As a multi-disciplinary applied sport scientist who seeks to push the very thin line between optimizing performance while minimizing injury risk in sports, I feel it is imperative to stay abreast of not only the latest scientific research articles, but also books and articles that summarize the latest research findings. I firmly believe that what we read can have a huge influence on both professional and personal development. Influential books can either help shape new thought processes or reinforce established ones. Following is a list of my favorite go-to books that continue to help shape my professional career.
Dr. Paul Glazier is an internationally recognized sport and human movement scientist. I consider his work to be very influential on my professional development, specifically his paper entitled Towards a Grand Unified Theory of Sports Performance. One of the main reasons why I respect Dr. Glazier’s work so much is because he comes from an applied sport science perspective as opposed to an academic perspective. I personally believe that this is a distinct difference between US and overseas biomechanists. US biomechanists are traditionally trained in an academic environment in which tenure-based initiatives (e.g., peer reviewed research) are given highest priority. While US-based teams have begun to implement advanced technologies in their programs, many have had to hire professionals from overseas as they have more significant applied sports science experience. Dr. Glazier’s paper provides a very well thought out framework for linking the various subdisciplines of sport science, which too often operate in a silo. This GUT framework provides multidisciplinary expertise in motor control, skill acquisition, sports biomechanics, and sports performance analysis to function collaboratively within a sport science program. Most importantly, it has demonstrated that sports technology should be focused on measurement of resultant coordinative structures that provide insights into the coordination and control patterns of athletic movements. By doing so, one is able to provide insights into the “formation and self-organization of intra- and inter-individual coordinative structures” resulting from the constraints-based training framework of Newell. Sports technology solutions that are designed within this GUT framework can link constraints-based training modalities to the development of resultant coordinative structures (Bernstein’s DOF problem), thereby producing objective metrics for motion-specific key performance indicators (KPIs). The future of sport science programs will leverage these types of technologies that can provide concurrent assessment and development tools to accelerate skill acquisition development.
Frans Bosch is a lecturer at the Fontys sports college in the Netherlands who is a leading expert in motor learning and training. His book Strength Training and Coordination: An Integrative Approach, provides a very unique and scientifically based perspective on contextual strength training that focusses specifically on the neurological considerations of skill development. Bosch discusses and reviews dynamic systems theory research to demonstrate a link between motor learning and strength training. This book attempts to provide training guidelines based upon dynamic systems theory. Bosch presents a sport-specific skill development and strength training platform that is essentially based upon motor control and coordination training under progressive and variable resistance. The goal of this type of coordination training is to develop appropriate stable attractor and dynamic fluctuation states for the sport-specific movement of interest. In application, this means developing dynamic adjustability through the core of the body, while maintaining stability at the more distal segments. Bosch’s book provides a great resource for sports performance training programs as it provides a roadmap for development of proximal-to-distal sequencing motor patterns that are necessary to optimize individual performance levels.
Dr. Kelly Starrett is a physical therapist and coach that specializes in human movement and athletic performance.He created a blog called MobilityWOD (WOD = Workout of the Day) which became very popular in the CrossFit Movement. Starrett specializes in performance-based orthopedic sports medicine programs with a focus on returning athletes to and maintaining elite sports performance levels. His book Becoming a Supple Leopard provides in-depth knowledge, research, and application insights into preventing injury, resolving pain, and optimizing athletic performance. There is a heavy focus on regeneration work and maintaining end range of motion mobility following training. Starrett discusses the difference between arthrokinematics, the passive joint movements found at end range of motion, and osteokinematics, the active joint movement patterns produced by muscle contractions. This has direct application to any sport scientist tasked with optimizing performance while minimizing injury risk.
Daniel Coyle’s The Talent Code is an excellent book that reviews skill acquisition and motor control development concepts founded in the latest neurological research. Coyle discusses 3 specific concepts related to skill development that he found in researching 9 different “talent hotbeds.” The first is the concept of Deep Practice, which discusses practice methodologies and structures that have been shown to accelerate skill acquisition including the concept of chunking theory. The second is the concept of Ignition, which discusses motivation and passion concepts required for accelerated skill development. The final concept is Master Coaching, which discusses how the best teachers in the world, the “talent whisperers”, fuel passion in their students and inspire deep practice routines to accelerate skill development. Mark McClusky’s Faster, Higher, Stronger: The New Science of Creating Superathletes, and How You Can Train Like Them and David Epstein’s The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance are also excellent books that focus on the latest sport science research applications to optimizing athletic performance.
Mark Verstegen’s Core Performance is a book to which I constantly refer back to. I had the pleasure of meeting Mark at the Future of Golf Conference in March 2001 in Tempe, AZ. Mark gave a talk on the importance of the core in golf performance. I could tell then that I needed to follow Mark as he was going to be at the forefront of athletic training. I have not been disappointed. Mark’s company Athletes Performance is one of the premiere athletic training facilities in the world. His brand has continued to explode, as he continues to open training facilities throughout the US. His work with NFL combine players is highlighted every year on ESPN SportsCenter. Athletes Performance eventually morphed into EXOS, providing Verstegen with an opportunity to further expand his innovative training methods and wellness programs to other markets including military, corporate executives, and amateur athletes. In his book, Mark talks about the importance of the hips, pelvis, and core in everyday life and the loss of mobility in these regions has contributed to epidemic levels of injuries and dysfunction in the world today. This has a direct effect on the orthopedic device market as bracing and implants are reaching record levels due to the continued loss of functionality in the general population. I have lent this book out and referred over 50 people to buy it as it is a must have for aspiring young athletes as well as their aging parents. More importantly, Mark’s techniques are aimed at improving athletic performance. The word performance is critical to Mark and his brand, as it is to BEST Performance.
Dr. Gary Yamaguchi’s book Dynamic Modeling of Musculoskeletal Motion is my go to book for biomechanical modeling and simulation. I have over 20 biomechanics books to which I refer to frequently, but Dr. Yamaguchi’s book is the one that I recommend and refer to the most. Dr. Yamaguchi presents the use of vector kinematics in a systematic method which significantly reduces the complexity of working with multiple, moving rigid bodies (limb segments) in three dimensions. Operations which usually require the application of differential calculus are replaced by simple algebraic formulas. To derive dynamical equations of motion, a practical introduction to Kane’s Method is given. Kane’s Method builds upon the foundation of vector kinematics and represents one of the most exciting theoretical developments of the modern biomechanical modeling and simulation era. Together, vector based kinematics and Kane’s Method allow me to model living systems with much greater realism, efficiency and accuracy than ever before possible.
Nate Silver’s The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail – But Some Don’t is a book that examines the world of prediction and investigates how we can distinguish a true signal from a universe of noisy data. He shows that most predictions fail, often at great cost to society, because most of us have a poor understanding of probability and uncertainty. Both experts and laypeople mistake more confident predictions for more accurate ones. But overconfidence is often the reason for failure. If our appreciation of uncertainty improves, our predictions can get better too. That is the “prediction paradox”: The more humility we have about our ability to make predictions, the more successful we can be in planning for the future. Silver looks at the most successful forecasters in a range of areas, from hurricanes to baseball, from the poker table to the stock market, from Capitol Hill to the NBA. Silver observes that the most accurate forecasters distinguish the predictable from the unpredictable, and they notice a thousand little details that lead them closer to the truth. Because of their appreciation of probability, they can distinguish the signal from the noise. Silver also shows that these forecasters tend to have a superior command of probability, and they tend to be both humble and hardworking. As a side note, this last statement is also a characteristic of a Level 5 Leader in the book Good to Great. I have read many other great books subsequently regarding algorithms and predictions that I feel are as good or even better than Silver’s book. Silver’s book just resonates with me mainly due to the title and premise of his book. I feel as though one of my greatest traits is to see the signal of interest amongst all of the noise. This has been incredibly valuable in the high performance sports science projects I have worked on as there is unfortunately a lot of noise in this focus area as it relates to research, technology, and application.
Jim Collins book Good to Great is one of the most influential books I have ever read. I refer back to this book at least once a month. The book is in principle a management book that describes how companies transition from being average companies to great companies and how many companies can fail to make that transition. To me the book represents the principles needed to make any organization great – a Fortune 500 company, an entrepreneurial startup, or a professional sports team. I have been fortunate to work for and with some great professional influences that follow many of the principles described in this book. Unfortunately, I have also worked for and with some companies that fail to adhere to many of these principles and seem destined to follow the “doom loop” pattern described in the book. These professional experiences have helped to guide my continued professional development and I try to adhere and refer to the Good to Great principles as much as possible. Good to Great ideologies have also found their way into the professional sports arena. One of the best examples is the Bill Belichick coaching tree. The New England Patriots are probably the poster child for implementation of Good to Great philosophies in professional sports. Belichick disciples also exhibit these same ideologies in their programs, most notably Nick Saban at Alabama, where he constantly refers to The Process. Being a proud alum of the University of Iowa, I am a big fan of football coach Kirk Ferentz. Ferentz is also a Belichick disciple and has said on a number of occasions how the coaching staff uses Good to Great principles within the program.
Brian Kilmeade’s The Games Do Count is a book that reflects the importance of sports in both my personal and professional life. In the book Kilmeade writes about his interviews with celebrities, politicians, and top business people and shows how they have all reached the top of their respective professions, and they all credit sports for teaching them the lessons that were fundamental to their success. All 70+ personalities in the book share a love of sports and has a story about how a game, a coach, or a single moment of competition changed his or her life. I grew up around sports having played soccer, basketball, baseball, football, golf, and track at some point during my teenage years. I consider myself fortunate to have grown up in an era where I was able to compete in 4 high school sports – football in the fall, basketball in the winter, track in the spring, and baseball in the summer due to very cold Wisconsin springs. Participation in those sports helped me immensely in growing into an adult. The reason I enjoy sports so much is that participation is not about the outcome, but rather about the journey. Participation in sports provides athletes with goal setting skills, establishes a hard work ethic, teaches one to work well with teammates and coaches, requires development of performance measurement skills, and most importantly teaches the athlete how to handle adversity and failure. Participation in sports during my youth directly influenced my professional career. I was always a good student and particularly strong in math and science. So when it came to selecting a career, I knew that I wanted to pursue a career that would allow me to stay involved with sports. My strong math and science background combined with my love of sports led me directly to Biomedical Engineering, and specifically, Biomechanics. I attended the University of Iowa in the Biomedical Engineering program, which was 1 of only 2 public universities at the time that offered Bachelor of Science (BS) degrees in Biomedical Engineering.
These books provide great insight into my philosophies and ideologies. More importantly, they have been very influential in the development of my professional career dedicated to studying the biomechanics of human movement. I have been able to develop some of the most advanced and realistic 3D musculoskeletal models for prediction, analysis, and validation of the kinetics of human movement. My models have been used to better understand biodynamics in applications such as sports performance, athlete interaction with sports equipment, and the design and evaluation of orthopedic devices including hip and knee implants and spinal fusion devices. Having a deep understanding of motor control theory and dynamic systems theory concepts has allowed me to uniquely understand what KPIs need to be measured for the sport-specific movement of interest. This has allowed me to develop solutions that accelerate skill acquisition and optimize performance while minimizing injury risk through concurrent assessment and development programs.