The Captain Class: The Hidden Force behind the World’s Greatest Teams, by Sam Walker. Ebury Press
The author is the former global sports editor of The Wall Street Journal. During his time as a sportswriter, he covered some great teams, including the 2004 Boston Red Sox. He would write down what he heard from the members of those teams. In this book, he writes of his eleven-year study of 1,200 sports teams since the 1880’s. From that study, he came up with sixteen teams which fit into what he calls “Tier One” teams. American sports fans might be surprised to read about which teams are not on his list – Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls and John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins, being two of them. He asks what the most dominant teams in history had in common, and answers that the key is the character of the player who leads the team.
He writes that elite-level captains are not the sort we imagine and shares seven traits of elite captains with helpful examples of captains who demonstrated each. The seven traits are:
- They were relentless, tenacious. They gave everything they had.
- They pushed the rules to the breaking point.
- They led from the back. They were “water carriers”. I particularly liked this trait as it spoke of servant leadership. The author states that the easiest way to lead is to serve.
- They were effective communicators.
- They motivated with non-verbal displays.
- They were not afraid to speak uncomfortable truths.
- They demonstrated the ability to regulate their emotions.
An interesting chapter was on “false idols”. Here, the author writes that while Michael Jordan was a great player, he was not a great captain, giving that credit on the Chicago Bulls to Bill Cartwright and Scottie Pippin, who were co-captains with Jordan.
Some of the sports teams and captains he writes about will most likely be new to American readers, such as soccer, rugby, handball and women’s volleyball. I most enjoyed reading about captains I was familiar with, such as Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics, Yogi Berra of the New York Yankees and Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs.
The book, which includes some adult language, focuses on the world of sports, but the principles included will easily translate to other organizations (businesses, churches and non-profits). The author references research studies and includes helpful takeaways, summarizing the main points from the chapter. Although you may not agree with all the teams which made the author’s “Tier One” teams, or his conclusions about Michael Jordan, I believe you will find this an interesting and helpful read.
I first heard about this book from Brian Dodd. Here he shares 25 quotes from the book.