leadership lessons from sports soccer player

Leadership Lessons from the 16 Greatest Sports Teams of All Time

April 29, 2024

What can leaders learn from the 16 greatest sports teams of all time?

For his book, The Captain Class: The Hidden Force That Creates the Worlds Greatest Teams, Sports journalist Sam Walker extensively studied nearly every sports team in history and identified the 16 most dominant. This included legendary teams such as the 1949-50 New York Yankees, the 1956-69 Boston Celtics and the 1996-99 US Women's soccer team. 

Walker's goal was to answer one question: what was the one thing these teams had in common that sparked greatness?

His intense study yielded a clear answer: the quality of their captains.

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The Power of the Captain Class

It may not come as a huge surprise that the captains of these teams were the secret to their success. Afterall, it's common knowledge that great leaders often create incredible results. But what's most interesting about the book is the type of captains that drove these historic teams.

Surprisingly, most of these captains weren't the best players. They didn't have the boldest personalities, give inspirational speeches or spend much time in the spotlight.

The best captains are water carriers for the rest of the team. They are the hardest workers. They don't care about outside perception. AND, they do whatever it takes to win.

The Leadership of Carla Overbeck

For instance, Carla Overbeck was captain of the incredibly successful US national soccer team in the 80s & 90s.

Her coaches freely stated that her soccer skills were average. She was fairly short and not particularly athletic. Yet, she was chosen as the captain.

What made her a great leader?

She always passed the ball as quickly as possible so that more talented players had the maximum time with the ball. She could care less about taking credit.

Once, when running sprints, she outlasted every other teammate and kept running for two minutes after everyone else quit... on a broken toe. She had an incredible work ethic.

Thus, she had the full respect of all her teammates.

The Leadership of Tim Duncan

leadership of tim duncan

Tim Duncan is a another great example of a no-frills, selfless captain.

He was extremely talented, but he could have had better stats. He switched positions multiple times to better fit the make up of the team.

He could have gotten more accolades, but he avoided public appearances. The media mocked him as being boring. 

He could have gotten paid more, but he accepted a lesser salary to allow another player to join the team who made four times what he made.

As a result, Duncan won five championship titles, and went to the playoffs all 19 years he was in the NBA. That's more trips to the playoffs with one team than any other player in NBA history.

What Business Leaders Can Learn from the Greatest Sports Captains

The greatest sports captains don’t worry much about how the outside perceives them. They must do what it takes to win and put the good of the team first. 

Whether you're in business or sports, if you seek to lead a team, put away any desire for self-glorification. 

The best leaders are selfless, hard workers who serve their team.