Business Books In-Brief: The Captain Class by Sam Walker

13th August 2018 by Jackie Murphy


Sam Walker, the deputy editor of Enterprise at the Wall St. Journal (and a previous sports editor) set out to determine what factor drives the greatest sports teams in the world. He analysed a phenomenal amount of team sport performance data from around the world ranging from football – American and soccer – hockey, rugby, basketball etc. to determine what he considers to be the best sports teams. He calls them “freak teams”. The statistical data is extraordinary to which he applies a set of rules to help him whittle them the teams down to those that have over-exceeded in performance.

He selects 16 teams including Brazil football team (1958-62), the All Blacks New Zealand rugby team (twice), Barcelona Football Club under Pep Guardiola, Cuba ladies’ volleyball team, Australian ladies hockey team, and then he proceeds to assess common factors such as coaches, money, management, overall strategy, tactics and star players. He also examines team psychology, the club management, and leadership.

And he comes to the conclusion that this freakish success is all down to the captains.



What is interesting is that it is not the obvious people that are the successful captains, not the superstars, not the Hollywood picture of a leader; not those that put themselves forward, but often those that offer the following:

  • they are rarely the best player
  • they are selfless and serve the superstars
  • often loyal and fearless, they will speak out if things are not right but from a team perspective rather than a personal point of view
  • they are emotionally resilient
  • they give everything they have, not just on the sports field



I learnt that it is not about being a Roy Keane, not about grandstanding but more about being dogged, inquisitive and the importance of yearning to learn. These captains were also calm, controlled and good communicators, not necessarily grandiose but inclusive. The best on field communicators keep up a stream of chatter, offering support that is practical, physical, consistent and emotionally aware. They are more likely to look everyone in the eye and show individuals that they all matter to the team; everyone has their role to play in the bigger picture.


A good read, particularly if you like sport, and if you are short on time each chapter is summarised with key learnings.


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