There are a number of motivational tools out there when it comes to athletics, and books on peak performance might just top that list. From self-help guides to inspirational biographies, the right reading material can buoy morale, fortify mental toughness, and encourage teamwork. Here are five fantastic book selections to inspire and boost athletic performance.

  1. Bring Your “A” Game: A Young Athlete’s Guide to Mental Toughness  by Jennifer L. Etnier

While physical training is, of course, an essential element of any sport, mental toughness deserves equal attention. One of the best mental toughness books on the market, this 17-chapter guide offers empowerment strategies, goal-setting recommendations, "tricks of the trade,” pre-practice routines, and even worksheets for written exercises to assist athletes on the journey to reaching their highest potential.

This Amazon review says it all: “This is a well-written book for serious young athletes who really want to succeed in sports and really all areas of life … As a teacher, high school athletic director, and former recreational therapist, I am impressed with the book.”

SFL Suggestion: If you or your athlete are visual learners, we don’t recommend buying this book on Kindle or any other e-platform, as it will prevent you from printing and filling out the accompanying worksheets. 

  1. Failing Forward: Turning Mistakes into Stepping Stones for Success  by John C. Maxwell

A stellar read for athletes and non-athletes alike, this book encourages adopting a new definition of failure. Offering constructive suggestions and real-world examples, the book serves as a practical roadmap for stepping away from fear, embracing adversity, and viewing it as a stepping stone for achievement by “failing forward.” 

Penned by an internationally recognized leadership expert and coach, this is one of the best books for athlete mindset, teaching players how to adjust their perception and failure responses. 

This excerpt from a Goodreads review offers some insight: "Failing Forward is a fantastic read, which if you have the courage to admit your own failures in Life … and you have them … then this book will assist you [in focusing] on the benefits of failures, moving along a path to ultimate success in your endeavors.”

  1. The Champion's Mind: How Great Athletes Think, Train, and Thrive by Jim Afremow, Ph.D.

In the athletic realm, be it youth sports or the pro platforms, certain athletes stand out — they outperform and outlast, excelling even when they lack the experience of other players. Written by sports psychologist Jim Afremow, Ph.D., who has worked with elite athletes ranging from Heisman Trophy winners to Olympians, this book is a powerful mental toughness playbook for thriving on the field, maintaining humility, continually progressing, and channeling the psychological and physical game needed for performance longevity.  

Through advice and recommended workouts from renowned trainers, the book provides motivating tools along with plenty of support from pro athletes. Take this quote from two-time MBA All-Star Shawn Green, for example: “I learned early on in my professional baseball career that players at the elite level are generally pretty similar from the perspective of physical aptitude. Yet, what tends to differentiate the all-stars from the rest of the pack resides between the ears. Jim Afremow does a great job of exploring this subject in The Champion's Mind. This is a great book for coaches and athletes of all ages who are looking to improve performance at any level, in any sport.” 

  1. Mind Gym: An Athlete’s Guide to Inner Excellence by Gary Mack and David Casstevens

Another book with roots in sports psychology, Mind Gym explores an  athlete’s potential to build “mental muscle.” Utilizing inspirational quotes and approachable lessons, the book provides observations and insights into using pressure to positively influence performance. Co-written by Gary Mack, a sports psychology consultant and counselor who has worked with athletes across fields, including the NBA, WNBA, MLB, NHL, and NFL, the book has stories and advice galore. 

“I wish that I had come across this book when I was 10,” says one Amazon reviewer. “Boy, it would have been the biggest difference in my life as I struggled so much mentally when playing baseball.” 

  1. Rising Above: How 11 Athletes Overcame Challenges in Their Youth to Become Stars by Gregory Zuckerman

All athletes have to start somewhere — even the greats. This indispensable collection of real-life stories and mini-biographies follows elite sports figures through their early struggles, delving into how they overcame adversity to achieve greatness. 

The book, written by Wall Street Journal veteran Gregory Zuckerman, highlights sports superstars such as LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and even Jim Abbott, who was born without his right hand but eventually pitched a no-hitter in the Major Leagues. Proving that it’s possible to endure and conquer challenging circumstances, Rising Above empowers athletes with first-hand accounts of perseverance and grit.

“This book was a very good read,” says a young athlete who reviewed it on Amazon. “It was also informational and very inspiring. Reading about the different athletes and their stories taught me that anything is possible if one has big dreams and works hard.”

What books have helped you or your team?  Send us your suggestions and we’ll share with the broader Sport Fuels Life community.