The Bookshelf

Michael Guilford Diary

In August 2017 I cancelled the TV license and decided to spend the £150/year on books. This wasn’t an intended to be pretentious, it genuinely helped me to read more. I have always had a troubled relationship with reading, so admittedly, I take some pride in how many books I can read.

I see books as a way of seeing things from other people’s perspective, particularly people who have spent a lot of time & energy focusing on a particular interest. On a day to day basis, how often will you meet someone who devoted 100s hrs to researching statistical psychology, or the performance-related traits of Kenyan runners?

These are my reflections on each of the books, hopefully bringing some of my own insight and persuading you to read some of them. I have given the books a rating of 1-5, not as a rating of the book, but how significant the book was to me and the extent it has changed my practice or philosophy. A few of these books have sparked a particular interest in area of coaching/sports, leading me to do further more detailed research.

Strength Training and coordination – Frans Bosch and Kevin Cook ⚡⚡⚡⚡⚡

Deep Work – Cal Newport ⚡⚡⚡⚡⚡

The reason I have given this book 5/5 is related to me personally, it has helped me direct my work in a way which is best for me. I am writing a diary entry on this [here]. The idea Newport is promoting is that focusing on one thing at a time, in a much more intense way (deep work), will lead to better results for individuals working in a knowledge-based field.  Importantly he criticizes he current obsession with social media, citing it as a cause for the down turn in the productivity and skill level of knowledge workers and creatives.

The practice he promotes is doing 2-4hrs of uninterrupted work each day, focusing on one task or activity at a time, doing tasks that are generally internet free, and don’t open you to distractions  (e.g. email or social media).

Contrary to the idea in the culture code, he suggests that the way in which open plan workplaces are setup do not induce ‘deep work’.

If you are a knowledge worker or creative, in any capacity, then I strongly recommend you read this book.

The Undoing Project – Michael Lewis ⚡⚡⚡⚡⚡

This book is a story of Kahneman and Tversky’s friendship and collaboration, in the field of statistics and psychology.

This is one of these books, I refer to on a weekly if not daily basis, in how I think about performance.

In a nutshell, Kahneman and Tversky’s proved how humans have an unavoidable bias in the way we predict probabilities and make judgements. Everyone. Not just your average punter. Even high-level economists and statisticians have the same flaws in the way they make statistical predictions & judgements.

Quiet – Susan Cain ⚡⚡⚡⚡

This is another book which relates to me personally. As a strong internal processor i feel most of my work/study life has been ‘interrupted’. Classrooms, lecture theatres, open plan offices, they are all a perfect environment for under performance for me, exposed, noisy, changeable, a high level of visual stimulus, surrounded by other people.  This is the point most non-sensitive people say, ‘oh well, you just have to cut all that noise out-out’. This book goes into the details and research of why notion is nonsense. Sensitive people cant just cut the noise out, no more than a non sensitive person can make environment which is quiet more stimulating.

It has also changed the way I am thinking about my current work and development. I am planning how i can build my career around my natural strengths, while also being able to function at a high standard in the more noisy situations (e.g. group coaching).

Play on – Jeff Bercovici ⚡⚡⚡⚡

Coaching vet or masters athletes make up a big chunk of my work, so I am always keen to find more information and guidance on how to meet the needs of this group. This book goes hand in hand with Talent is Overrated, specifically on the area of compensation. Elite masters athletes, who continue to stay at the top of the game (even against younger athletes), compensate for the natural decline in certain attributes. So while a tennis player may lose agility and speed, they can compensate with more careful recovery and in-game tactics.

It relates to me personally as at the time of writing this I am a week away from having my hip joint ‘trimmed’, to repair the damage to cartilage and correct an abnormality in the joint, at the age of 30. This injury has brought me to a near standstill in my riding, so I can see how the sport is getting even more focused on preventative injury management, in order eek the most out of an athlete’s career.

The book touches on the issue of doping as a method of sustaining performance. While I am sure there is a percentage of the field which is doping, from amateur to pro level, I agree with Bercovici’s opinion that this alone is unlikely to sustain performance. There is so much more athletes need/can do, even if they are doping, to sustain/build performance.

Stealing Fire – Steven Kotler & Jamie Wheal ⚡⚡⚡⚡

A collection of insights of how and why we should ‘get out of our heads’, the state of ectasis. This isn’t hippie garble, the book is full of research-based examples of how our conscious state can be altered in order to achieve flow and enhance creative thinking. Activities such as extreme sports, meditation, art, sex and psychoactive substances, are explored on a risk-benefit based approach.

This quote summed up a key message for me: “a surfer who in flow state drops into a wave and strings together a series of moves he’s never pulled off before may need months of hard training to be able to reproduce them in contest”

Flow – Mihaly  Csikszentmihalyi  ⚡⚡⚡⚡

The content in this book is revolutionary. I found it a very difficult read, being a bit repetitive once into the first few chapters, but the principles are important to living life to the full. The principle has changed the way I approach certain tasks, helping me to identify activities which I am reluctant to do but are actually very enjoyable, and activities which don’t have much fulfilment but that I want to do. One of the key concepts I took away is how the flow is the transition to flow from an activity that is too hard and an activity that is too easy. Also, how to turn everyday tasks into more rewarding flow activities by creating a system of continuous evaluation and striving toward perfection. At times I found the tone of the message a bit pious, in some ways in contrast to the message of stealing fire.

Sleep – Nick Littlehales ⚡⚡⚡

Bounce – Matthew Syed ⚡⚡⚡

This is a book that links nicely to The Gold Mine Effect, The Sports Gene & the Culture Code. For me, this book has helped reinforce my knowledge and belief that high-level performance is grown from culture, not from genetics.

This book also touches on the idea of deliberate practice (i also call this purposeful practice). Matthew Syed used to stand a cigarette up at the other side of the table, and practice serving, aiming to knock it over.

The Gold Mine Effect- Rasmus Ankersen ⚡⚡⚡

Anderson visits several Gold Mines around the world, including Kenya, Brazil and South Korea, and uncovers the ‘secrets’ of talent.

This book has given me deep motivation to find out what I want to focus on and achieve it. In the UK it seems unusual or harsh if a parent pushes their child in a single field from a young age, yet reviewing the evidence and logic which Ankerson presents, makes me wish that my parents had been like this. On the other, the hand Ankerson observations are nearly all sport focused, and the discipline of working hard academically, I was given as a child has equipped me in this area.

The key message for me in this book was that there is no secret to developing talent, the physiology in talent is a lot less important than we may assume, and the social aspects of coaching are a lot more important than the coaching techniques or content.

Conscious Coaching – Brett Bartholomew ⚡⚡

This book is an excellent introduction to some of the techniques coaches can use to engage a wider range of personalities. This is an element of my coaching I focus on a lot. Brett starts with his personal story of how he ended up being sectioned for an eating disorder, despite how he did not have an eating disorder, he was in fact obsessed with training and had become overtrained and underfed. After a lot of unsuccessful and heavy-handed treatment by hospital staff, one caring counsellor managed to engage him and help him to turn his situation round, by engaging with what motivated him, training and fitness.

Getting Grit- Caroline Adams Miller ⚡⚡

A worrying insight into problems of performance development facing millennials in the US. The examples are extreme and in stark contrast to the UK, but still thought-provoking. For example, the US school system allows for schools to set the grading system which has lead to everyone passing exams and most pupils achieving A’s.

This book has helped me to identify some of the grit flaws in my own mindset and also help me think about how I can help athletes I coach, to develop grit. One of the key messages I took from this book is to be able to set unachievable goals. In the face of X-factor contestants who cant sing, and the SMARTER goals system, this may seem a little odd but makes perfect sense to me. Setting just unachievable goals is for the purpose of maintaining a growth mindset, and to develop persistence and grit.

Talent is overrated – Geoff Colvin ⚡⚡

This book goes hand in hand with The Gold Mine Effect, with a very similar message. This book introduced me to the idea of deliberate practice, clarifying what the elements of ‘good practice’ or training are. In relation to cycling, this has highlighted why professional riders have large numbers of training hours and racing hours. It also challenging in this respect as road race cycling is very subtle in terms of the elements of technique that need to be worked on, the fitness side is more straightforward.

No Ordinary Life – Peter Stokes ⚡⚡

An account of a Birmingham teenager who joined the commandos at the start of the 2nd world war and served throughout the war.

Peter is an amazing example of grit and humility that leads extraordinary feet of a human. The deepest sense of humility came from him questioning why he survived the war, while he watched his fellow commandos die. There are nuances in the things that arent written in his memoirs, apart from avoiding the painful memories of torture under the SS, he also skims over extreme moral and emotional dilemmas.

The question I had to ask is how was Peter’s school teacher able to identify his and his brother’s potential. Or how is it that despite all his peers were in a gritty environment of poverty, he had the extra motivation and drive to go where he did.

The Score Takes Care of Itself – Bill Walsh ⚡

This book is basically the Brailsford method in American football. Except that Walsh was doing this a lot longer than GB or Team Sky. This book explains the hard work required to carry out the ‘marginal gains’ method and some of the challenges you are likely to face along the way.

Peak Performance – Brad Stulberg, Steve Magness ⚡

A snappy overview of digging into performance. The key message I took from this book, is creativity is a choice and everyone needs rest. This book gives excellent examples of how high performers have created a mindset and strategy that leads to consistent performance, on a day to day basis.

The inside track – Trott & Kenny ⚡

Despite living a life of cycling, I am not someone who is particularly interested in cycling news or fame. However, I do read a few books from the key players in cycling.

My initial thoughts when reading this book, was, who on earth edited this, and this is why cyclists arent book writers. The book was packed with boring mindless triviality about their lives. However amidst this was some genuinely interesting insights into the world of elite cycling. They talk about their relationship with their coaches, and what their initial pathway into cycling was. Laura, in particular, had a bumpy journey getting on the GB train, (not the only one…), while Jason seemingly cruised into it.

How the Mighty Fall- Jim Collins

Good to Great-Jim Collins

The Flying Scotsman – Graeme Obree

Fundamentals of Aerodynamics- John David Anderson

Choose Yourself- James Altucher

The Sports Gene – David Epstein

Turn the Ship Around- David Marquet

The Power of Moments – Chip Heath, Dan Heath

The Culture Code – Daniel Coyle

Dumbing us Down – John Taylor

No hunger in Paradise – Michael Calvin

Outliers – Malcolm Gladwell

How Bad Do You Want it – Matt Fitzgerald

Talent is Overrated – Geoff Colvin

Mindfulness – Mark Williams

The Chimp Paradox – Steve Peters

Multipliers – Liz Wiseman

The Climb- Chris Froome

The Obree Way – Graeme Obree

Va Va Froome – David sharp

Weight Training for Cyclists – Ken Doyle

Sport and Exercise Science – Griffin Murray

Tom Danielson’s Core Advantage – Tom Danielson

Fast Over 50 – Joe Field

Strength Training for Triathletes- Patrick Hagerman

Power Meter Handbook – Joe Friel

The Cyclist’s Training Bible – Joe Field

Bradley Wiggins My Time – Bradley Wiggins

Bradley Wiggins My Story – Bradley Wiggins

Motivational Interviewing – William R. Miller & Stephen Rollnick

The Mountain Bike Skills Manual – Clive Forth

Cyclocross – Simon Burney

Mountain Bike Racing – Tim Gould & Simon Burney

Anatomy of the Moving Body- Ted Dimon

Atheltic Body in Balance – Gray Cook

Advanced in Functional Training- Michael Boyle

Stability Sport and Performance Movement- Joanne Elphinston

Seeing What Others Don’t – Gary Klein

Accelerated Expertise – Robert Hoffman

The Art of Learning – Josh Waitzkin

Thinking Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman

The Essential Tversky – Amos Tversky

Liar’s Poker – Michael Lewis

The Marshmallow Test- Walter Mitchell

Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes – Monique Ryan


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My blog is all about gaining insight on performance and learning, in a forward-thinking way. So if you have a different viewpoint, or want to discuss the topic, find me on Twitter @rideaboutuk