“I’m not a big reader” is a common phrase we hear when we ask our athletes if they are reading any good books. They don’t find many of the books assigned to them in school to be engaging and their minds are softened by the allure of screens and the instant gratification that comes from social media likes. The benefits of reading are immense and empowering for youth athletes. At Fortis, we encourage reading in our mentee relationships and our off-season training programs. Below are several of the points we make with our athletes:
Everyone likes to read. If they say they don’t, they just haven’t found the right book yet. Our job as coaches and mentors is to help student-athletes find books that they find interesting. Often, the subjects students like (sports, military topics, finance, etc.) are not widely covered in traditional school classrooms. Probably every book we recommend is not found on any K-12 syllabus. Here are some examples of books we recommend to athletes:
The Boys of Winter by Wayne Coffey
Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
Moneyball by Michael Lewis
Game Change by Ken Dryden
Always read with a pen. Just like we need sleep and nutrition to maximize our workouts, a pen helps a student-athlete read effectively. Underline passage that are interesting and thought-provoking that you may want to revisit later. Put in small notes in the margins to help you find sections of the book easier when you browse through the book after reading it. By actively participating in reading, you retain more information.
Learn to push outside your comfort zone. Developing the concentration needed to read over extended periods of time is a skill. It requires practice to develop. In sports performance training, we often push athletes outside their comfort zones, but only an amount of time that is attainable. Clearly, asking an untrained youth athlete to run five miles would present a seemingly insurmountable challenge. Instead, we start with smaller tasks and scaffold the athlete to more difficult exercises over time. With reading, student-athletes should practice deliberately – when they reach the edge of their comfort zone, they can pick a short distance further to read to push just slightly past where they want to go. For example, if they are losing concentration but only have 3-4 pages left in the chapter, just finish the chapter and then wrap up the reading session.
Set up a relaxing and enjoyable reading atmosphere. Our training centers are designed to aesthetically appeal to the student-athlete. Athletes should do the same with reading. Grab some snacks and a nice quiet spot in the house. Our ability to concentrate can be largely affected by our surroundings. If we create a pleasant ambiance for reading, we will implicitly associate reading with enjoyable moments.
Reading is like sport. Practice it and you’ll get better. Attention spans will lengthen, comprehension will increase, and reading will increasingly be more enjoyable.