Craig Pickering’s top reads of 2023

2023 was exhausting! Already a dad to a toddler (who went through a stage of waking up overnight and refusing to go back to sleep), my wife and I added a second child to our brood back in October. Suffice to say, I haven’t had the time or energy to read as much this year as previous years, but I still managed to sink my teeth into some books that have had a big impact on me. Here are my best picks from this year:

» Related Content: Craig Pickering shares his top books each year. Read his recommendations from 2022 and 2021 for more ideas on what book to pick up next.

  • 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do by Amy Morin – In today’s world, it’s easy to be offended, annoyed, or frustrated – and this book is a great antidote to that. Whilst mentally strong might not be the most acceptable term (both from an academic and practical standpoint), I’m sure we all have an understanding of what it is and what it looks like. In sport, we as coaches and support staff often want to make things as easy for our athletes as possible – something we’re potentially also guilty of as parents as well. This is despite the research highlighting that difficult periods—adversity—allow athletes and people to develop the tools and skills required to set themselves up for success. A reminder of this through Morin’s book can be very timely. Parents can pair this with 13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don’t Do.
  • Performance Psychology: Theory and Practice and The Psychology of Performance by Stewart Cotterill –Both of these books, as the titles suggest, deal with the same topic – performance psychology. The Psychology of Performance is a shorter read comprised of 5 key chapters (becoming an expert; confidence; decision making; factors affecting psychological performance, and practice), whilst Performance Psychology is more of a traditional textbook with 14 chapters. Both, however, are incredibly readable, offering a good introduction to the key concepts, with sufficient depth to further broaden your knowledge. The more time I spend in elite sport, the more I realize the key role psychology plays—especially on game
    day—making these books a key read for coaches and support staff. Interested readers can also explore Performance Psychology – A Practitioners Guide by Collins, Button, and Richards. This is more in line with a traditional textbook, but contains some excellent chapters, especially around planning and creating effective performance teams.
  • You Could Do Something Amazing with Your Life [You Are Raoul Moat] by Andrew Hankinson – Back in 2010, Raoul Moat murdered one and injured two with a shotgun, before going on the run. The result was a week-long manhunt, which eventually centered around the village of Rothbury. There, Moat was eventually involved in an armed standoff with police, before turning his gun on himself. This book is the story of Moat’s life, in particular the events leading up to, and during, the manhunt itself. It’s told in the second person, an unusual writing style which really makes this book standout. This is probably the only book I read this year that I couldn’t put down.
  • How We Learn to Move by Rob Gray – Skill acquisition is an emerging discipline in sports science. I’d consider myself to still be relatively young, and skill acquisition principles weren’t taught in my sprots science undergraduate course, meaning that there likely is still a gap between the current theories in this discipline, and the knowledge and practices of coaches in the field. This book does a great job of explaining how athletes acquire skills, and highlights some of the key concepts, terms, and principles that coaches will hear – making it a highly valuable primer for those interested in the topic.

Honorable mentions:

  • The Good Enough Parents from The School of Life – There is quite a lot of pressure on parents to be perfect, without actually exploring what might be best for the children. This book does a good job at exploring what is required to develop children into functional adults, making it a good read for all parents.
  • A Very Expensive Poison by Luke Harding – Telling the story of the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, who was poisoned by the Russian security services in London, this book reads like an old-school spy thriller, making it very enjoyable.
  • The Biomechanics of Sprinting: Force 2 – Exploring sprinting from the perspective of physics, and in particular force generation, this book is a good adjunct to many of the biomechanics texts that coaches have used for years when developing elite sprint athletes.
  • When the Dust Settles: Searching For Hope After Disaster by Lucy Easthope – Easthope is an emergency planning and disaster recovery expert, and this book is the story of her life told via the disasters she has worked on. Despite the morbid topic, it’s actually very enjoyable, giving some useful insight into how to plan for such events, and what happens when the planning goes wrong.
  • Operation Thunderbolt by Saul David – Back in 1976, terrorists hijacked an Air France flight, eventually diverting to Entebbe in Uganda. Once in Uganda, the majority of non-Israeli hostages were released. This book tells the story of the Israeli mission to rescue the remaining hostages, the likes of which hadn’t been seen before. The story is full of examples of cool thinking under pressure, especially when things do wrong, and it’s a highly entertaining read.