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The Captain Class
Cover of The Captain Class
The Captain Class
A New Theory of Leadership
A bold new theory of leadership drawn from elite captains throughout sports—named one of the best business books of the year by CNBC, The New York Times, Forbes, strategy+business, The Globe and Mail, and Sports Illustrated

"The book taught me that there's no cookie-cutter way to lead. Leading is not just what Hollywood tells you. It's not the big pregame speech. It's how you carry yourself every day, how you treat the people around you, who you are as a person."—Mitchell Trubisky, quarterback, Chicago Bears

Now featuring analysis of the five-time Super Bowl champion New England Patriots and their captain, Tom Brady
The seventeen most dominant teams in sports history had one thing in common: Each employed the same type of captain—a singular leader with an unconventional set of skills and tendencies. Drawing on original interviews with athletes, general managers, coaches, and team-building experts, Sam Walker identifies the seven core qualities of the Captain Class—from extreme doggedness and emotional control to tactical aggression and the courage to stand apart. Told through riveting accounts of pressure-soaked moments in sports history, The Captain Class will challenge your assumptions of what inspired leadership looks like.

Praise for The Captain Class

"Wildly entertaining and thought-provoking . . . makes you reexamine long-held beliefs about leadership and the glue that binds winning teams together."—Theo Epstein, president of baseball operations, Chicago Cubs

"If you care about leadership, talent development, or the art of competition, you need to read this immediately."—Daniel Coyle, author of The Culture Code

"The insights in this book are tremendous."—Bob Myers, general manager, Golden State Warriors

"An awesome book . . . I find myself relating a lot to its portrayal of the out-of the-norm leader."—Carli Lloyd, co-captain, U.S. Soccer Women's National Team

"A great read . . . Sam Walker used data and a systems approach to reach some original and unconventional conclusions about the kinds of leaders that foster enduring success. Most business and leadership books lapse into clichés. This one is fresh."—Jeff Immelt, chairman and former CEO, General Electric

"I can't tell you how much I loved The Captain Class. It identifies something many people who've been around successful teams have felt but were never able to articulate. It has deeply affected my thoughts around how we build our culture."—Derek Falvey, chief baseball officer, Minnesota Twins
A bold new theory of leadership drawn from elite captains throughout sports—named one of the best business books of the year by CNBC, The New York Times, Forbes, strategy+business, The Globe and Mail, and Sports Illustrated

"The book taught me that there's no cookie-cutter way to lead. Leading is not just what Hollywood tells you. It's not the big pregame speech. It's how you carry yourself every day, how you treat the people around you, who you are as a person."—Mitchell Trubisky, quarterback, Chicago Bears

Now featuring analysis of the five-time Super Bowl champion New England Patriots and their captain, Tom Brady
The seventeen most dominant teams in sports history had one thing in common: Each employed the same type of captain—a singular leader with an unconventional set of skills and tendencies. Drawing on original interviews with athletes, general managers, coaches, and team-building experts, Sam Walker identifies the seven core qualities of the Captain Class—from extreme doggedness and emotional control to tactical aggression and the courage to stand apart. Told through riveting accounts of pressure-soaked moments in sports history, The Captain Class will challenge your assumptions of what inspired leadership looks like.

Praise for The Captain Class

"Wildly entertaining and thought-provoking . . . makes you reexamine long-held beliefs about leadership and the glue that binds winning teams together."—Theo Epstein, president of baseball operations, Chicago Cubs

"If you care about leadership, talent development, or the art of competition, you need to read this immediately."—Daniel Coyle, author of The Culture Code

"The insights in this book are tremendous."—Bob Myers, general manager, Golden State Warriors

"An awesome book . . . I find myself relating a lot to its portrayal of the out-of the-norm leader."—Carli Lloyd, co-captain, U.S. Soccer Women's National Team

"A great read . . . Sam Walker used data and a systems approach to reach some original and unconventional conclusions about the kinds of leaders that foster enduring success. Most business and leadership books lapse into clichés. This one is fresh."—Jeff Immelt, chairman and former CEO, General Electric

"I can't tell you how much I loved The Captain Class. It identifies something many people who've been around successful teams have felt but were never able to articulate. It has deeply affected my thoughts around how we build our culture."—Derek Falvey, chief baseball officer, Minnesota Twins
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  • From the book One

    Alpha Lions

    Identifying the World's Greatest Teams

    This was not the first time I had taken a stab at ranking the world's greatest sports teams. It was, however, the first time I'd attempted this while sober.

    There is no better, faster way to start an argument with another sports fan than to trot out the name of a team that you consider to be unrivaled in its accomplishments. Once you go down this road, you're in for a long night. The only redeeming quality of this line of debate is that the more rounds you buy, the sharper your analysis seems to become.

    I had never written any of my own rankings down, but I knew that others had. So I decided to launch my study by gathering up every such list that had been published anywhere in the world, from the page of prestigious newspapers to the most homespun websites to see if they had come to any consensus. I found about ninety of them.

    After I spread them out on my dining room table and attacked them with a yellow highlighter, it was immediately clear that this genre of sports-­page punditry suffered from some empirical weaknesses. Some of the lists didn't bother offering a methodology—­their conclusions were based on the collective opinions of a bunch of guys in the office. The ones that did use numbers were often statistically dubious.

    The most common procedural error was something known as "selection bias," a gaffe which has long plagued all kinds of polls, surveys, and scientific experiments. This occurs when researchers base their studies on samples that aren't large enough, or random enough, to offer a representative cross section of the whole. The telltale sign was that most of these lists had a suspiciously regional flavor. Rankings from England, for example, were clogged with the names of soccer clubs like Liverpool and Manchester United, while those from Down Under went heavy on rugby, cricket, and Australian rules football.

    What this told me was that these list-­makers had failed to cast a wide enough net. In many cases, they hadn't even considered teams from outside their own national borders.

    Another problem was that the same gangs of standbys kept showing up over and over. In the United States, for instance, the 1927 New York Yankees, the 1972 Miami Dolphins, the 1990s Chicago Bulls, and the New England Patriots of the 2000s made nearly every list. The only difference was the order in which they were ranked. This suggested that my fellow analysts had probably allowed themselves to be prejudiced by the candidates other people had already anointed.

    To build a proper list, I realized, I would have to ignore all the others, put on blinders to block my own assumptions, and start fresh. I would have to consider every team from every major sport anywhere in the world through the fullness of history.

    The first step was to locate reliable historical records for every professional or international sports league, association, confederation, or annual tournament, from Australia to Uruguay—­and to isolate every team that either had won a major title or trophy or achieved an exceptional winning streak. This process, which took months to complete, yielded a spreadsheet of candidates that ran into the thousands.

    To set some parameters for my research and filter this group down to a more manageable number, I set out to answer three fundamental questions.

    Question 1: What qualifies as a team?

    Most of the rankings on my dining room table neglected to deal with one vital issue: What constitutes a team in the first place? A sport like ice dancing, where two people perform together in front of a panel of judges, was...
About the Author-
  • Sam Walker is The Wall Street Journal's deputy editor for enterprise, the unit that oversees the paper's in-depth page-one features and investigative reporting projects. A former reporter, columnist, and sports editor, Walker founded the Journal's prizewinning daily sports coverage in 2009. He is the author of Fantasyland, a bestselling account of his attempt to win America's top fantasy baseball expert competition (of which he is a two-time champion). Walker attended the University of Michigan. He lives in New York City with his wife and two children.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    April 10, 2017
    Walker, former global sports editor of the Wall Street Journal, set out to identify the world’s all-time greatest sports teams and determine the common factors that united them. This daunting search for the “DNA of greatness” required scouring dozens of newspaper and obscure websites. Walker settled on 16 elite teams from around the world, including baseball’s New York Yankees (1949–1953), hockey’s Montreal Canadiens (1955–1960), and soccer’s Barcelona (2008–2013). As Walker points out, the common denominator was a captain who possessed at least one of seven key leadership attributes; scoring points and basking in the spotlight are not among them. Walker backs up his assertions with anecdotes from the field, the court, and the locker room, often focusing on captains whose names are not immediately recognizable (Carla Overbeck of the U.S. women’s natonal soccer team, Maurice Richard of the Montreal Canadiens, Wayne Shelford of the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team). 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.

  • Kirkus

    Starred review from May 1, 2017
    From the rugby pitch to the baseball diamond, a riveting analysis of greatness in sport.Following the end of one of the greatest streaks in history, the Connecticut women's basketball team's 111 consecutive wins, comes a timely study of what made sports' most successful teams so dominant. Walker (Fantasyland: A Season on Baseball's Lunatic Fringe, 2006), the founding editor of the Wall Street Journal's daily sports coverage, admits that what propelled him into "this all-consuming project" was witnessing the "transformation" of the 2004 Boston Red Sox "from a half-assed bunch of jokers to legitimate contenders," as well as his lifelong "ache to be part of a great team." Diligently establishing the parameters of what sports he would and would not consider and the objective criteria used to analyze a team's success, Walker arrived at a short list of "the top 10 percent of the top 1 percent of teams" from across the globe since the 1880s. In this illustrious company, the author includes recognizable groups such as the 1949-1953 New York Yankees, the only team in history to win the World Series five consecutive times, but also some unknown to U.S. readers--e.g., Espectaculares Morenas del Caribe (1991-2000) from Cuba, who won "every major women's international volleyball tournament for ten straight years." Though having had no expectation of finding a common denominator when he began scrutinizing what enabled these disparate paragons of victory to dominate their respective sports, Walker reached an intriguing conclusion: "the most crucial ingredient in a team that achieves and sustains historic greatness is the character of the player who leads it"--not the coach, the management, a franchise's wealth, or overall talent. Combining statistics with epic stories from the playing field, Walker compellingly makes his case that captains possessing traits not usually assumed as shared among leaders are what make empires. A fascinating sports study with much wider-reaching application, featuring page-turning tales of personal triumph and cogent analysis.

    COPYRIGHT(2017) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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