Book Review: Play On: The New Science of Elite Performance at Any Age by Jeff Bercovici

I greatly enjoyed reading this book! It is technically a sports science book, but the author, Jeff Bercovici, makes it fun and easy to read and understand. Not only this, but he makes the book applicable to everyone, not just for elite athletes. I learned so much from this book. If you apply the principles taught in this book, you will drastically improve your training, performance, and athletic longevity.

The whole book is about answering one question: how can athletes extend their playing careers? Bercovici answers this question comprehensively in 10 chapters. Here are some basic principles that I’ve learned from the book:

A long athletic career, extending into your late thirties, is all about maintaining health and performance. Athletes are often forced into retirement because either they lose their athleticism, their overall performance decreases, or they begin suffering too many injuries. Everything in this book is meant to help athletes maintain their athleticism and/or performance and prevent injuries. 

One of the main ways to accomplish all of this is to maintain “freshness” and avoid the accumulation of fatigue. This means to stop over-training and allow your body to recover in time for your next workout/game. When you push yourself too hard and for too long, your body accumulates fatigue. Not only does this decrease performance since you can’t play your best on tired muscles, but it also increases your chances of injuring yourself. The book goes into many ways in which you can train more efficiently to improve/maintain skills without accumulating fatigue.

There is a chapter on the importance of recovery methods such as stretching, icing, massaging, and how they help shorten the time needed for athletes to recover from one workout to the next.

The book emphasizes the importance of staying injury free. Some athletes don’t understand the significance of injuries. They don’t realize the long-term effects that just one sprained ankle can have. They don’t realize that body parts are interconnected and every part affects each other. Some athletes seem to forget that you only have one body, and you need to take care of it for your whole life. 

The book then talks about other ways injuries occur. Besides from accumulated fatigue, injuries can come from poor range of motion and inefficient movement patterns. The book explains how poor technique and inefficient body movements cause too much wear and tear on specific body parts, which leads to injuries.

Next, the book goes into how older athletes use their mental game to maintain their performance despite losing athleticism. Older athletes are often mentally tougher than younger athletes, and therefore are able to get more out of their talent and athleticism.

Experience and the use of strategy are other ways older athletes stay competitive. Older athletes are smarter than their younger competitors. Since they’ve played longer, their brains have processed more information, and are therefore faster than a young person’s brain. This is why games feel “slower” to older, more experienced athletes.

Next, Bercovici examines sports nutrition and separates facts from myths. Bercovici comes to the conclusion that a common sense, healthy, and balanced diet is sufficient for elite athletes. He points out that athletes are famous for being very superstitious and gullible to fads and special diets. However, he does give some science-based advice, such as athletes need to eat lots of protein, especially as they get older, and that eating gelatin helps strengthens tendons and ligaments (which prevents injuries).

There are some other chapters that focus on topics such as genes, technology, and sports surgeries. Not everything in this book is applicable for everyone, therefore, I won’t go into detail about them. There are dozens of helpful training and fitness tips in this book. Any type of athlete or coach could find a handful of practical tips in this book. 

Much of this book goes against what many people have been taught about sports, training, and fitness. But that is the best thing about this book. It totally changes how you think about training and athletic success overall. Many myths are debunked in this book, and because of this, you’ll be saved from injuries, poor performance, and a shorter athletic career. With the help of this book, you can better plan out your career, and build your game/body in a way that gives you the best combination of success and longevity. It is a must read for any athlete or coach!