Coach Sam Smith’s Top 12 Books of 2021

28 Dec

Written by Coach Sam Smith

When did you first become fascinated with reading?

When I was young, I was drawn to reading due to my grandmother being an avid reader. I wanted to connect with her and be like her, reaffirming child development 101: we mirror those around us who we look up to. She used to read Clive Clusser novels, amongst many others. Clusser’s novels centered around a main character named Dirk Pitt (essentially a James Bond). His novels began my exploration into reading and by extension, learning. There were times when I’d have a lull in the consistency at which I read, but I’d always come back to it. As I’ve gotten older, I feel one of the reasons why I always came back to reading was its ability to allow me to escape the internal, and external, noise of life. I’ve been blessed with an internal generator that doesn’t stop running, also known as, my mind. Instead of trying to ignore or avoid it, I’ve learned to flow with it. And by doing so, I can better aim that power in the direction that I want. Reading has then become a powerful tool in helping me learn how to direct my attention toward someone else’s stories, words, and emotions. Allowing me to expand my understanding by looking through someone else’s eyes. If there is one tool that will always be at our disposal to rescue us from the unending onslaught of parasitic technology, it will be reading.

As I mention each year due to the sobering nature of numbers and math, aim to read a book each month for a full year. If you average 10 pages per day, you’ll get through a 300 page book each month. That’s 3600 pages in a year. If you do that for the next 5 years you will accumulate 60 books and 18,000 pages read. Big outcomes always start with small steps.

My Top 12 Books from 2021, in no particular order. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

Sapiens - Harari

Skin in the Game - Taleb

Rich Dad, Poor Dad - Kiyosaki

Open - Agassi

Mastery - Leonard

The Power of Story - Loehr

12 More Rules for Life - Peterson

The Psychology of Money - Housel

Great by Choice - Collins

The Practice - Godin

Naval Ravikant Almanac - Jorgenson

The Great Mental Models (vol 1,2,3) – Farnam Street

Sapiens – Yuval Noah Harari

What a brain stretcher. It’s amazing how much resides in our collective imagination. It’s also amazing to recognize how much better off our current society at large is relative to pre-modern times, yet we are arguably less satisfied with our lives. The ultimate paradox.

“The real question facing us is not ‘what do we want to become?’, but ‘what do we want to want?’”

“We believe in a particular order not because it is objectively true, but because believing in it enables us to cooperate effectively and forge a better society.”

Skin in the Game – Nicolas Nassim Taleb

Taleb’s bluntness is always refreshing.

2 of my favorite quotes:

“If you manage to convince yourself that you are right in theory, you don’t really care about how your ideas affect others. Your ideas give you a virtuous status that makes you impervious to how they affect others.”

“When you are rewarded for perception, not results, you need to show sophistication.”

Rich Dad, Poor Dad – Robert Kiyosaki

Money and fear; synonymous for most people. If you want to guard yourself against fear, arm yourself with knowledge.

Anything we shy away from we give it power over us. In the Harry Potter universe, people were initially forbidden to mention Voldemort’s name (he personified Evil/Satan). Once he was named, his power over everyone started to diminish. The things in life we shy away from are the things we must confront.

Money is one of those unnamed demons that lurk in the shadows. A lot of anxiety and stress can be kept at bay through a conscious effort to better understand money and how to integrate beneficial habits that will compound over time.

One of my favorite aspects within this book was the underlying principles mirror those in coaching, program design, sport, performance, etc.:



Long-term vision


Open – Andre Agassi

The full embodiment of the hero’s journey. This was the most fascinating and thought-provoking book I read this year. Given my previous life in golf at an elite level, I could empathize with the struggles he faced. Pushing something to its limits has unforeseen consequences. Agassi’s story provides tremendous insight into those consequences.

Mastery – George Leonard

I read a few books this year centered around the concept of mastery. Leonard is one of the first to write at length about mastery and how it can be woven into our careers and lives. I’ve always been deeply connected to the long-term process; delaying the outcome has come second nature to me. Learning more about this and how it can be instilled in others became a motivating pursuit. The aim of mastery implies a life-long journey that enables you to maintain a consistent perspective throughout the highs and lows. At bottom, this is the key for any endeavor or pursuit: can you sustain it long enough to see the fruits of your labor? While we might not “arrive” at mastery, aiming for it sets our course in a direction that will lead towards an unforgettable and fulfilling experience.

“The essence of boredom is to be found in the obsessive search for novelty. Satisfaction lies in mindful repetition, the discovery of endless richness in subtle variations on familiar themes.”

“When you discover your own desire, you’re not going to wait for other people to find solutions to your problems.”

“Competition provides spice in life as well as in sports; it’s only when the spice becomes the entire diet that the player gets sick.”

The Power of Story – Jim Loehr

What’s your story?

Is it leading you in the direction you want in your performance, competitions, health, relationships, work, happiness?

Here’s a great question to ask yourself:

“In which areas of my life is it clear that I cannot achieve my goals with the story I've got?”

If you want to change those outcomes it’s time to investigate your stories and rewrite them.

12 More Rules for Life – Jordan Peterson

Different from his first 12 in an enjoyable way. His fresh angle and approach expose another level of understanding that folds perfectly into the diary of our lives.

“You can quit this, but you must have a different plan that’s MORE difficult.”

The Psychology of Money – Morgan Housel

Define the game you’re playing. Always start with a clear definition of what is success for YOU.

Always play the long game; create buy-in and build consistency.

Stay patient and exercise discipline through forgoing the present for the future.

Recognize not everything will go your way; implement safeguards.

Principles that transcend time are apparent in all areas of our lives. Identify them and use them to guide you forward.

Great by Choice – Jim Collins

“We do not believe that chaos, uncertainty, and instability are good; companies, leaders, organizations, and societies do not thrive on chaos. But they can thrive in chaos.”


LOTS of wisdom in this book. It’s been 5 years since I first read this one. And like any book I reread, it’s always better the second time.

Chaos and uncertainty are inevitable. We can’t control when or how they are going to hit us. We can control how we are preparing ourselves, our business, in preparation for those circumstances. Jim Collins does a fantastic job of explaining what separated the companies who did thrive and succeeded amidst the chaos and uncertainty they all faced; the “principles” they (the successful companies and their leaders) adopted that created the armor necessary for the inevitable onslaughts.

Are you cultivating the habits and practices necessary to handle the inescapable challenges you will face in the future?

The Practice – Seth Godin

This is the perfect read for a coach

At the time, I was on a Seth Godin kick and wanted to dive into his writing. I figured this would be the first one I’d start with from his 20 books to date and it didn’t disappoint.

-Better understanding the difference between an amateur and a professional

-How to separate your “self” from your work

-How to speak more clearly to your target audience

-How to tap into your creativity while maintaining consistency in your practice

-Asking hard questions to create clarity around what you are doing and why you are doing it: “what is the change you seek to make?”

The Almanack of Naval Ravikant – Eric Jorgenson

Lots of wisdom. As I get older, I’m becoming drawn to learning from those who I believe have lived (or are living) worthy lives and have valuable insights to share. Principally, the threads are all the same, but the unique experiences expand your understanding (similar to program design). Highly recommend this book and/or podcasts Naval has done.

The Great Mental Models (Vol 1,2,3) – Farnam Street

I’m a big fan of Farnam Street and their podcast “The Knowledge Project.” Their tag line for the show says it all, “We interview world-class doers and thinkers so you can better analyze problems, seize opportunities, and master decision-making.” Naturally, I had to get their books in order to dive deeper into mental models and how they impact my every day decision making whether or not I’m aware of it.

If you are someone who is fascinated with learning and exploring new ways of looking at problems then I’d highly suggest picking up a copy of their books. Easy to read and digest despite the daunting titles.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from each volume:

Vol 1 - General Thinking Concepts

“The chief enemy of good decisions is a lack of sufficient perspectives on a problem”

“Remember that all models are wrong; the practical question is how wrong do they have to be to not be useful.”

“You can’t improve if you don’t know what you’re doing wrong.”

Vol 2 - Physics, Chemistry, and Biology

“If a man does not know to what port he is steering, no wind is favorable to him.”

“We are all aware of disorder and the natural uncertainty that follows it and are attracted to stories that reduce it.”

“For many people, unpleasant events, such as getting fired or rejected, prove to be catalysts for tremendous personal growth.”

Vol 3 - Systems and Mathematics

“How much you know in the broad sense determines what you understand of the new things you learn.”

“It can scarcely be denied that the supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience.”

“The larger the influence of luck in producing an extreme event, the less likely the luck will repeat itself in multiple events.”

Go ahead and give these 12 books a read!

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