Want to win consistently? Focus on building team culture, data suggests

Baseball team celebrates near pitcher's mound

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Winning streaks are poor predictors of any sports team’s future performance, according to a Texas A&M faculty member who conducts research with Major League Baseball and other professional leagues, where he analyzes organizational culture, interpersonal relationships and athletic performance. Instead, sports teams who want to win consistently should focus on building trust and camaraderie among its players.

John Eliot, clinical associate professor in the Department of Sport Management, researches the behavioral and brain science of athletes. He said the factors within an organization and the culture they create have a greater effect on a team’s long-term success than just a winning streak. In fact, winning a string of games does not change the probability of future wins.

“Streaks of wins are poor measurements and they do not define momentum,” Eliot said. “The misunderstanding is that wins increase the likelihood of future wins. The ‘hot hand’ concept has been proven to be a myth.”

Eliot’s uses different methods of data collecting including a 3D model to measure how performance develops and changes over time. He found that with so many moving pieces that exist in a given game, the slightest shifts could offset team momentum and affect a team’s production.

He said successful teams have a far greater rate of physical interaction and trust between players than those who rely more on verbal interaction.

“The reason why players have streaks in baseball is because of the increased confidence players have in their teammates and in themselves. True belief in each other is much more sustainable than wins and losses,” he said. “Things like positive posture, embracing, pats on the back, high fives, and the degree of physical contact and interaction all attribute to a collective team effort.”

Very few team executives and general managers have adapted similar trends into their scouting methods — leaving room for competitive advantages, he said.

“In the cutthroat pro sport landscape, in which escalating salaries are heavily outcome-dependent, athletes have immense pressure to produce results.  But the teams upon which players are more invested in their teammates, versus primarily invested in winning, have far more sustainable success. What you’re building is a network of players who hold one another up under pressure. That is where resilience comes from, and resilience is a key underlying driver of true momentum.”

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