The Captain Class

The Captain Class

The Hidden Force That Creates the World's Greatest Teams

Book - 2017
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The secret to winning is not what you think it is. It's not the coach. It's not the star. It's not chemistry. It's not a strategy. It's something else entirely. Several years ago, Sam Walker set out to answer one of the most hotly debated questions in sports- What are the greatest teams of all time? He devised a formula, then applied it to thousands of teams from leagues all over the world, from the English Premier League to the AFL to Olympic field hockey. When he was done, he had a list of the sixteen most dominant teams ever, period. At that point, he became obsessed with another, more complicated question- What did these freak teams have in common? As Walker dug more deeply, a pattern emerged- Each team had the same type of captain - a singular leader who drove it to sustained, historic periods of greatness. Fuelled by a lifetime of sports spectating, twenty years of reporting, and a decade of painstaking research, The Captain Class tells the surprising story of what makes teams exceptional. Drawing on original interviews with athletes from two dozen countries, as well as general managers, coaches, executives, and others skilled at building teams, Walker identifies the seven core qualities of this Captain Class - from doggedness and the knack for nonverbal communication to aggression and the courage to speak truth to power. Told through riveting accounts of some of the most pressure-soaked moments in sports history - from Bill Russell's legendary 'Coleman Play' in the 1957 NBA Finals to Rechelle Hawkes's extraordinary resilience in the Hockeyroos' 2000 Olympic victory - The Captain Class doesn't just bring these events to life; it presents a fresh, counterintuitive take on leadership that can be applied to a wide spectrum of competitive disciplines. The sixteen leaders who make up the Captain Class were never the most skilled, nor were they paragons of sportsmanship. They were often role players, allergic to the spotlight, and famously inarticulate. In short, they will challenge your assumptions of what inspired leadership looks like.'A fascinating sports study with much wider-reaching application, featuring page-turning tales of personal triumph and cogent analysis' Kirkus (starred review) 'Written for serious sports fans in lively language that also speaks to aspiring athletes and business professionals, this book offers a compelling argument for the value of inspired leadership.' Publishers' Weekly
Publisher: [Melbourne, Victoria], Viking an imprint of Penguin Books,, 2017.
Copyright Date: ©2017
ISBN: 9780670078493
Characteristics: 332 pages ; 24 cm.


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JCLChrisK Jul 20, 2018

This is an absolutely fascinating book.

Walker started with a question: What makes great sports teams great? He came up with a criteria and looked at the history of athletic teams to identify the most dominant dynasties of their eras. The success of the best of the best teams all coincided with the arrival and departure of a particular player who became the team's captain. The more he looked, the more he found similarities between all of those figures, until he eventually had to conclude "that the most crucial ingredient in a team that achieves and sustains historic greatness is the character of the player who leads it."

Walker summarizes those character traits as: "Doggedness, selflessness, emotional control, principled dissent, functional leadership, and practical communication."

It is Walker's exploration of each of those traits that composes the bulk of the book and what I found most fascinating. He offers lengthy examples of each from the playing lives of the 16 elite captains. And though he remains firmly in the realm of sports, specialized knowledge is not required to understand or appreciate them. His writing is accessible and informal, focusing on what the anecdotes demonstrate rather than geeking out about the athletic feats.

One thing Walker leaves to readers is transferring the book's knowledge to non-sport contexts. It can be particularly hard at a glance to come up with parallels for non-competitive settings. Still, there is wisdom to be gleaned with reflection about leadership principles. I'm still pondering just what lessons I can take away from it.

Which is always a sign of a good book.

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