buy the process that fits with your personality?  Carlo knows the answer.


Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.Cover v2

Coach’s Books And Great Coaches

One of my favourite things I am doing now is the Volleyball Coaching Wizards project, in which my partner John Forman and I interview great volleyball coaches with the view to share their insights with other coaches.  So far the project has been enormously fun and rewarding.  One of the highlights was a recently recorded (and soon to be released) interview with Swedish coaching legend, Anders Kristiansson.  At some point in the interview I suggested that he should write a book. He laughed and quoted his friend Julio Velasco, who apparently said…

“If a coach has written a book he is not a good coach.  A good coach is thinking only about his next practice.”

I of course laughed at appropriate moment, noted the irony out loud, and silently put my own book plans on hold.  I have written before the coach’s books should be taken with a pinch of salt anyway, but this got me thinking a little bit more.

As so often happens in these cases, shortly after the conversation I came across documentaries about two of the great current American coaches.  As it happens those two coaches, Gregg Popovich and Bill Belichick, are virtually unanimously considered to be the best coach in the NBA and NFL respectively.  Neither has written a book.  Neither has an identifiable slogan or method that they have trademarked and marketed.  For that reason, I think both documentaries are especially valuable, not least because they contain first person interviews.  I embed them here without further comment.

Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs

Note: The title says 1/6, but it automatically plays all six.

Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots

Note: The embedded video may not play, but the original on YouTube will.

Teamwork, Selfishness And Art

In team sport the greatest performances can only be achieved after all team members selflessly submit their egos in the service of the team and the team’s goals.  That is self evident.  Every coach knows that.  If you subscribe to twitter feeds like @Sports_Greats and @CoachMotto you will get hundreds of quotes from dozens of famous athletes and coaches on just that topic delivered directly to you many times per day.  It would take a rare insight or a selfish loser to suggest otherwise.

Andrea Pirlo is famous for being very good at playing football.  His teams are famous for winning, including the 2006 World Cup.  With a background like that one could (rightly) assume he has some experience on the topic of successful teams and very likely valid opinions on the topic.  He has written a book entitled ‘I Think Therefore I Play’.  With a title like that one could (rightly) assume that these very likely valid opinions may not necessarily be those one would expect.  For example, he tackles the ‘requirement’ of selflessness.

“I can’t abide the cliché ‘only the team’s success matters – I don’t care about my own’.  It’s the tiresome complaint of those who have no personal ambition, whether for want of class or lack of character.  For me, the team counts a huge amount but if I forgot about myself, I’d be doing my teammates a disservice.  Many individuals make a team, just as many dreams make a triumph.”

Overall the book is a great example of why more sporting books should be translated into other languages more often.  It would give insight into the way other cultures think about sport.  I learnt early in my time in Europe that while sport is universal, there are as many versions of sport as there are cultures.  The Anglo-Australian sporting mentality is quite different from the American version, and both are different from European versions.  Different cultures value sport differently and view it through completely different lenses.  Germans describe their handball league as ‘Die stärkste Liga der Welt’ (The strongest league in the world) while Italians describe their volleyball league as ‘il campionato più bello del mondo’ (the most beautiful league in the world).  Very different interpretations of the same idea.  In reading American sports you will understand sport in terms of science and philosophy.  But in reading Pirlo’s book, you read more about art and emotion.

With some behind the scenes stories about being a top level player and being in a team.  That part is the same everywhere.

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Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

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The Wooden Companion

John Wooden is by any measure a coaching icon. In the first instance, there is his record as a coach: ten NCAA championships in twelve seasons while coaching some of the greatest college basketball players ever.  Then there are the teachings that survived his career, highlighted by his Pyramid of Success and his definition of success.  His teaching methods were studied to determine how other coaches should coach (here and here).  He was famously revered by his players.  His position in the coaching world is unassailed.  And yet what really hit home to me how wide his reputation has spread was while travelling with an Italian coach in the US.  After going our separate ways in a shopping centre (when in Rome… as they say), we met up again and he breathlessly explained in his extremely broken English how he had found a whole shelf of books on and by John Wooden.  “You know about John Wooden?”, I asked.  “Of course!”, he replied with a look of confusion.

It was then with great anticipation that I read the first comprehensive biography of him (Wooden: A Coach’s Life) almost as soon as it came out.  I had three goals in reading the book. Obviously to read the story of his life, hopefully to pick up some new insights and also to get some balance about his life and coaching under the ‘companion books theory‘.  I succeeded in each of those three goals and learnt four important things about John Wooden and maybe great coaches in general.

Competitiveness – Wooden was really competitive.  He didn’t show it always to his team in the sense that he never spoke of winning, but he really wanted to win.  He was a inveterate trash talker with referees and opposing players and loved to beat his players at shooting contests and pool.  This was a same lesson as when reading the Phil Jackson biography (incidentally the only interesting thing in an otherwise non inspiring rehash of a dozen other books).  It should go without saying that successful coaches are more competitive than even every day coaches but it is not something that is often written about.  The coaches themselves never write about it in their own books because in the end, competitiveness is unpleasant and uncomfortable and often borders on the antisocial.  And nobody wants to write about that in their own books.

Compromise – Another thing you will never read in a coach’s book is how he compromised his principles.  Most coach’s books are idealised versions of that coach.  He writes a book to tell a version of himself that he wants others to think about, or to sell a product.  The coach’s own story is always about how success is the result of his strong (and at least by implication, unique and unbending) principles.  Wooden was no different in that regard.  All of his writings speak of his principles and tell stories such as the time he forced his star player to cut his hair and shave his beard.  But as in all real life coaching stories, success requires strong principles and many compromises.

Relationships – As I mentioned he was famously revered by his ex players.  But it turns out that almost without exception, while they were playing for him they respected him personally and his skills as a coach, but did not like him and had virtually no relationship with him outside of the training and playing environment.  The close relationships he had with his players all began long after he had finished coaching them.  That was certainly something of a revelation.

Preparation – One thing that I had heard before but definitely bears repeating is his study and preparation.  Each off season he made it a point to review all of his old practice plans and to study one specific area of the game.  To study the game he called and visited other coaches who were known to be experts in that area.  In one particular instance related in the book he filled over 30 notebooks during one off season.  He won the championship that season.  Apparently how you stay at the top is continually study and prepare.  Who knew.

If you are interested in coaches and coaching I would recommend Wooden: A Coach’s Life.  I would not recommend Phil Jackson: Lord of the Rings.

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Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

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Spike! Interactive Guide

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There is a famous American sports journalist named Bill Simmons.  He wrote a huge book about basketball named The Book of Basketball‘ (actually about the NBA) that became a best seller.  Because 90% of the book is about events and players that most readers have only ever heard of, an enterprising fan put up a webpage with youtube links to many of those events and players, an interactive guide, if you will.

There is a famous American volleyball coach (and administrator) named Doug Beal.  He wrote a book about volleyball named ‘Spike! (actually about the 1984 Olympic gold medal winning volleyball team) that hardly anyone bought and is now out of print.  Because I believe in preserving volleyball history and because more and more clips are starting to pop up on youtube (and because it took about 10 minutes to do) I have created an interactive guide for ‘Spike!’. 

Needless to say if you have any relevant clips that add to the narrative, I will be happy to add them. Continue reading

My Profession : The Game

Cover v2Vyacheslav Platonov is by any measure one the greatest coaches of all time.  In addition to his achievements on the court he also found the time to write several books.  These were mostly classical autobiographical works.  However, his final book was intended to be a coaching handbook. This book, entitled ‘My Profession: The Game’ has now been translated into English.  It is available at lulu.com in ebook format and also as a hardcover.  These are my thoughts on the book…   

They say that children are frontrunners. So it was only natural that as soon as I started to take interest in volleyball I would be attracted to the best, and at that time the very best team was indisputably the national team of the Soviet Union. Given that my father is Russian, and had personal contact with the coach, it was hardly surprising that when my classmates were writing the names of their favourite footballers or rock bands on their schoolbags, I had written on my Asics (not coincidently the same brand as that worn by the team) sports bag the names of Savin and Zaitsev, with their playing numbers in the script that was used on their shirts. None of my school friends had any clue what those names meant and truth be known, neither did I. After all, I was merely a frontrunner.

For whatever reasons, the achievements of that group, under the leadership of their coach Platonov, no longer seem to resonate as strongly as the victories of their predecessors and successors. The fact is that between 1977 and 1985, the Soviet Union national team won every major international event in which they participated. In that period they won one Olympic gold medal, two World Championships, two World Cups and five European Championships. No other team or coach, in any era, has approached that level of success. Not the Japanese under Matsudaira, the Americans under Beal / Dunphy, the Italians under Velasco / Bebeto, nor the Brazilians under Bernardinho. All were indisputably great, but none sustained the highest level of excellence for as long as Platonov’s Soviets. Continue reading

The Inner Game Of Tennis

Several (volleyball) lifetimes ago, I had a young player in my team.  Although he was only a year or two out of high school and had neither much extra playing experience nor any coaching experience at all, his old school coach asked him to come back to coach his old team.  Unable to say no, and yet concerned that he had no clue what he was putting himself in for, he decided to do some informal study.  For reasons that I don’t recall, and aren’t important anyway, he decided the best study he could do would be to read ‘The Inner Game Of Tennis’ by W. Timothy Gallwey.  Nearly everyone else I know would have looked for a coaching textbook, or even a book on volleyball, but this guy chose ‘The Inner Game Of Tennis’.  From reading those 122 pages through once, he based his entire coaching life.  I do not hesitate to say that he is the smartest coach I have ever worked with.  The reason I know he is smart is because he, unlike me, knew that becoming a coach was not a good life move, and the reason I think he became a smart coach is because he read that book.  Twenty years later, as a successful small business owner, he still refers back to the experience of reading it.

I personally read ‘The Inner Game Of Tennis’ many, many years ago and have long since forgotten… er, absorbed, most of its lessons.  The strongest lesson to me, is the importance of demonstrations and visual input, and conversely the negative impact of verbal instruction.  This is something we all know, but often only pay lip service to.  The easiest thing in the world for a coach to do is talk, but it is rarely the right thing for learning. For Gallwey, it was one of the central teaching concepts.  Beyond that, I only remember that I really enjoyed the book and took a lot out of it.  Sadly the details of what I took out of it are lost.  Luckily, with a bit of patience and luck you can find everything on the internet.  And today I found a You Tube clip with a short precis of the book and an old 1970’s TV report on Gallwey’s techniques.  Both are linked below.

I urge you to check out the book, and if you can’t at least watch the clips.  It will take less than 30 minutes from your day.  But if even that is too much, my notes from the book review are:

“To play at your best, you must live every second in the present. This is concentration.”

Winning is overcoming obstacles to reach a goal.  But the value in winning, is only as great as the value of the goal reached.

(When it came out, the book) put forward ideas that are now commonplace in coaching such as;

– Trusting people to come up with their own solutions.
– Asking questions instead of instructing.
– Visualising successful outcomes
– Appreciating the value of each moment

Relaxed concentration, not fearful self punishment more effectively leads you to true success.

Here is the short version of the book.

And an example of his principles in action