Must-Read Book Recommendations from America’s Top Coaches and Athletes

by John Pearce, US Sailing Youth Director

The summer racing season may be over, but fall is a great time to keep improving as a sailor and a competitor. US Sailing asked a group of the top coaches and sailing athletes in America what books they read to stay sharp and motivated, while consistently making gains. Their enthusiastic responses showed just how important these books are to them, and how valuable it is to learn from the experiences of other sailors and athletes. Here are the books that they recommend:

Sailing Specific Books:

“Wind Strategy” by David Houghton

David Dellenbaugh, Author of Speed & Smarts, Olympic Coach and America’s Cup Sailor – “A great, simple explanation of how wind Is influenced by weather and by the presence of nearby land.”

Phil Muller, 2Niner Skiff Squad Head Coach – “Anyone who is serious about racing sailboats must ask themselves a few questions:  Why does the wind shift? How can we identify the pattern? What’s the winning strategy?”

 Also recommended by Malcolm Page, US Sailing Chief of Olympic Sailing, and Scott Ikle, Hobart and William Smith College Head Coach


“Winning in One Designs” by Dave Perry (available in the US Sailing Store)

Willie McBride, US Sailing Team Skiff Coach – “The book is a collection of Dave’s stories from the race course that highlight important tactical and strategic ideas, as well as just giving you a sense of how the top sailors think and prepare.”

 John Pearce, US Sailing Youth Director – “Chapters like ‘Those Lovely Light Air Days’ and ‘Heavy Air Madness’ teach fundamental lessons about racing, sportsmanship, and enjoying the sport.”


“Speed & Smarts” Newsletter by David Dellenbaugh (check out an exclusive preview for US Sailing members)

Leandro Spina, US Sailing Olympic Development Director “A must have.”

Dave Perry, 5-time US Match Racing Champion – “All good sailors should subscribe to Speed and Smarts.”

 Fred Strammer, Sailing Performance Training Co-Owner – “Every sailor should be reading this if they want to think like an America’s Cup champion and stay current with ideas and rules.”


“Performance Racing Tactics” by Bill Gladstone

Amanda Callahan, Roger Williams University Head Coach – “It has loads of pictures to make strategy and tactics really easy to understand!”


“Sailing Smart (Winning Techniques, Tactics, and Strategies)” by Buddy Melges

Brian Clancy, Cornell University Head Coach“I liked this because it had quick hits and was more of an encyclopedia of ideas than a story. Although there are many stories within. There was text book material, it was applicable, and easy to read. I’ve read it multiple times and referenced it many others.”


“Race Winning Strategies: Smart Lessons with Deep Dakron” by Tom Linskey

Betsy Allison, Sailing Hall of Famer and former US Paralympic Sailing Team Coach“Super easy read, especially for sailors really trying to start to understand applying tactics and strategy in a fun, short chapter/article format using situation based problems faced by Deep Dakron (the hero), and his crew.  It also features other characters like Scratchen Sniff (master tactician), Kent McBatten (sailmaker), Zig Zag Brooke (a pro sailor), and others.”


Sporting Books:

 “Inspired” by Kelly Clark

Sarah Lihan, 2012 Olympic 470 Crew – “This is an autobiography of a badass successful snowboarder that understands what it means to win for the right reasons and why sport matters so much.  I can only read a few pages at a time because it makes me think so much but I wish I had understood the ideas and lessons within while I was still racing.”


“Drive : The Story of My Life” by Larry Bird

Brian Clancy, Cornell University Head Coach“I’m a Boston Sports fan and read this book when I was in middle school. I can still recall the impact it had on me at that time, specifically that nothing beats practice. Given that he is often referred to as Larry Legend, and being a Boston fan it was a great book for me, but anyone can appreciate it. It’s not easy to reach the top of your sport, here’s one story that chronicles one of the greats.


“Without Limits: The Steve Prefontaine Story” (movie)

 Zachary Leonard, Yale University Head Coach – “Enough Said”


“Open” by Andre Agassi

 Rosie Chapman, Gulf Coast Youth Sailing Association Head Coach – A true inspiration about a real journey and a real struggle. It’s ok to not be the “top dog” yet, sailing is a long lasting sport and it’s not about peaking as a youth or once, it’s about getting a little better each and every race and training session.”

John Pearce, US Sailing Youth Director – “A page-turning first person account of the struggle to perform at the elite level. Andre is very honest about the mistakes in his personal life, so this is not recommended for younger readers.”


Sports Psychology Books:

“10 Minute Toughness” by Jason Selk

Anna Tunnicliffe, two-time Olympian, 2008 Olympic Gold MedalistI used it in our last campaign and am currently going through it again for this one.  It lays out how to keep your mental game in check when times get tense!!”

 Maggie Shea, US Sailing Team, 49FX class – “I re-read it every year.”

 Justin Assad, Dartmouth College Head Coach – “This is the practical guide to sports psychology. It is the most useful sports psych book I have read.”


“The Inner Game of Tennis” by W. Timothy Gallwey

Richard Feeny, US Sailing Youth/Junior Championships National Coach “It is about achieving relaxed concentration and self-confidence. Read it.”

 John Pearce, US Sailing Youth Director – “Trusting yourself to execute during competition, and quieting the distracting thoughts that get in the way, makes racing more fun. This is the one sports psychology book that really improved my performance and experience.”


“Mindset (The New Psychology of Success)” by Carol S. Dweck

Brian Clancy, Cornell University Head Coach“Not sailing specific or sport specific, but gives an interesting take on an open-minded approach to improvement at whatever it is you are trying to be successful at. Thought provoking.”

 Justin Assad, Dartmouth College Head Coach –“Learn about how to get better by improving and progressing rather than measuring your results.”


“Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing”

Phil Muller, 2Niner Skiff Squad Head Coach – “The best book I’ve read that has totally changed my mind as a coach, how I program, how I talk to athletes”

Joakilm Karlsen, USODA National Team Director –“You think you know about winning. You don’t 🙂 .This book will change how you look at competition. I have a very different way of looking at coaching after I read this book. Not a kids book. Heavy and scientificky at times. But will always be relevant.”


“Mind Gym” by Gary Mack

Justin Assad, Dartmouth College Head Coach – “If you don’t yet understand the power of unlocking your mind, this book will convince you to take it seriously. A primer to understanding how the mental game impacts your game.” 


“Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable” by Tim Grover

Fred Strammer, Sailing Performance Training Co-Owner“This book highlights the dedication of REAL athletes. Throughout the book, Tim will show current examples of famous athletes and why they are OK, great but not legends, and legends. It also highlights the level of commitment to the pursuit of athletic excellence and how athleticism is the foundation for becoming a legend in your sport.”


“The Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle

Joakilm Karlsen, USODA National Team Director – “Talent hotbeds in sports around the world are not by accident. The explanation and science behind why certain people are “talented” in certain areas will open your eyes. I will challenge myself this fall to get better at golf, and I want to use the techniques explained in this book. Which I again will implement in my coaching. We need more books and statistics to make decisions about our sport.”