I’ve managed to read the second book in my #20BooksOfSummer challenge, even though I’m slightly frantically alternating challenge books and other stuff I need to read and review for Shiny and NetGalley. A little bit of acquiring has gone on, too (oops, not oops) with two books from different publishers coming in for Shiny review and one being bought yesterday at a talk and book signing (rude not to, right?). But first let’s have a look at this book, enticingly subtitled “How Neuroscience is Revolutionising Sport and Can Help You Perform Better”, superimposed on a graphic of a running track. Oh – you’ll notice from the date that I’m JUST keeping to a year’s gap between acquisition and reading. I’m going to say that there will be a jump forward in that, because I know how “good” I usually am in the late summer, autumn, but we’ll have to see, won’t we …

Amit Katwala – “The Athletic Brain”

(12 June 2017)

I apparently ordered this one because someone mentioned it in the Runners’ Bookshelf Facebook group I’m in (although I can’t now find that mention of it). It’s written in an informal and accessible style and is obviously a work that has grown out of a great interest of the author’s; it’s just a bit of a shame that, for me, it overlapped a bit too much with other books I’ve read fairly recently, most notably Matthew Syed’s “Bounce”. He credits that very book in the bibliography and notes, so I’m in no way suggesting anything nefarious, it’s just that something must have been in the water and lots of similar research came out and got mulled over and informed these two books and probably others.

So the talking about training versus talent, and flow and the unconscious, automatic responses and movements that come with hours of practice was all stuff I kind of knew about already – however, nicely done and with good reference to a wide variety of both academic sources and interviews Katwala has done as a sports journalist. As well as the important sections on the role of brain research on visual acuity and the ability to make decisions rapidly through a variety of tools, and the way in which sports clubs of various kinds are using these techniques to train their athletes to do better, there’s also quite a lot about scouting, risk-taking and brain injuries, which, while important and interesting, make the book feel a little disjointed. But again, the research and synthesis is done really well.

I particularly like the author’s handiness with an analogue: for example, and there are lots of examples, the allocation of neural resources is described as being

on the general principle of ‘use it or lose it’, like overlapping games of cricket in a crowded public park.

and w meet some interesting and different people during the book, like the snowboarder, Billy Morgan.

Notwithstanding the running track on the front cover, there’s not that much for the runner here, as visual acuity and fast decision-making are more important in team sports or ones with an opponent. For our rugby, football and tennis playing friends, the most important things seem to be keep flexible, train your peripheral vision and have a go at focusing your attention more on, for example, the hoop in basketball before you shoot for the goal. The main bit about runners, apart from some interesting stuff about VO2 max capacity in twin studies and grit in general is about resilience and keeping going, with a suggestion that you train when tired (for example doing your long run after a day at work). I know that I used that tactic during my winter training for my last marathon and it worked well, so was pleased about that.

So, the author seems really nice and enthusiastic and has done a good work of research. I only felt a bit “meh” about this book because I’d read “Bounce” first. If I’d read them the other way around, I would have felt the other way around about them.

This was Book #2 in my 20BooksOfSummer challenge.


New in, first off my Shiny books. “Sacred Britannia”, by Miranda Aldhouse-Green and sent by Thames & Hudson, is about the clash and mixture of religions in Roman Britain. Sally Bayley’s “Girl With Dove” from William Collins has been popping up all over and was sent kindly along with another book, however I don’t feel I’m the best reviewer, so I’ve sent it along to one of the Shiny editors. And “King of the North Wind” by Claudia Gold is about Henry II. What do you know about him? Nor me – but I’m looking forward to finding out. Some beautiful books here and out in June and July so reviews coming relatively soon.

I was lucky enough to attend a talk and book signing by Blind Dave Heeley, the Black Country marathoner, ultrarunner, triathlete and all-round amazing and entertaining chap. I shared my story with him where I’ve seen him at so many races and cheered him on as he’s stormed past me that when I encountered him at the Road Relays earlier in the year, I assumed I knew him and greeted him with an “Orright, Dave,” as I ushered him down the funnel in my role as Official in Training. He said to give him a shove next time so he knows I know him. OK! Anyway, book purchased, massive guide dog patted, and here’s another good read (and his co-writer is listed on the front cover!).

I’ve just started reading “The Life and Times of Benjamin Zepahaniah” which is SO GOOD. I’m going to be reviewing it here and for Shiny, as it’s one of those books I think I will have a personal and a more academic reaction to. Oh, but it’s good. So entertainingly and honestly written. The first words? “I hate autobiographies” …