The Captain Class: who’s captaining your team?

Former Test cricketer Rick McCosker applies some sporting criteria to his ‘team captain’.

Sam Walker’s aim in writing The Captain Class: The Hidden Force Behind the World’s Greatest Teams − and the purpose of his many years of sport reporting, interviews and research − was firstly to identify elite, dominant teams with outstanding success. For this, he used six criteria – teams had at least five members; they competed in sports where the athletes must interact or co-ordinate their efforts during competition while also engaging directly with their opponents; they competed in a major spectator sport with millions of fans; their dominance lasted for at least four years; they had ample opportunities to prove themselves against the world’s top competition and finally, their achievements stood apart in some way from all other teams in the history of their sport.

His aim then was to determine if there was one particular person, coach or manager in that team who was the catalyst for the extended success and then analyse why or how that person was the catalyst.

Sixteen teams, labelled Tier One, complied with his exacting criteria, a mix of most major global sports, including two Australian teams – Collingwood Magpies (AFL) of 1927-30 and our International Women’s Field Hockey team of 1993-2000. Not surprisingly, two New Zealand All Black Rugby teams from different eras were also included.

In each of the Tier One teams he was able to identify one person who was able to establish a dynasty for his or her team. Of the sixteen teams, thirteen were male and three female, all with a ‘catalyst’ person, someone who provoked a spark.     

In the history of human events, nothing draws a larger and more diverse audience than two elite groups of athletes competing. Part of what makes us human is the desire to join a collective effort, to come together. In America, it’s a notion that’s printed on every dollar bill, on a banner held in the beak of a bald eagle: E Pluribus Unum, “Out of Many, One.”

Now, I believe there comes a moment in every contest, sporting or otherwise, when one person or team does or says something that tips the balance in its favour and wins the contest. Sometimes we can be aware of that moment and sometimes not – but one person or team will move to a position of winning and the other will lose the momentum.

As a result of his research and many interviews, the author felt that he was able to identify the one person in each of the sixteen Tier One teams who provided that ‘X’ factor, not just for one contest, but over an extended period of time – an era.

Of the sixteen Tier One teams, the ‘X’ factor person shared the following traits:

  • Extreme doggedness and focus in competition
  • Aggressive play that tests the limits of the rules
  • A willingness to do thankless jobs in the shadows
  • A low-key practical and democratic communications style
  • An ability to motivate others with passionate non-verbal displays
  • Strong convictions and the courage to stand apart
  • Iron-clad emotional control.

Some might argue that, for a great number of Australians, sport is a pseudo religion. However, as not everyone follows this ‘religion’, can we apply Walker’s analysis and research to leadership in our church?

Perhaps we can apply the above traits to what the Scripture writers tell us of the life of our ‘original’ captain, Jesus Christ. We are told of his:

  • extreme doggedness in prayer to his Father that his followers would understand his teachings
  • aggressive testing the limit of the rules laid down by the scribes and Pharisees by eating and drinking and healing on the Sabbath
  • willingness to do thankless jobs by washing the feet of the disciples during the Last Supper
  • low-key practical and democratic communications through his gentle teaching and story- telling by way of parables
  • motivation with passionate and non-verbal displays of compassion through healing of the sick
  • courage to stand apart with conviction that he was the Son of the Father through his humanity and divinity
  • ironclad emotional control before and during his ‘conviction’, scourging, flogging and crucifixion.

Does our church, as a “team”, comply with the six criteria used by the author to identify his Tier One teams? I think, yes. However, can we say that our ‘team’ has stood apart from all others throughout history for the right reasons? Perhaps the jury is still out!

Sam Walker The Captain Class: The Hidden Force Behind the World’s Greatest Teams Penguin 2017.

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Rick McCosker

Rick McCosker is the Port Chaplain for the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle and a former Test cricketer for Australia.

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