When Everyone’s Really Good: The Impact of Having Too-Much Talent on Different Sports Teams

“The Too-Much Talent-Talent Effect: Team Interdependence Determines When More Talent Is Too Much Or Not Enough” experiment explores how different levels of individual talent on a team can either hinder or enhance a team’s performance. The experiment compares levels of individual talent of athletes on two types of sports teams: interdependent teams, such as basketball, and independent teams, such as baseball. The five researchers conducting the experiment (Roderick I. Swaab, Michael Schaerer, Eric M. Anicich, Richard Ronay, and Adam D. Galinsky) define an interdependent team as one on which players rely on coordination with each other to create plays and defend as a unit. An independent team, however, is one where players have more freedom to perform individually without their individual actions having too great of an impact on the team’s overall performance. The purpose of this experiment is to answer the following hypothesis: teams with too much talent/dominant individuals produces success up to a point, until too much talent leads to diminishing returns.

In order to answer the problem/question proposed by the hypothesis, the researchers conducted four experiments that measured how too much talent might affect a team in different scenarios. The experimenters first needed to confirm that people believed what the hypothesis was trying to disprove: that teams will perform at their best when they have as much talent on their roster as possible. Through a form of surveys, the researchers were able to confirm this belief and move forward with the experiment.

The next three parts of this experiment examine how too much talent affects interdependent and independent teams differently. Research conducted on both soccer and basketball teams (interdependent sports) confirmed that too-much talent only provides success for a team up to a certain point before that success begins to diminish. These findings were projected on curvilinear graphs so that readers would have a visual image. When the researchers studied the effects of too-much talent on independent teams they discovered that a curvilinear line did not exist; team success increased with more talent. After conducting their experiments, the researchers were thus able to confirm that too-much talent can negatively affect interdependent teams, however, does not seem to have any negative effect on the success of independent teams.

With regards to the psychological world, this study was conducted in order to show how interdependent teams will be affected by too-much talent; the findings of this study will hopefully be useful for coaches who want to breed successful teams. The study explains that when there are too many individuals with impressive amounts of talent on an interdependent team, the individuals will begin competing with each other to better themselves rather than striving for team success. This psychological phenomenon is known as status competition. The desire for an individual to be the dominant athlete on the team undermines their desire to help the team, especially if that “help” prohibits them from being thought of as the best and most dominant player. This status competition can also lead talented athletes to undermine their teammates’ performances so that they “look” better on the field/court.

While one might be skeptical that there is an accurate way to measure talent, the methodology that the researchers used was very thought out. They used a different method for every sport, sometimes calculating talent through mathematical equations while other times using statistical data from past seasons. There is often no consensus over which athletes are the best in their individual sports, but it was apparent that the researchers were being very meticulous in trying to determine the best way to score talent.

Thinking about all the great athletes on interdependent teams (the Lionel Messi’s and the Stephen Curry’s), one might think, “If only every player on the team was as good as them!” But if the history of sports and this experiment have showed one thing: the team with the most talent does not always win. It almost always comes down to effort. If nothing else, this is what makes sports interesting!

Swaab, R. I., Schaerer, M., Anicich, E. M., Ronay, R., & Galinsky, A. D. (2014). The Too-Much-Talent Effect: Team Interdependence Determines When More Talent Is Too Much or Not Enough. Psychological Science, 25(8), 1581-1591. Retrieved March 8, 2016


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