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Prior shared success predicts victory in team competitions

Nature Human Behaviourvolume 3pages7481 (2019) | Download Citation


Debate over the impact of team composition on the outcome of a contest has attracted sports enthusiasts and sports scientists for years. A commonly held belief regarding team success is the superstar effect; that is, including more talent improves the performance of a team1. However, studies of team sports have suggested that previous relations and shared experiences among team members improve the mutual understanding of individual habits, techniques and abilities and therefore enhance team coordination and strategy2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9. We explored the impact of within-team relationships on the outcome of competition between sports teams. Relations among teammates consist of two aspects: qualitative and quantitative. While quantitative aspects measure the number of times two teammates collaborated, qualitative aspects focus on ‘prior shared success’; that is, whether teamwork succeeded or failed. We examined the association between qualitative team interactions and the probability of winning using historical records from professional sports—basketball in the National Basketball Association, football in the English Premier League, cricket in the Indian Premier League and baseball in Major League Baseball—and the multiplayer online battle game Defense of the Ancients 2. Our results show that prior shared success between team members significantly improves the odds of the team winning in all sports beyond the talents of individuals.

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Data availability

Raw data of NBA, EPL and MLB games are available from the ESPN website. IPL data are available from the Cricinfo website. Derived data used in the study are available at GitHub: https://github.com/smukherjee0305/Skills_Shared_Success_Sports.

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Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Change history

  • 13 March 2019

    In the version of this article initially published, errors occurred in the Acknowledgments.


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This research was funded by grants from the Northwestern University Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute (NUCATS), the Northwestern University Institute for Complex Systems (NICO), the National Institutes of Health (1R01GM112938-01), the US Army Research Laboratory and US Army Research Office Grant W911NF-15-1-0577, the Army Research Laboratory (grant W911NF-09-2-0053), and the Army Research Office (grant W911NF-14-10686). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.

Author information


  1. Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA

    • Satyam Mukherjee
    • , Brian Uzzi
    •  & Noshir Contractor
  2. Northwestern Institute on Complex Systems, Evanston, IL, USA

    • Satyam Mukherjee
    • , Brian Uzzi
    •  & Noshir Contractor
  3. Indian Institute of Management Udaipur, Udaipur, Rajasthan, India

    • Satyam Mukherjee
  4. Department of Industrial Engineering and Management Sciences, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA

    • Yun Huang
    •  & Noshir Contractor
  5. Research Division of E-Commerce, TU Wien, Vienna, Austria

    • Julia Neidhardt
  6. Department of Communication Studies, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA

    • Noshir Contractor


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S.M. and N.C. designed the research. S.M., Y.H. and J.N. analysed the data. S.M., B.U., N.C., J.N. and Y.H. wrote the paper. All authors approved the final manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Satyam Mukherjee.

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    Supplementary Tables 1–61, Supplementary Figures 1 and 2, Supplementary Methods

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