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'The Best: How Elite Athletes are Made' by  Mark Williams and Tim Wigmore

by Neil Rollings (Book Reviewer), November 2020

This book is an unlikely alliance between a sports scientist and a journalist. It aims to provide an explanation of various factors surrounding high performance in sport, and combines research evidence and anecdotes to do this.  This is sometimes an uneasy combination, but for the most part it packages science in a readable and accessible format.

There are three sections, each composed of a number of chapters.  The first part looks at the significance of birth and environment, and seeks to explain the impact which these might have.  The second section is the longest part and covers a series of areas of high performance.  The selection of topics is a little random, including factors relating to responding to fast moving balls, the advantage of left handers, why athletes choke and an interesting, if somewhat niche, chapter which examines the issues involved in a penalty shoot-out.  The final part is about the science of practice and its impact on improving performance.  These three short chapters are a little unbalanced, and the overview is brief compared with the others. 

The book will be of interest to those involved in coaching athletes in any sport.  It provides fascinating background in a wide range of areas, and offers a general understanding of several topics.  Some will be frustrated by its breadth, and regret the lack of more specific focus on transferable science.  As an introduction to the issues surrounding high performance, however, it is a readable oversight into a wide range of factors.