Book Review: The Captain Class

Book Review: The Captain Class

Published: 01/13/2024

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What is the Captain Class About?

‘The Captain Class’ by Sam Walker offers a fresh perspective on leadership through sports history analysis. Walker argues that the key to a sports team’s success lies in the character of its captain, not just talent.

Through engaging stories and data, he demonstrates how these leaders’ quiet yet firm leadership is crucial in realizing a team’s full potential, challenging traditional views of star-driven success.

What I liked about the Captain Class

I recently reread ‘The Captain Class’, a few years after my initial reading. I was reminded of it in a discussion with a High School kid over the holidays, and I wanted to refresh my memory of the book before gifting it to him. I was immediately reminded of why I loved the book.

The overall premise resonates deeply with me.

The idea that transformative leadership doesn’t have to come from the most talented or most flashy individual is powerful for me. Water carriers as Walker calls them lead by example, do the hard work, and communicate effectively.

As someone who loves leadership but is rarely the most talented, most intelligent, or most charismatic person in the room, this is encouraging to me. It was a great reminder that leadership is about going above and beyond in service to the team.

The sports stories are fascinating.

I enjoyed the diverse stories of great athletes and leaders, some familiar and others new to me. It was fun to read through these stories.

Giving 110% isn’t just a cliché.

When I think back to my own very limited High School athletic career, I often realize that I rarely gave it my all. It’s this “relentless effort” as Urban Meyer called it that separates the individuals in the Captain Class from other regular leaders.

This was challenging to me. Not only in thinking back to my lackluster time on the field or court, but just in my everyday life. Am I giving 110% to my family, friends, and coworkers? Am I giving 100% for myself?

“Relentless effort (not talent or intelligence) is the key to achieving great things in your life. Struggle is part of the process. It is hard and often painful. But it’s also necessary, because it’s in the struggle that great things are achieved.”
Urban Meyer, Above the Line: Lessons in Leadership and Life from a Championship Program

What I didn’t like about the Captain Class

While the Captain Class is a great book with a fantastic premise, after working through it again, I’m not as confident in recommending it as I thought I was.

It’s a tough read

While there are parts of the Captain Class that I zoomed through, I found myself getting bored and slogging through much of the book.

  • It’s a little long. The stories are great, but there are many of them…and many of them are very similar.
  • The point is made early in the book and then there’s just not many more points made later.
  • The author continues to hammer away at points that he’s already hammered home.
  • Sometimes the exposition of how he came to conclusions and the science behind them are interesting, sometimes they felt shoehorned in.

These aspects made certain parts of the book less engaging for me

My overall takeaway from the Captain Class

I am glad that I have read this book, but I’m also glad that I don’t need to read this book again. I feel the book as a whole got caught between being a scientifically backed look at sports leadership and a popular leadership guide that shares the overall lessons found in the book.

I would appreciate if the author created a companion book that succinctly presents the main principles of the Captain Class. It could include relevant stories and apply these principles to everyday leadership.

This will be a great reference piece for some of my key points on leadership.

As I went back through this book, I was struck by the overlap of some of the principles in this book and some of my thoughts on the Leadership Lessons from the Ninja Turtles. This will be a good reference for me to point to for further examples and scientific references as I continue to flesh these ideas out for myself and communicate these ideas for others.

My favorite quotes from the Captain Class

“You do your job so everyone around you can do their job,” Tom Brady once said. “There’s no big secret to it.”


  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.”

“Dweck went on to show that the two types of children had different goals. The helpless kids were preoccupied with their performance. They wanted to look smart even if it meant avoiding the difficult problems. The mastery-oriented children were motivated by the desire to learn. They saw failure as a chance to improve their skills.”

“One of the great paradoxes of management is that the people who pursue leadership positions most ardently are often the wrong people for the job. They’re motivated by the prestige the role conveys rather than a desire to promote the goals and values of the organization.”

Deschamps’s approach to leadership was as functional as it gets. On a team, he said, “you can’t only have architects. You also need bricklayers.”

“Studies have shown that a team leader who is in a positive mood can increase a group’s enthusiasm, help it to channel anger more constructively, and even coax it to perform better on specific tasks, such as assembling a jigsaw puzzle. What all of this research shows is that anyone who wants to change the emotional composition of a group—whether it’s a Viennese mob or a football team—can do so by tapping into an invisible network that connects all people together. Strong leaders, if they are so inclined, can bypass the conscious minds of their followers and communicate directly with their brains.”

As Cartwright once put it: “You just play until there’s no game left in your uniform.”

The more desirable model, transformational leadership, only came to pass when leaders focused on the values, beliefs, and needs of their followers, and engaged them in a charismatic way that inspired them to reach higher levels of motivation, morality, and achievement. The secret of transformational leadership, Burns wrote, is that “people can be lifted into their better selves.”

“Leaders are made, they are not born,” as Vince Lombardi famously said. “They are made by hard effort, which is the price which all of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile.”

©2024 Jimmy Lemon