The former global sports editor of The Wall Street Journal profiles the greatest teams in history and identifies the counterintuitive leadership qualities of the unconventional men and women who drove them to succeed.
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
Format & Editions
May 29, 2017
Viking (AU Adult)
Find your local Bookstore at Booksellers NZ
In 2004, I took a leave from my job to write a book about competing in America’s toughest fantasy-baseball expert competition. My strategy was to spend many days and nights with real major-league teams collecting inside information. The club I followed most closely was the Boston Red Sox.
The Red Sox franchise had a long and glorious history of failure and heartbreak dating back to 1918, the last time it had won a World Series. The moment I met them at spring training in February, I found little evidence that this season would be any different. Despite a sprinkling of stars, the roster was largely composed of misfits and castoffs—oddly shaped and sloppily bearded party animals with unconventional skills that other teams didn’t value. Behind the scenes I found them to be candid and funny, unpredictable and hopelessly undisciplined—a profile that would earn them the nickname The Idiots.
When Boston fell nine and a half games behind their rivals, the dynastic New York Yankees, I wasn’t the least bit surprised. I believed my first impression had been spot-on. The Red Sox were nothing like the dominant teams I had known. They weren’t championship contenders.