Tag Archives: Peter Berkrot

Book Review: The Golden Rules by Bob Bowman (3/5)

18 Jul

If you’ve been here for some time, you know I love swimming. I grew up swimming competitively since the age of nine and I still compete as an adult. Needless to say, I watch the Olympics religiously and Michael Phelps was a big icon of my childhood. Behind every athlete is a coach and Phelps’ coach, Bob Bowman, is a legend. He coached at the University of Michigan while Michael was in college so he almost feels local, too. When I heard Bowman had a book, I knew I wanted to read it and unfortunately it took me a few years to finally get around to it.

Cover image via Goodreads

The Golden Rules: 10 Steps to World-Class Excellence in Your Life and Work by Bob Bowman and Charles Butler

Summary from Goodreads:

Bob Bowman, best known as the coach for the record-breaking run of Michael Phelps, is one of the most successful coaches in sports history. He is lauded for his intense personality, incredible dedication to his athletes, and his ability to nurture talent in athletes who have the heart and drive to win. This is his motivational book about winning in all walks of life and what you have to do to get there. He presents ten key concepts that all people should live by. Illuminating his lessons with spirited anecdotes, Bowman will teach you how to get gold out of every day by setting goals and getting motivated to achieve them. He will explain that taking risks is the key to success in any pursuit, and coach you on how you can become more risk-tolerant.

By following The Golden Rules, you will learn to visualize in order to achieve your goals, and that above all else, dedication to your training, your job, or whatever area it is you are seeking to triumph in is paramount for success.

As much as Bowman kept talking about how his rules could be applied to any job and pursuit, it was very focused on swimming. He uses examples of how he applied the rules with his swimmers and their preparation for meets. He talks extensively about Michael and his accomplishments following the rules. I would recommend this book for swimmers, but I’m not sure if I would recommend it outside that community. I also like Bowman less after reading this book. He talks about how hard he is on his swimmers and while I know that’s an effective coaching style for some, it’s not a system that would work on me. I guess I’m lucky I was never an elite caliber athlete who had to decide if Bob would coach me!

Bowman portrayed himself and his swimmers in a very real way. He talked about his shortcomings and the times when his swimmers stumbled. I’m a big fan of one of Bowman’s other swimmers, Allison Schmidt, and the way he described her was in line with the athlete I’ve watched for years. (As a side note, Schmidt went to high school 30 minutes from me and is about the same age as me.) I’m glad he talked about the times Michael stumbled because those were very public and large mistakes, and I’m glad he talked about himself in a very truthful way as well. I didn’t feel like he was showing only the best of himself.

I liked the message Bowman had and the method he shared. The stages he has made sense to me and I can see how I’ve applied some of them in my life and the adventures I’ve undergone. I can apply them to my triathlon endeavors, sure, but I can also apply them to planning my trip to Europe last summer or the career change I’m thinking of making now. Going all-in is helpful, having a team support individual success makes everything better, and overcoming adversity makes success even sweeter. I liked how Bowman detailed how his athletes had overcome this and it helped me see it in my life.

Bob Bowman
Image via ASU Website

Bowman talked a lot about a swimmer I wasn’t familiar with, Jessica Long. Her story stuck with me more than any other athlete Bowman mentioned. I was very inspired by her goal of making the qualifying time for the standard Olympic trials despite being a decorated Paralympian. Her story of meeting her birth parents had me tearing up, too!

I disliked when Bowman talked about motivating his athletes by telling them they weren’t trying hard enough and that their effort level was unacceptable. Maybe it’s because I’ve never gone into practice and just gone through the motions. I’ve never done just enough when I was first asked to do as much as I could. I’m very internally motivated so a coach who relies on external motivation to push a swimmer forward was an odd concept for me and it made me feel like he didn’t tailor his style of coaching to fit what his athletes needed.

My audiobook was narrated by Peter Berkrot. Bowman mentions several times being from South Carolina and Berkrot’s southern accent seemed to go perfectly with Bowman’s energy and hometown. He seemed to channel the Bob Bowman I’ve seen on interviews and fit the personality I’ve heard of from his swimmers. He really nailed it in my opinion.

Bowman focuses on excellence in whatever you do and achieving goals. He talks about how goals are often based on meeting a target and not on beating another person. Instead of setting a goal of Michael winning a medal, they would figure out what time he would likely need to win the medal and focus on swimming that time. Similarly, I’ve set a goal of finishing my Half IronMan in a certain time (though I’m being flexible with it) and have certain criteria for my next career move that I’m focusing on. Excellence can come in many forms, but Bowman’s advice of setting large and small goals to get there and how to go toward chasing those goals resonated well.

Writer’s Takeaway:  Bowman shared his message mostly through anecdotes which were helpful. I could see the point he was trying to make illustrated. What was hard about it was that the timeline was a bit messy. He jumped backward and forward in time, skipped from one swimmer to the next, and I wondered if I followed only because of my personal interest in the sport. If I was going to write an inspirational book, I would try (and probably fail) to tell a story in order and talk about how the process worked sequentially instead of in spurts.

This book was enjoyable but I’m not sure it had the universal appeal it was meant to. It also fell short for me in a few ways. I’m giving it three out of five stars.

Until next time, write on.

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Related Posts:
Bob Bowman’s Golden Rules for World-Class Excellence in Your Life and Work | The Tao of Wealth
Bob Bowman discusses ‘The Golden Rules’ on TODAY | NBC Sports