Craig Pickering’s top reads of 2019

Last year I read or listened to 59 books. This year, I managed 50. Here’s my list of the books I enjoyed the most, and recommend you at least consider checking out yourself.

» Related content: Vern Gambetta’s shares his top reads of 2019 in a recent article.

The top 3

The best book I read this year was The Little Black Book of Training Wisdom by Dan Cleather. The overall concept is that the most important principle that should underpin training is the ability to be consistent, and, as a result, any activity or behavior that reduces training consistency should be minimized. This is such a simple concept, but it is rarely done well – athletes tend to train too much, or with too high an intensity too regularly, which harms their recovery and hence training consistency. Having made this key point, Cleather then expands on how we can use this key strategic pillar to inform training program design. Typically, I don’t find books about training all that interesting, but this one was excellent. Having thoroughly enjoyed Cleather’s first book, I picked up an early release version of his next, Subvert. This book is primarily aimed at those with an interest in academic science, and making reforms in that area. If you’re a university student, or have an interest in academia, it’s well worth a read.

The second best book I read this year was Superforecasting by Phil Tetlock and Dan Gardner. The book itself is a highly readable account of how people make predictions, and how we might be able to become better at it. Given that coaching is essentially prediction – “I think this training program will have this outcome” – being better at making, and evaluating, predications is clearly important within sporting contexts.

The third-best book I read in 2019 was The Talent Lab by Owen Slot. It’s an exceptionally deep exploration of how UK Sport built on their success at the 2008 Olympic Games to springboard onto further success at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics. It stimulates a lot of thoughts for someone involved in sporting systems delivery, but would also be a great read for anyone interested in improving performance.


  • Range, by the always brilliant David Epstein, was also a great read. While it starts off with an anecdote from the sporting world, unlike his last book, it ventures to cover a much broader topic. The key concept is that by maintaining an air of a generalist, we can better solve the problems that affect us as specialists. The chapter on grit—which explores whether grit is always a good thing—is worth reading the book for by itself.
  • Zonal Marking, authored by Michael Cox, builds on his excellent The Mixer, which I read in 2018. Zonal Marking deals with the evolution of football tactics in Europe over the past twenty or so years, and is highly engaging.
  • How to Build a Car, Adrian Newey’s autobiography, was also great – it provides insight into what goes on behind the scenes in successful Formula 1 teams, particularly when it comes to the design of the racing car itself.
  • The Barcelona Way by Damian Hughes uses Pep Guardiola’s time at Barcelona as the vehicle for exploring how culture develops, and is clearly applicable to organisations and teams, sporting or otherwise.
  • Talent Development: A Practitioner Guide was a surprisingly readable quasi-textbook exploring the development of talent development pathways in practice, and the common problems that are found in this area.

Statistics, data, and algorithms

  • Super Thinking is a surprisingly good introduction in mental models, and other concepts that should assist you in smart thinking. It contains a really good chapter on statistics for science, which is highly readable and will assist anyone interest in better evaluating the research papers they are reading.
  • Factfulness by the late Hans Rosling is a great read about how our perceived notions about something are often wrong, and how we misinterpret statistics, told through the lens of the world not being as bad as we think.
  • Hello World, by Hannah Fry, explores problems with the use of algorithms in the real world, and is a great introduction to the topic.
  • Weapons of Math Destruction, by Cathy O’Neil, is also a good primer on ethical and practical issues when using algorithms and machine learning.

Technology and society

At the start of the year, I got very interested in how technology is affecting us as humans, and my reading in this area reflected that.

More good reads

Other good books I read in 2019, but that aren’t linked to sport and performance, included

Next year, I’m hoping to check out some of the books that can be considered modern classics, including Thinking Fast & Slow, The Tipping Point, and perhaps Antifragile. And who knows, maybe I’ll finally get around to reading Supertraining.