National Writing Project

Book Review: Writing on the Bus: Using Athletic Team Notebooks and Journals to Advance Learning and Performance in Sports

By: Emilie Brand Manhart
Date: March 6, 2012

Summary: Richard Kent's how-to book provides background, research, anecdotes, inspiration, and a hands-on guide for coaches to implement journals as learning tools for athletes.


If you've never thought about a notebook and pen as integral parts of an athlete's equipment list, Writing on the Bus may well change your mind. While the book is bolstered by research and pedagogical theory, it reads like a field guide for using athletic journals and team notebooks in sports. Chock full of charming anecdotes about coaching and stories of athletes from elementary age through college, it carries the weight of experience. Rich Kent has coached for thirty-three years and taught for thirty-six; in a candid and authentic voice, he draws from his experience on the soccer field, the ski slopes, and in the classroom.

We all know that writing is introspective and clarifying. We know that a consistent writing practice can help a writer think clearly and articulate new ideas. So, if writing is learning, and coaching is teaching, and if athletes by nature are motivated to improve their skills, it does not require much of a leap to see the role for writing in athletics. Kent clearly makes the connection that notebooks and journaling enhance an athlete's learning and performance, and reap benefits in all sports, both team and individual.

Amy Edwards, Head Coach of Gonzaga University's Women's Soccer, describes the season she implemented team notebooks. "Our team had never been so in tune with themselves . . . with team notebooks the players took ownership of their team and destiny. We had the most successful season in program history."

Kent clearly makes the connection that notebooks and journaling enhance an athlete's learning and performance, and reap benefits in all sports, both team and individual.

In a voice both humorous and instructive, Kent offers a balanced presentation of writing with athletes, including successes, missteps, and lessons learned. Throughout the book, Kent weaves lively stories of his own athletes and their experiences, confirming that the practice really works. You see kids writing on the bus, squatting on the playing field, or sprawling in the hallways of dorms, scribbling intently into their notebooks. Excerpts from athletes' journals and separate inserted illustrations show the reader what an athlete's journal may actually look like.

Adding writing to your coaching program, Kent makes clear, does not mean you change everything that you do as a coach. Rather, this book will help you add an additional layer to all that you already do with your athletes. " . . . Writing will complement an athletic program and add a new level of understanding for athletes and team staff members." Kent offers a wide range of ideas on how to actually get kids writing, from simple individual goal-setting prompts or team-building exercises to complex theories on team development and systems of play (SOP). Kent emphasizes flexibility, noting that while some coaches may choose to incorporate journals in moderation, others will use them more expansively.

The addition of writing, according to Kent and the many athletes and coaches whom he interviews, will benefit athletes before, during, and after competitions. Carter Robertson, Alpine Ski Racer, explains, "No one likes skiing with a cluttered mind, so put it on paper and free some space." A writing regimen trains athletes to reflect on their skills and think on their feet. After a game or a race, athletes who write analyze their own performance with more than "we won" or "we lost." Team notebooks and journals can nurture the coach-athlete relationship too, as in the privacy of their journals athletes may pen their frustrations, secret goals, or issues at home.

When you finish reading Writing on the Bus, and you are intrigued enough to try adding writing to your program, you will also be holding in your hands a practical and customizable manual, complete with directions on where to start, what to do, what not to do, and pages and pages of ideas for writing prompts.

Implementing team notebooks or journals will make for sharper and more thoughtful athletes; Rich Kent's book will make you a more effective teacher and a smarter coach.

About the Author Emilie Brand Manhart teaches high school English in Bangor, Maine, and writes about raising kids and running marathons at her One Mom in Maine blog.

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