Great Books for Coaches – Updated February 2018

This section is dedicated to making you aware of books that I have found to be extremely valuable for coaches to read. I will be discussing and reviewing books that have had an impact on me and/or on other coaches.  While there will be an abundance of books by basketball coaches (since as a basketball coach I have been drawn to many of them), there will be books by all types of coaches, leaders, and authors on this list.

Check back often, as I plan on adding something new every couple of weeks.  I would encourage you to join the discussion and let me know what you think of the books that I discuss. I also encourage you to let me know of any books that you have found to be impactful to you in your coaching, teaching, leadership, or in any other way. There will also be the opportunity for you to purchase the books/videos from Amazon by clicking on the link/picture of it. 

*Full Disclosure* – I make a very small (4%-7%) commission if you buy from Amazon after clicking on the book, but you pay no more than if you went to the Amazon site yourself and ordered it.

List of Great Books for Coaches

Leading with the Heart – Mike Krzyzewski

Uncommon – Tony Dungy

Bleachers – John Grisham

The Leadership Challenge – Kouzes & Posner

Toughness – Jay Bilas

Start With Why – Simon Sinek

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success – Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D

High-Performance Habits – Brendon Burchard

The list of books is below, and then the descriptions and reviews of the books is below the list. I hope you enjoy finding out about some of the books that I have found to be extremely impactful in my coaching career.

Leading with the Heart:  Coach K’s Successful Strategies for Basketball, Business, and Life                       Mike Krzyzewski – Warner Books – 2000 – 291 pages

While the books that I will talk about on this page have had a huge impact on me, and many of the authors are coaches who I have admired through the years, Duke University’s basketball coach, Mike Krzyzewski, has been my favorite coach at the collegiate or professional level for over twenty-five years.  I read anything he writes, and I listen to/watch him any chance I get. While I have been most impacted by fellow coaches with whom I have worked, Coach K has had the largest influence on me when it comes to coaches that I don’t know personally. There are three books of his that I will be discussing on this page that have had a great impact on me. The first one is the best one –Leading with the Heart.

I have used Leading with the Heart in many ways with teams of mine through the years. It also helped provide me with a lot of information for discussions and essays for the classes I took while pursuing a Master’s degree in Organizational Leadership.  The book is set up in four sections – Pre-Season, Regular Season, Post-Season, and All-Season. Each section has chapters like “Building Your Team,” “Establishing Discipline,” “Training & Development,” “Handling a Crisis,” and the “Core of Character.”  He finishes each chapter with a short list called “Coach K’s Tips” summarizing what was covered in the chapter.  The book is also filled with nuggets of gold on leading people and running an organization.

Uncommon – Finding Your Path to Significance

Tony Dungy – Tyndale House – 2009 – 260 pages

Many people know that Tony Dungy is a Super Bowl champion coach. Most people also know that Tony Dungy is a man of great principle, character, and faith. This book demonstrates the kind of integrity and character with which Tony Dungy lives his life. His faith guides him on his life’s path. While his faith shines through this outstanding book, it does not overwhelm the book. What does play a major role in the book are the guiding principles that anyone who is in a leadership role can learn from and should look to institute and instill into their programs.  There is so much more to this book than sports, yet all of the lessons that Dungy invokes will help anyone within the athletic realm.

There are seven Parts to the book – “Develop Your Core,” “Love Your Family,” “Lift Your Friends and Others,” Your Full Potential,” Establish a Mission that Matters,” “Choose Influence Over Image,” & “Live Your Faith.” Each part has anywhere from 3-5 chapters to develop and explain the main lesson for that part. Dungy’s style is easy to read, and the lessons he teaches are immediately applicable for people in all walks of life. While this book focuses less on specifics of coaching and leading than other books you will see on this list, coaches and leaders will find so much to draw from in here that they should not miss the opportunity to read it.


John Grisham – Dell – 2003 – 229 pages

Of all the books on this list, this one might seem a bit strange, considering who the author is. When people think of great books for coaches, John Grisham is not going to be at the forefront of people’s minds as a leadership and coaching guru. But his novel Bleachers is a captivating story that all coaches should read.

Football coaching legend Eddie Rake is on his deathbed. Many of the boys from his past teams have come back to town for his funeral. The boys have congregated in the bleachers at “Rake Field” as they wait for news of his passing. As they talk about the years they played for Rake, the memories & emotions flood their thoughts and discussion. What kind of an impact did Rake have on his boys, now grown into men? What lessons did they learn from him? What intended and unintended consequences did Rake have on his boys?

When you read Bleachers, you will find yourself pondering these questions about yourself, as these are the questions that have shaped Rake’s boys’ lives and their memories of their football experience. What kind of coach are you? What kind of lessons do you try to teach your players? How do you want your players to remember you after they are no longer in your program? What will they say about you and the impact you had on them? John Grisham opens our eyes to the possibilities for the answers if we are not careful about our purpose when it comes to coaching.

The Leadership Challenge

James Kouzes & Barry Posner – Jossey-Bass – 2012 – 416 Pages

This is a book that most coaches will not be familiar with. However, chances are that anyone who has studied leadership in any kind of depth has heard of James Kouzes & Barry Posner. Kouzes & Posner are on the short list with people like John Maxwell when one talks about the foremost authorities on leadership today. The Leadership Challenge is required reading for students in many leadership programs at universities throughout the country. It is divided into seven sections – “What Leaders Do & What Constituents Expect,” “Model the Way,” “Inspire a Shared Vision,” “Challenge the Process,” “Enable Others to Act,” “Encourage the Heart,” & “Leadership for Everyone.”

For one of my Organizational Leadership classes, I was assigned The Leadership Challenge. I had never heard of the book at the time.  It quickly became my favorite book that I read during my time in the Organizational Leadership program. It is easy to read and filled with a large variety of application-based ideas and methods for anyone in a leadership position to easily put into practice.  It is one of the most impactful books I have ever read on leadership, and I highly recommend it to anyone who coaches. I found many similarities between the ideas in The Leadership Challenge and Leading with the Heart. Do yourself a favor and pick up The Leadership Challenge. You will be glad you did.


Toughness: Developing True Strength On & Off the Court

Jay Bilas – NAL – 2014 – 288 pages

For those of you who do not know who Jay Bilas is, he is currently an analyst with ESPN for college basketball. He played at Duke University in the 80’s for Mike Krzyzewski (whose book Leading with the Heart is the first one listed above). His experience playing for Coach K had a huge impact on him, but his book comes from far more than just Coach K’s tutelage. While the majority of Bilas’s analogies in the book go back to his playing days, much of this book is not related to basketball; it is focused on the importance of having toughness to get through what life throws at you.

The impetus for Bilas writing the book was an article that he wrote for ESPN the Magazine about toughness needed for playing basketball. He had such an overwhelmingly positive response from people all over the country asking him to expand on the ideas in the article that he decided to really research the topic in depth in depth and write a book about it. Toughness is filled with many stories from people in all walks of life who have exhibited amazing toughness in very trying circumstances. It is a blueprint for how one needs to prepare for all that life throws at us and then how to deal with those things when they are hurtling our way.

I used Toughness a few years ago with my team as the main focus of our team themes that year. We had struggled with a variety of issues where we lacked toughness the year before, and we returned a lot of players from that team who were some of the major culprits. When we hit a very difficult stretch in the middle of the season, we drew heavily on the lessons in this book, and they really helped us weather the storms and come out strong late in the season.

No matter if you are an athlete, coach or parent, or even if you are not involved in a sport at all, Toughness is a book that will help you deal with the variety of adversities that come your way. I highly recommend you put Toughness on your “Wish List” of must-read books this year.


Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action

Simon Sinek – Portfolio/Penguin- 2009 – 246 pages

Start with Why is Simon Sinek’s best-selling book that challenges us as leaders and members of organizations to begin deciding on our leadership style by considering “why” we do what we do. Sinek says that too many of us focus on the “what” and the “how.” However, when we focus on those things, we have it backward. Everything must start with our “Why.”

The book is broken into six parts with multiple chapters under each part. The six parts are as follows: “A World That Doesn’t Start With Why,” “An Alternative Perspective,” “Leaders Need a Following,” “How to Rally Those Who Believe,” “The Biggest Challenge is Success,” and “Discover Why.” He finishes with an Afterword called “Be a Part of This Movement, Share Your Vision of the World.”  Pretty lofty-sounding, idealistic stuff, but he really creates a compelling discussion for all of us on how we need to re-frame our thinking and our conversation on how to lead an organization.

Sinek explains the concept of “The Golden Circle.” The Golden Circle is a concentric circle with “Why” as the center, the heart of the circle, and everything must emanate from that. “Why” is surrounded first and closest by “How,” with “What” as the outer ring of the circle. The picture is a simple way to see how in leadership everything starts with what is at our core as leaders, and this is our “Why.” Why do we do what we do? It all comes back to our “Why.” How we do it is important, as is What we do, but none of it is as important as Why we do what we do. That is the basis for everything for leaders, and this book clarifies that we need to know the reasons for our Why and be able to explain our Why.


Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D. – Ballantine Books – 2006 – 277 pages

Mindset is an excellent book that forces us to look at both how we think about our way of thinking and approaching the world and how we think about others with regards to those same things. The focus is on two different ways of thinking: a “Fixed” mindset and a “Growth” mindset. Basically, the idea is that those with a “fixed” mindset consider that circumstances are the way they are and there is not much that people can do to change it. Those of us who are smart, healthy, strong, successful, etc. were either born that way or had a predilection to be that way, and that is why we turned out that way. Each time we do something, it is a validation of our nature. If things don’t go the way we want, there must be something wrong with us or our circumstance. Those with a “growth” mindset look at life as always evolving. We may have been born a certain way, but we are able to learn, improve, develop, and grow through our learning and our experiences. Life is not pre-ordained or mapped out for us. Our mindset helps determine our outcomes. Success in something is not a validation as much as a part of the process of development.  Failure at something does not indicate that we are no good at that thing. It merely tells us that way did not work, so we need to keep trying to find out what will work.

The implications for teachers and coaches on the ideas in Mindset are powerful. If we understand that different kids have different mindsets, we can be better prepared to help them through their endeavors. How we teach things, what we focus on, and how we reward kids say a lot about our mindsets, but they also can say a lot to our students and athletes, and we must be careful with our focus, our words, and our actions. If we focus on test scores and the scoreboard as being the be-all and end-all of our success (fixed mindset), we set ourselves up for inevitable failure because at some point in time we are going to come up short in the results we seek. If, however, we focus on the process of getting where we seek to go (growth mindset) then we set ourselves up for future success because we are controlling things we have control over (effort, attitude, discipline), focusing on doing what needs to be done to achieve what we set out to achieve.

There is so much that we can learn from this book as teachers and coaches that will not only help us but also help us help our students and athletes become the best we are all capable of becoming. I highly recommend you check out Mindset for yourself or for the teachers/coaches in your life.


High-Performance Habits: How Extraordinary People Become that Way

Brendon Burchard – Hay House – 2017 – 393 Pages

This is the newest book on this list, and it is a dandy! Brendon Burchard is one of the most successful and sought-after personal coaches in the world. He speaks to thousands of each people in person and millions of people online every year. His messages are powerful and impactful, and they help people in all walks of life and in all types of circumstances. Coaches can really improve their abilities in great ways by immersing themselves in Burchard’s strategies.

Burchard breaks High-Performance Habits into three sections – “Personal Habits,” “Social Habits,” & “Sustaining Success.” There are 3 habits in the “Personal Habits” section – “Seek Clarity,” Generate Energy,” & “Raise Necessity” and 3 habits in the “Social Habits” section – “Increase Productivity,” “Develop Influence,” & “Demonstrate Courage.” His data, analysis, insight, and stories in support of each of these habits are riveting and impactful. He finishes the book off with some traps to beware of as people are seeking to sustain the success the habits create for themselves. He also includes “Performance Prompts” throughout the book to help offer you ways to take each of the habits and integrate them into the routines of your life.

While this is the first book that I have finished this new year (2018), I can see it staying at or near the top of my list of most impactful books of the year. It has also spurred me on to want to read more of Burchard’s books. Don’t be surprised if you see me talking about another one of his books later this year!