Book Review: Chop Wood Carry Water

Let me start by saying that when Joshua Medcalf eventually releases a pocket-size version of this book I’ll be the first in line to buy it, and you should be right behind me. Chop Wood Carry Water was the first Joshua Medcalf book that I read, and it has had a tremendous impact on my life both as a coach and as a person. Its simple and approachable style make it an excellent read for anyone trying to focus more on the process than the outcome.

Chop Wood Carry Water details John’s journey to become a samurai archer with the help of Akira-sensei. On this journey, with Akira-sensei’s help, John comes to realize that his path to mastery is much more about the person he becomes on the way than it is about his destination.

The lessons pile up quickly, as almost every chapter is a succinct and simple message about paying attention to the process, rather than the outcome.

Here are some of my favorite takeaways from the book:

  • Building Your Own House: Your actions and decisions today are what determine your situation tomorrow. Do your best work.
  • One Eye for the Journey: If you are constantly focused on your destination or your goal, you’re likely to lose track of what’s important along the way. In the end, the journey is what is going to matter; who you become is what is going to matter.
  • Diet Coke: A very simple message that in my mind pertains a great deal to the mental game. Simply drinking diet soda isn’t going to result in you losing weight any more than five minutes of mental practice is going to lead to ideal mental toughness. You have to consistently do the work; not the diet soda version of the work – the gritty, frustrating, sometimes boring, daily work.
  • Goal vs. Mission: The lesson here is to distinguish between two types of objectives. Often times goals are not something you can fully control, and if someone or something along the way prevents you from achieving your goal, you may let yourself off the hook. A mission, however, is different. If your mission is to improve in your field every day, who can stop you? Where will you be in 365 days if you are true to that mission? This is an important lesson for players and coaches alike; choose your mission wisely, and commit to it fully.

Overall, the thing I love most about this book is its versatility.  Once you’ve read it, you can pick it up, flip to a chapter, and get a quick 3-5 page reminder of what’s important. During the season, Chop Wood Carry Water will be in my bag most of the time—it’s that good.

Once you’ve read it, here are some ways I would recommend using this book with your team:

  • Consider a whole-team reading of this book. Not every book I review will have this recommendation, but athletes at all levels can benefit from some portion of this one. Hold meetings, or set aside time before or after practice, to discuss the lessons covered. This also gives you an opportunity to recognize which aspects resonate with each individual player, and address strengths and weaknesses as needed.
  • At the collegiate level, have your freshmen read this book as a group. Set the tone that greatness is found along the way—not at the destination. Reading this book in their first semester will help lay the groundwork for what is expected and required of them both during their collegiate career and beyond.
  • Prescribe the book to individuals who are especially results-oriented, and be available to work through it with them. Ask them to read a certain section each week, then follow up. Prepare your own questions and discuss the overarching message. Help them see the benefits of the journey, not only through these stories, but through your actions and values.



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