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Successful Sports Team Captains Are Rarely Stars

In his book about famous sports team captains titled The Captain Class, Sam Walker examines the hidden forces that create the world's greatest sports teams. Here's one of his surprising findings about one of the characteristics that makes for a great team captain: they took care of tough, unglamorous tasks. In other words, they were rarely stars. They did the grunt work.

Walker gives the following example:

In 1962, when Brazil won its second consecutive World Cup, its team's unquestioned star was Pelé, arguably the greatest soccer player of all time. The prevailing view is that Pelé's brilliance, expressed by the 77 goals he scored, was the team's driving force. But Pelé was never made captain—nor did he lobby for the job. The team's primary leader was Hilderaldo Bellini, a tough and humble central defender who, during a nine-year stint with Brazil, never scored a goal.
Bellini was a functionary, not a star. While Pelé attended to the pressures of celebrity, Bellini took care of the daily, hourly grunt work of unifying the team. He cleaned up their mistakes with his fearless defense, often leaving the pitch bruised and bloodied, and calmly urged them forward when their confidence sagged.

Walker concludes, "The captains on my list were rarely exceptional talents. … The leader's job wasn't to dazzle on the field but to labor in the shadows of the stars, to carry water for the team, to lead from the back.

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