How Star Players Can Ruin a Team

There's such a thing as too much talent

Francesco Totti of A.S. Roma plays in the 2013 Major League Soccer All Star Game—a setup that, according to new research, might have been a real nightmare for team players. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images Sport)
Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images Sport

Happy first day of the World Cup! To celebrate, let's talk about how our favorite players can ruin everything for their team.

In a nod to everything we learned about cooperation in kindergarten, research to be published in the journal Psychological Science says that having too much talent in a team undermines overall performance. Top players might fail to coordinate with others and even "jostle for the spotlight."

The researchers found this using data from the FIFA World Cup 2010 and 2014 qualifying periods as well as stats from professional basketball and baseball, analyzing how much talent each team had in relation to intrateam coordination during games. "Talent facilitates team performance… but only up to a point," said lead researcher Roderick Swaab in a press release.

Packing a roster with star players could backfire. This is more true for interdependent sports such as soccer and basketball and less so for more individualized sports like baseball. There's also a lesson here for those of us who aren't professional athletes: The researchers say that the too-much-talent effect also exists in the office. For organizations that rely on teamwork for success, hiring top talent might not be the best focus.

Maybe the teamwork argument sounds like common sense, but the study points out that in sports, most people wrongly assume that "piling on more top talent is the key to team success"—something to think about as the World Cup craze reaches its zenith. "We expect to see plenty of team-sheets boasting impressive lineups with top talented players," Swaab said. "However, coaches that simply select their side with superstars may … be the ones taking an early exit from Brazil."

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