The Best Book on Athletic Performance You Haven’t Read Yet

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It’s not often that I find a book on performance that has incredible re-readability. It’s even rarer when the author of that book is someone I know personally.

That’s why I wanted to let you all know about a The High Performance Athlete, written by Dr. Jason Winkle. Dr. Winkle and I met a few years back when I was working with Indiana State Football, and I have a lot of respect for who he is and what he does. So I was very excited when I read this book and got so much out of it.

The best thing about it in my opinion, is that while the book is geared toward athletes and coaches, the principles of high-performance that he stresses in the book can be applied to anyone trying to get better.

Background

Dr. Winkle worked as the Associate Dean at the College of Nursing, Health, & Human Services at Indiana State for much of my time there, and he was occasionally invited to work with and speak to the football team at Indiana State. He is a tremendous public speaker, and I highly recommend him if you’re looking for someone to speak to your team. You can find more information here.

Before working at Indiana State, however, he worked at West Point training special ops personnel and also as a S.W.A.T. personnel trainer. Bottom line, if there’s anyone who knows what it takes to perform in and train for high-pressure situations, it’s this guy.

The Book

Knowing what I know, it didn’t surprise me at all when I read his book The High Performance Athlete to find that he had a lot of insight into this topic. After spending five years learning everything he could about this particular topic, Dr. Winkle

The opening sentences in the introduction give an eye-opening look at the moment Winkle says changed his life tremendously:

“Sir, are we combat ready?” he asked hesitantly.

I can’t remember what lame response I fumbled through, but I clearly remember how his question made me feel.

I realized at that moment I had failed.

It is embarrassing to admit now, but that was the first time I had ever considered how environment and mindset impact performance. I hadn’t failed in the technical or tactical realm. I was quite certain they understood how to deal with close quarters combat in a training environment. But I had failed to prepare them to deal with close quarters combat under battle conditions.

I hadn’t prepared him to perform under high-stress.

This first page sets the tone for the whole book. What sets this one apart from a lot of others in the same genre is that Dr. Winkle spends so much time being honest with himself and admitting his own past failures which led him to focus on the subjects in this book. This is a big reason why the book has hit home not only with coaches, but many of today’s athletes as well.

Dr. Jason Winkle addresses law enforcement personnel in an active shooter training session. (Courtesy of Indiana State University)

Dr. Jason Winkle addresses law enforcement personnel in an active shooter training session. (Courtesy of Indiana State University)

Kids today, right or wrong, have a lot of people telling them what they’re not doing right, what they’re terrible at, and being judged unfairly. One of the most appealing things about this book is that there isn’t an ounce of self-righteous chest pounding about something the author has accomplished, nor is there any empty BS about how you can make all your dreams come true. Kids today are smarter than we give them credit for, and can smell fake from a mile away. As David Cutcliffe put it so eloquently at last year’s AFCA Convention, “There’s no bigger fool in the world than the fool who thinks he can fool young people.”

This is a big reason why Dr. Winkle is such a sought after speaker, and is respected by the athletes he interacts with.

Check Your Ego at the Door

One of my favorite parts of the whole book is the subheading entitled Check Your Ego at the Door. It applies to anyone looking to get better, and might offer a perspective you hadn’t considered yet, especially when it comes to who you’re spending your time with.

One of the key pieces of improving individual performance in any endeavor is to surround yourself with the right people.

At an early age, our parents, teachers, and coaches begin reciting this certain mantra to us: be selective of whom you give your time. Without a doubt, we are influenced by those with whom we are closest. Why then, do we  rarely invest the time and effort to surround ourselves with a tribe that will empower, educate, challenge, and ultimately make us better?

I believe part of the answer dwells in our ego. Seeking out people who believe what we believe is the cornerstone of building a tribe. But a tribe of believers doesn’t necessarily help us to improve. It takes a tribe of individuals who not only believe what we believe, but also have the right mindset and skill set to push us to the next level.

I found this passage particularly relevant to myself, because while as coaches we naturally spend a lot of time trying to keep our players and students away from negative influences, how often do we apply that same line of thinking to ourselves? Sure, we may not necessarily spend time with bad people, but how many of our close friends and associates are pushing us, consciously or unconsciously, to be better and to strive for more.

There are dozens and dozens more passages in this book that I could highlight and we’d all get something out of it. Do yourself a favor, go buy this book and see why coaches around the country have made it required reading for their staff and players.


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