John Urschel is the famous (and only!) NFL football player who also has a Ph.D in Mathematics. In Mind and Matter: A Life in Math and Football, he recounts his career as a football player and as a very serious mathematician. He makes a strong case that it’s entirely possible (and fun, albeit exhausting) to pursue more than one passion, and he seems to have kind words for everyone he encountered along the way. He even manages to speak evenly about the Penn State football scandal and the brain injury issues that have shaken the NFL–and made him quit the sport. An inspiring book, regardless of your interest in either football or math. (I did skip over some descriptions of football games, I must admit.)
Tag Archives: sports
Try to get past the jock title and the random capitalization: WOLFPACK: How to Come Together, Unleash Our Power, and Change the Game is actually a pretty inspiring book, and mercifully short (it’s little more than a commencement speech that Abby Wambach gave at Barnard College a few years back). The idea is simple: we women have been historically too meek for our own good, and also not team-oriented enough to push together for better solutions. The metaphor of the wolf pack is a little cliché, although apt when you think of a soccer team. And the (relative) lack of ego is refreshing.
Can you enjoy Home and Away: Writing the Beautiful Game if you don’t listen to the Men in Blazers podcast? If you don’t have an opinion on the 1974 Netherlands (soccer, of course!) team? If you don’t instinctively root for Cameroon instead of Brazil because, well, we want an African team to get to the quarters?
Probably not, And that’s too bad because this exchange of letters between two soccer fans, one in Brazil during the 2014 World Cup and the other at home in Sweden is much more than just their opinions about Messi, Neymar, or the German soccer team (the last of which they respect, and hate). It mixes in their personal histories, the travails of a parent whose youngest cannot yet sleep through the night, and how teaching a teenager how to drive opens the door to good conversations (in the car). In other words, you are back in Knausgaard’s My Struggle series, mulling over life. If you are not a soccer fan, give this book to a soccer fan in your life.
You Will Know Me and its murder will get under your skin and keep you wondering about the next plot twist to the end, while offering a well-crafted immersion into the strange world of highly competitive sport (here, gymnastics) and its crazy parents. There is also a marvelously drawn little brother who keeps spouting tender and magically appropriate comments. That said, some of the clues are a little too obvious and mar the surprise of the whodunit.
The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics tells the inspiring story of how a team of undergraduates from the University of Washington beat all other college teams, including the vastly better funded East Coast ones, to quality for the Berlin Olympics and eventually win the event. While rowers may delight in the rowing descriptions, rowing is a pretty boring sport for outsiders, and the valiant efforts of the author could never lift the race descriptions from tedious status, at least for me. What makes the book are the personal stories of the rowers, most of whom came from extremely straightened circumstances during the Great Depression, as well as the story of the coach’s training method and the boat maker’s contributions to the team. It’s a good book to read during an Olympics year.
I found One Breath: Freediving, Death, And The Quest to Shatter Human Limits fascinating, but not because of the quality of the writing (pedestrian journalistic style) or the content (great swatches of athletes’ love lives, as boringly agitated as one can imagine them to be, interlaced with seriously boring detailed recitations of competitions that consist of waiting for someone to come up from the depths) — because of the topic. The mere idea of diving hundreds of meters underwater, risking a blackout, permanent lung damage, and, all to often, death, seems immensely dangerous, insane even, but it’s easy to understand the lure of non-competitive free diving, the pleasure of moving like a fish, without cumbersome scuba tanks. Too bad that competition has to spoil that.
Faster, Higher, Stronger: How Sports Science Is Creating a New Generation of Superathletes–and What We Can Learn from Them explores the methods and techniques used by coaches and athletes to meet the famous motto of the Olympic movement, Citius, Altius, Fortius. The book challenges some supposed “rules”, such as the need to practice for 10,000 hours to reach elite levels (true for violinist, not true for many athletes, and indeed young athletes should not over-practice), and shows how a more scientific approach to training is helping athletes practice less but more effectively.
A fun read for athletes, parents of athletes, and (I think) couch potatoes too!