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The Fast Track to Coaching Experience

5 Books That Can Help Bridge the Experience Gap

What’s the difference between a developing assistant coach, and a championship winning head coach? Experience! The saying goes, “Old age and treachery will always beat youth and inexperience.” These words ring true because there is a massive gap in experience between the two. The championship coach has a database of lessons, failures, and keys to success that they have amassed over their years as a coach. The developing coach doesn’t have that luxury. If they want to compete, they must figure out how to bridge the experience gap.


For someone in the developing stages of a coaching career, it can be challenging to know where to start, and the path to becoming an expert can seem daunting. Luckily, one of the most effective ways to bridge the experience gap is by reading. Books offer a unique perspective from seasoned professionals, allowing you to learn from their experiences and gain valuable insights.


If you're looking to bridge the gap and become a great coach, you're in the right place. In this post, I’ll be sharing the 5 books every football coach should read to build a strong foundation for success. These books are packed with everything from inspirational stories, practical advice, and strategic insights that will help you become the best coach you can be.



Book 1

GRIT: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, by Angela Duckworth

Any seasoned football coach worth their salt knows that the road to a successful coaching career is a long and arduous one. In this book author Angela Duckworth, a Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, goes deeply in depth on the topics of Grit, Effort, and Perseverance. Throughout the average coach’s career, they will endure a myriad of job changes. While everyone hopes that their next job will be a step higher up the ladder, this isn’t always the case. In many cases taking on a new position can be a lateral move, or it can even feel like a step backward.


There’s even an old quote from Coach Bum Phillips that hits at the challenging task of keeping a coaching job, “There's two kinds of coaches, them that's fired and them that's gonna be fired.” While this satirical quote may sound harsh, the reality is that movement from job to job in the coaching profession is going to happen.


It’s in those situations that the knowledge gleaned from this book can really act as a helping hand as you pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Prof. Duckworth makes the case that grit is a combination of passion and perseverance, and in addition grit’s key to achieving long-term goals. She contends that talent and intelligence alone are not sufficient to succeed, and that grit can be cultivated and developed over time.


Prof. Duckworth argues that gritty individuals are more likely to persevere in the face of challenges and setbacks, and to make meaningful contributions to their communities. She also indicates that grit can be fostered in individuals and organizations through the development of a growth mindset, goal setting, deliberate practice, and the cultivation of a sense of purpose.

The knowledge, skills, and techniques that Prof. Duckworth examines are invaluable to a developing coach. Becoming an experienced coach is a process, and Prof. Duckworth provides a roadmap to that process.


Book 2

GRIDIRON GENIUS: A Masterclass in Winning Championships and Building Dynasties in the NFL, by Michael Lombardi

Lombardi's decades of experience in the NFL make this book an invaluable resource for coaches of all experience levels. Throughout the book he offers in-depth perspectives and behind-the-scenes look into football at its highest level. As a former coach, scout, and front office executive, Lombardi’s insights are second to none. The practical advice on leadership, teamwork, and accountability in this book offers a unique perspective on what it takes to succeed in this highly competitive industry.


The book centers around the importance of developing a winning culture within a football team. Lombardi suggests that creating a culture of excellence requires a deep understanding of the game, as well as a commitment to self-sacrifice, discipline, and accountability. He puts heavy emphasis on the role of leadership in building a winning culture, and even offers practical advice on how coaches can encourage players to reach their full potential.


Lombardi's insights are based on years of experience working with some of the most successful organizations, coaches, and players in the NFL. His practical advice is both informative and inspiring. Whether you are an aspiring coach or seasoned veteran, "Gridiron Genius" is a valuable resource that will help you take your understanding of football to the next level.


Book 3

THE SCORE TAKES CARE OF ITSELF: My Philosophy of Leadership, by Bill Walsh with Steve Jamison and Craig Walsh

One of the first lessons every coach learns is that you cannot win every game. Even at the highest level the winningest coach, Don Shula, had a win loss percentage of 67.7%. In this book, legendary coach Bill Walsh lays out his philosophy on leadership, and organizational management. Advice and expertise from a three-time Super Bowl winning coach are the hallmarks of this book that offers invaluable insights into what it takes to build and run a successful organization. Drawing on his years of experience coaching and managing in the NFL, Walsh offers practical advice and insights that are applicable to a wide range of industries and professions.


One of the key themes of the book is the importance of focusing on process rather than outcomes. Walsh reasons that by establishing clear goals and objectives, and by creating a culture of excellence within a team or organization, the score will take care of itself. He emphasizes the importance of attention to detail, preparation, and hard work in achieving success, and shows how these principles can be applied to any endeavor. "The Score Takes Care of Itself" is a must read for anyone who is interested in leadership and management.


Book 4

THE ASSEMBLY LINE: by Milt Tenopir

Coaching the offensive line is the oft forgotten foundation of any successful team. While defense may win championships, it’s the offense that gets them there.

The offensive line is often considered a thankless position in football. Their work is not as visible or glamorous as that of other positions. While “skill” positions get much of the attention and praise, the offensive linemen toil away in relative anonymity, doing the hard work that allows the offense to function effectively.


It’s this author’s opinion that, “The Assembly Line” by Milt Tenopri, is one of, if not the, best book on OL play. Coach Tenopri was the OL coach for the University of Nebraska from 1974 to 2002. During a stretch in the 90’s he would coach the Huskers famous “Pipeline” Lines that would bring the university 3 National Titles. Throughout his time at Nebraska, he coached 27 players that would go on to sign professional contracts with 14 of them taken in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft. When someone like that is sharing information on how they became successful, it’s worth the time taken to read their book.


In “The Assembly Line” Tenopri shares his knowledge and expertise on building a successful OL. Drawing on his years of experience coaching some of the most dominant offensive lines in college football history, Coach Tenopri emphasizes the importance of sound techniques and fundamentals. He thoroughly details, and intricately explains the various blocks, and schemes that made Nebraska so dominant.


Whether you are a defensive coach looking to better identify what the offense is doing, an OL Coach or you’re trying to build a successful offense, "The Assembly Line" is an essential resource for anyone who wants to develop as a football coach.


Book 5

MAKE THE BIG TIME WHERE YOU ARE: by Frosty Westering

This is a tough one in today’s culture. When society is constantly moving to the next new thing, being content and happy in the position/place you’re in can be challenging. In this motivational book, Coach Frosty Westering, a legendary college football coach who spent over four decades coaching at Pacific Lutheran University in Washington State, makes a point that personal growth, relationships, and positivity should be paramount to winning or losing.


Coach Westering emphasizes the power of positivity and gratitude in the transformation of individuals and programs. The impact that can be felt by those around you when you focus on controlling what you can control, and being grateful and positive in the face of adversity is significant. Westering demonstrates how this approach can lead to success, not just on the field, but also in your personal life as well. "Make the Big Time Where You Are" is an inspiring and uplifting book that is relevant not just to coaches and athletes, but to anyone who is looking to achieve their goals and live a more meaningful life.



Overall, it may be said that becoming a successful coach takes years of experience and a willingness to learn from mistakes. If you're serious about becoming a great coach, then it's important to take advantage of the knowledge and expertise available to you. Luckily seasoned professionals have drawn a roadmap to bridge the experience gap. The five books mentioned in this post offer invaluable learning opportunities, practical advice, and strategic insights that can help any coach build a strong foundation for success.


Whether you’re developing or a seasoned veteran, if you’re looking to take your coaching career to the next level contact Coach Cross. This website (coachmikecross.com) offers an array of resources, including personalized coaching sessions and online courses, to help you develop the skills and knowledge needed to elevate your coaching career.


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Craig Sowers
Craig Sowers
Apr 26, 2023

A great read. While reading this post, Coach Cross reminded me of a Charlie Tremendous Jones quote I heard years ago “You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.” Thank you for the suggested reading list, Coach.

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