This book de­clares from the out­set: it is unashamedly about be­ing ex­cep­tional, rather than merely good. Ric Charlesworth pur­sued that per­son­ally – not only a hockey Olympian, but state crick­eter, doc­tor and Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment – and fa­mously pushed the play­ers he coached to the most ex­act­ing stan­dards. To play for Charlesworth, one could get sick of all the win­ning (a line whose po­lit­i­cal prove­nance he would not ap­pre­ci­ate), but it wasn’t the most com­fort­able of ex­pe­ri­ences.

Be­tween his stints at the Hock­ey­roos and the Kook­abur­ras, Charlesworth es­tab­lished him­self as a side­line doyen, the coach that other coaches look to­ward, of­ten in other sports. His record in hockey was self-ev­i­dent: of 21 semi and fi­nal con­tests at the sport’s big­gest events, Charlesworth’s teams won 20; the sole loss, by the men at the Lon­don Olympics, gnawed at him.

But like other equiv­a­lent fig­ures in the coach­ing fir­ma­ment, it wasn’t re­sults that drove Charlesworth as much as process. The dis­com­fort comes from a need for con­stant im­prove­ment, and the harsh truths that ev­ery team, player and coach has to face to make those gains. It’s en­cap­su­lated in a say­ing, at­trib­uted to the­olo­gian and anti-Nazi dis­si­dent Di­et­rich Bon­ho­ef­fer, which Charlesworth draws on in his ap­proach: to com­fort the trou­bled, and trou­ble the com­fort­able.

One of the plea­sures of read­ing World’s Best is tak­ing in Charlesworth’s poly­math-like range. The sin of the gar­den-va­ri­ety coach tome is to re­heat phrases from mo­ti­va­tional posters, but this book can span the writ­ings of Shake­speare (Charlesworth is a bard nut), an in­ci­sive cri­tique of Tony Ab­bott’s love of “cap­tain’s picks” and the work prac­tices of doc­tor/au­thor Atul Gawande, with­out seem­ing forced.

A later chap­ter is not from Charlesworth but Corinne Reid, the sport psy­chol­o­gist on the Kook­abur­ras. The chap­ter delves into what they call “the ex­cel­lence delu­sion”, which is a clear state­ment of the sub­ject – con­trary to to­day’s ev­ery­body-gets-a-tro­phy cul­ture, achiev­ing ex­cel­lence re­quires real striv­ing. Charlesworth com­mends Reid’s en­try as the best writ­ing in World’s Best, which is em­blem­atic – even in his own book, Charlesworth is try­ing to learn from some­where else.

GOODFOR: Any kind of coach. Good for the cor­po­rate types, too. Or just the odd, mad hockey fan in your life.

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