Summary of The Playmaker’s Advantage

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The Playmaker’s Advantage book summary

Editorial Rating



  • Analytical
  • Innovative
  • Scientific


Sports consultants Leonard Zaichkowsky and Daniel Peterson assert that athletes’ mental and emotional training is as crucial as their technical training. They examine top athletes in hockey, basketball, football, soccer and other sports to determine what makes someone a “playmaker,” the team member who can see the field and make quick, effective decisions. The authors focus on developing team athletes between 10 and 20 years old and discuss how neuroscience explains what makes someone a truly elite athlete. They draw from detailed, complex research as they debunk multiple myths of child-adolescent coaching practices. While their text can sometimes be dense, their stories and athlete interviews make the academic elements relatable. Their main messages include: Don’t yell at your kids from the sidelines; if you want soccer stars, introduce your kids to many sports; and achievement in team sports correlates with achievement at school and in the workforce. 

About the Authors

Sports psychologist and textbook author Leonard Zaichkowsky, PhD, a former Boston University professor, consults with national sports organizations worldwide. Consultant Daniel Peterson has a background in technology management. They co-founded 80 Percent Mental Consulting, which helps teams, organizations and coaches develop athletes’ cognitive abilities.


What Makes a “Playmaker”?

In 2003, the Atlantic Coast Conference named Mia Hamm the greatest female athlete and ranked Michael Jordan as the greatest male. In 2004, when Brazilian soccer legend Pelé listed the 125 best-ever players for FIFA’s 100th anniversary, he put Hamm on the list.

Pelé didn’t name Hamm because she was a high scorer, though even 10 years after retiring, she still holds the NCAA women’s career record for assisted goals. Instead, these rankings honored Hamm as a playmaker. She embodied an overarching desire to win, was relentless and exacting on the field, and performed well under competitive pressure. Her former coach, Anson Dorrance, noted her remarkable speed and her focus in high-pressure games. Hamm always kept team goals foremost. She was known for her selflessness.

Hamm, Jordan and other playmakers exhibit a “sixth sense” – no matter their age. This “athletic cognition” marks their ability to make the right, smart choice under competitive pressure in all game situations. Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens called Al Horford a playmaker due to Horford’s composure...

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