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The Captain Class: The Hidden Force that Creates the World's Greatest Teams

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  2,688 ratings  ·  282 reviews
From the founding editor of The Wall Street Journal's sports section comes a bold new theory of leadership drawn from the elite captains who inspired their teams to achieve extraordinary success.

Named one of the best business books of the year by CNBC, strategy+business, Forbes, and

The secret to winning is not what you think it is.
It's not the coach. It's not the
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published May 16th 2017 by Random House (first published April 14th 2016)
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Yevgeniy Brikman
May 17, 2017 rated it liked it
The good: well-written, concise, thoroughly researched, contains lots of interesting stories.
The bad: the reasoning behind the core argument of the book seems flawed.

It's not that the book is necessarily wrong—I have little doubt leaders play a key role in success—but Walker tries to present his conclusions as if they are the result of careful statistical analysis, which is just not the case.

First, there is selection bias at play. Walker's choice of the top 16 sports dynasties of all time is hig
Pete Wung
Jun 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The Captain Class is many different genres trying to fit into one book. On the one hand it is a serious and sober examination of sports dynasties and how they come to be. This is of course an impossible task undertake, but Sam Walker takes a very logical and serious look at the topic. It is also a primer for what makes something like a sports dynasty come alive and breathe and succeed. It is also a book on leadership and what makes a leader in the sports context.
Truth be told, I feel like he suc
Apr 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I received this book from Good Reads.

Well written, fun reading, excellent non fiction. As a Pittsburgh Steelers fan since I was born (I think anyone born in Pgh. is born a Steelers fan LOL) I found Walker's claim that the captain "makes" a great team totally correct.

A great gift for sports oriented men, for sure.
Barnabas Piper
Jan 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A sports book that doubles as a leadership book - not a bad combo. What I appreciated is that it was more narrative driven and diagnostic than prescriptive and motivational. All in all a thoroughly enjoyable and insightful book.
Kevin Joseph
Mar 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Every so often, I come across a non-fiction book that is so well written that is becomes as impossible to put down as a first-rate spy thriller. The Captain Class meets that rare standard. After reading a few pages, I cast aside a pretty good novel I was half-way through so I could focus on what Sam Walker had to say. His theory, distilled from painstaking research on the most successful teams in the history of sports, is startling in its simplicity. Walker came away from his research convinced ...more
Apr 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book was astonishingly good for such an intuitive concept. It is amazing this book was not written years ago. I want to send it to every athlete I have ever admired. I also want to throw it at Kevin Durant's head. ...more
Luke Rubow
May 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Book: The Captain Class
Author: Sam Walker

When I got this book, I had no idea what to expect. When I started reading the Prologue, I began to understand what I was going to be getting in to. Over many years, Sam Walker put in hours and hours of research to find the world’s greatest sports teams and what caused them to achieve greatness.
In order for him to find the greatest sports teams of all time, he had to put every single team, of every single year, to a series of tests. He put in days of w
Ray George
May 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book - definitely my favorite so far this year. It’s a great blend of in-depth sports analysis and team dynamics/management theory (and full disclosure, I dislike and rarely read business books). As a lifelong sports fan (and a recent convert to soccer fandom) I absolutely loved the rational/empirical approach to assessing the greatest teams in history, and the incredibly wide (and global) net the author cast to make his assessment. What is particularly fascinating is that the autho ...more
Chris Jaffe
Aug 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sports
Sam Walker didn't start off looking to examine team captains. He started off looking at the most dominant teams - and that led him to his thesis that team captains (a particular type of that breed) are what drives the best teams forward.

First, he had to figure out what were the most dominant teams. He started off casting his net widely, looking at all sorts of team sports from around the world over the last 100 years. He decided to focus on teams that had at least five people in the field of pla
Sep 20, 2017 rated it liked it
This isn't the kind of book I would normally read, but I got it from the library for my husband, who is a big baseball fan. He enjoyed it, so I gave it a go. My comment on reading this: to really enjoy it fully and give it five stars, you might need to be a die-hard sports fan to enjoy all the asides about his analysis. I am not that fan. HOWEVER, there was much to enjoy, even for a layperson who likes sports but isn't a fanatic.

What is the special sauce that makes some sports teams better than
Lynette Hague
Jul 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
What are the greatest teams of all time across all sports? What do those elite teams have in common?

Sam Walker spent countless hours researching winning teams and setting criteria to narrow it down to the 16 greatest teams of all time. He shares his criteria and thought process in chapter 1. In the next few chapters, he looks at captains, talent, money, culture, and coaches. Then he looks at the seven methods of elite leaders and leadership mistakes and misperceptions.

It was a fascinating read.
Kaye Garcia
Sep 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book mainly for challenging the conventional wisdom of what makes a great leader with concise methodology and statistics. Borrowing heavily from behavioral psychology and its use of conscientious data-driven approach, I loved how the author reaches the conclusions that a truly great leader is not particularly the kind of "leader" illustrated by mainstream business / leadership books and that having a Michael Jordan in the team doesn't necessarily guarantee dominance. This was a fasc ...more
May 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I loathe leadership books. They are poorly written, pragmatic, formulaic, and generally the worst genre of writing in the world. There is more good writing and ideas in a sappy Christian romance novel than a leadership book...

Until The Captain Class. Sam Walker delivers a well written, clear, engaging leadership book that doesn’t fall into the tropes of its genre. The thesis: The character of the captain is the key to a teams success.

I loved this book and it will be my de facto book on leadersh
Dr. Tobias Christian Fischer
May 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Ever thought of becoming a captain of your sport club, company or any other activity? - It’s not about being loud or having motivational speeches. It’s about knowing what each and every individual needs and put your ego aside. You don’t need to be the glorious front player but be a supporter of the teams vision by passing the ball to the right person at the right moment.
Megan Phelps
Aug 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Loved this book - I can't believe it wasn't written earlier! Excited to share with my team ...more
Jan 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is better than a lot of sports books, as it’s got a clear premise and goes beyond the level of stringing together anecdotes in support of an argument. The author’s premise is essentially that the factor binding together truly exceptional teams - across all sports- is the quality of captaincy, and that captains of these teams share similar traits. It’s obviously possible to argue over whether the 16 teams he identifies as defining their sport are the right ones (eg whether the Hungarian men’ ...more
Dave Bolton
Jan 09, 2019 rated it it was ok
There were a few interesting points, and I do believe in the importance of captains in sports and generally strong leaders in everyday endeavours, but overall I am highly dubious that the "Tier One" leaders had anything different to innumerable other sports captains who were in slightly less talented teams. Sure, I think there are some characteristics of successful leaders that we can learn from, but trying to contrive captainship as the critical X-factor devalues all the other effort that world ...more
Oct 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I was skeptical coming in but it turned out to be a fascinating book, with relevancy not just for sports but for leadership in general. Walker looks at the absolute best sports teams in history (with ridiculously high standards - i.e. the Jordan-era Bulls, any-era Lakers and Walsh-era 49ers don't make the list) across literally all team sports (e.g. women's volleyball and men's handball) to try to see if there's any commonality. He finds that there is, but it's not what most people think makes a ...more
Ian French
Sep 28, 2017 rated it it was ok
I'm very torn about this book. I love sports. I love analytics. The teams in this book that I already knew a lot about I can't get enough good stories about, and I was really excited to learn more about other incredible teams. I had really high expectations going in.

The central concept ruined my enjoyment of the great stories there are in the book however. The book has a pretence of objectivity that rings completely false - his choices he makes in narrowing the teams down are completely subjecti
Mar 18, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting book and premise about the characteristics that set apart the 16 greatest sports teams of all time. As the title suggests, after looking at dozens of variables, the author finds that it is their captains - and that the most effective captains are more often the "water carrier" than the star player. The book has a lot of applicability to modern sports teams, which, the author argues, tend to choose captains based on the "wrong" characteristics. I think the lessons of the book are hard ...more
Joseph Ebuen
May 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
What an interesting read! Hearing the stories and the research that Sam Walker puts in this book is so interesting. Sam talks about the particular kind of 'captain' that helped these dynastic teams become so extraordinarily successful. These days, we have an idea of what that kind of leader looks like- but Sam's book shows us that the kind of leaders we have fallen in love with are NOT the kind of leaders that have been able to lead their teams to this kind of excellence. He shows us that the ki ...more
Apr 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I was provided an advanced copy of this book via NetGalley for my honest review. This is my honest review.

This is a book about sports on the surface, but about leadership and determination at its core. You do not have to be the captain of a team or even an athlete to gain some value from this book. Understanding how these successful teams and individuals are wired is quite beneficial to everyone. Just because these captains excel in sports does not lessen the reasons why they excel and how other
Josh Raymer
Aug 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A focused, insightful look into leadership through the lens of team captaincy. Unlike some projects that tie together research and anecdotes, Walker doesn't get sidetracked or lose his main thread. His book is well organized, outlined, and executed. Nowhere along the way does his thesis get muddled, and the teams/captains he chose to showcase were fascinating to study. ...more
Kico Meirelles
Feb 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Great book for those who like sports or great stories. The reading is pleasure and full of curiosities and learnings. My only point is that he did not included the 2009-2012 Fluminense in his Top Tier lists. :)
Apr 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Stefan Ritter
Jul 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An amazing study of what true leadership in sports and business looks like. Including some initially counter intuitive insights, which Sam then backs by summarizing numerous scientific studies.
Oct 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
The quantifying of what make a superior team/captain is arguable but the stories he shares are a lot of fun and make for a worthwhile read.
Daniel Rodic
Jan 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book attempts to understand what determines the success of “Freak” Teams - sports teams which had an unprecedented, 99.9% percentile success rate relative to their competition.

The book boils down the common link to a Captain with 7 key traits:
1. Extreme doggedness and focus in competition
2. Aggressive play that tests the lints of the rules
3. A willingness to do thankless jobs in the shadows
4. A low-key, practical, and democratic communication style
5. Motivates others with passionate nonverb
Elisha Lawrence
Jan 10, 2021 rated it it was amazing
The mark of a good book for me is that you either can't put it down (because you are so interested) or you have to put it down (because it forces you to stop and think about its implications). I found myself in both of those situations with this book. I like sports and this book talks about sports, but it's much more than a sports book. Walker set out to find the best sports dynasties ever. His qualifications narrowed it down to just 16 teams in his top tier of teams (say that three times fast). ...more
Nick Quenga
Apr 27, 2021 rated it it was ok
First identify through semi-scientific selection high performing championship teams in large competitions over time. Then attempt to understand why they performed well. Correlation was seen as causation after only looking at the top teams, and I'm sure such captains existed in other teams which would disprove the entire book. For more, see Fooled by Randomness by Nasim Taleb.
This book succeeds in falling into the narrative fallacy, that there must be a captain to lead such great teams. It then
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Sam Walker is The Wall Street Journal’s deputy editor for enterprise, the unit that directs the paper’s in-depth page-one features and investigative reporting projects. A former reporter, sports columnist, and sports editor, Walker founded the Journal’s prizewinning daily sports coverage in 2009.

In addition to The Captain Class, he is the author of Fantasyland, a bestselling account of his attempt

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96 likes · 18 comments
“THE SEVEN TRAITS OF ELITE CAPTAINS 1. Extreme doggedness and focus in competition. 2. Aggressive play that tests the limits of the rules. 3. A willingness to do thankless jobs in the shadows. 4. A low-key, practical, and democratic communication style. 5. Motivates others with passionate nonverbal displays. 6. Strong convictions and the courage to stand apart. 7. Ironclad emotional control.” 2 likes
“the most crucial ingredient in a team that achieves and sustains historic greatness is the character of the player who leads it.” 1 likes
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