World Cup teams could suffer from too much talent

Damir Sagolj/Reuters

World Cup teams could suffer from too much talent

There's such a thing as too much talent, at least when it comes to sports teams. Psychologists reached that conclusion by studying World Cup soccer games, where players from top professional clubs compete on national squads alongside others from lesser leagues. Analyzing rankings from the 2010 and 2014 World Cup qualification periods, the researchers found that a team benefits from more elite footballers until they make up about three-quarters of the squad. Go past that, and the team’s ranking starts to decline. Two American sports suggest why. In the National Basketball Association, having more top-scoring players helps only until they make up about 60% of the team, whereas Major League Baseball teams rack up more wins as their proportion of top players goes up. The difference? Because their roles overlap more, soccer and basketball players alike can end up fighting over the ball, competing with each other for the most points. In baseball, the various positions are far more specialized. The results, to be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, might be news to French national team coach Didier Deschamps. After five losses last year, Deschamps told Agence France-Presse that the more players he could get from elite French and European professional teams, the better his team (including forward Karim Benzema, above, playing Honduras yesterday) would perform in the future. Maybe he’s got it backward: The more top players he has, the more they’ll just hog the ball.

At press time, this study had not been posted online.

Posted in Brain & Behavior, Social Sciences