How Does Diversity Affect The Performance of Sports Teams?

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Generally, team performance in life and business can be improved with the addition of unique skill sets and enhanced by introducing alternatives and new ideas. These benefits are best gained through incorporating diversity into the team, and it’s no different within sport teams. Diverse sport teams can discover new heights of success, better teamwork and prevent groupthink. That being said, too much diversity can sometimes be too much of a good thing.

Recent studies that analyzed diversity within different sports have provided a variety of results. One study suggests that diversity is nothing but positive, another says too much can be detrimental, and a third shows no correlation between team performance and diversity. Team performance is affected by a multitude of variables including age, race and playing styles. These variables can benefit the team, but an overabundance of differing ages, cultural ethnicities and playing styles can also hinder performance and make team cohesion a challenge.

Advantages and Disadvantages Within Teams

Due to the differing outcomes and arguments presented by various studies, there are a few interpretations of how diversity affects sport teams. However, some benefits and disadvantages are clear and universally accepted.

Advantages of diversity include increased creativity and less groupthink. Groupthink occurs when too many like-minded people devalue different ideas, regarding other possibilities and ideas as deliberate sabotage or influencing opinions. Less groupthink and more creativity can lead to a wider range of alternatives and decisions. Diversity also requires deeper concentration in order to understand others’ ideas and arguments, which causes more efficiency and productivity.

Disadvantages start with a lack of cohesion. Without something to bond over, players will find it challenging to connect and communicate. These obstacles quickly lead to stress and miscommunication, affecting the team’s efficiency, effectiveness and productivity. Furthermore, the team must communicate well to adequately and successfully compromise. Without a coordinated effort, a team’s performance will undoubtedly flounder and deteriorate.

Benefits of Strong Diversity in Soccer

According to one study, soccer teams that have a diverse roster excel regardless of the diversity represented on the team. The study examined the top 5 European soccer leagues in the Union of European Football Associations Champions League between 2003 and 2012. Due to the low scores associated with soccer, team performance can be difficult to quantitatively measure. To observe any correlations, the study used a goal differential (goals scored minus the goals conceded) matched against the teams’ differing heritages and primary languages.

The results indicated a strong relationship between diversity and team performance. These findings support diversity as a positive aspect within teams, even suggesting that any amount of diversity is a positive factor. This study may support the advantages of having strongly diverse sport teams, but another study finds sport teams can only be so diverse before it becomes a hindrance.

Basketball Presents Challenges with Abundant Diversity

Research involving NBA data show teams with too much diversity may often perform poorly. It is important to note that diversity in this study only refers to playing style, not to age or race. Playing style differs geographically and with different conferences, making it a diverse variable to observe.
Overly diverse teams can fail for the following reasons: heterogeneity morphs into homogeneity over time, teams become fragile and are more affected by minute changes, and a lack of common ground can cause dissolution. The best way to overcome these challenges is to introduce the right amount of diversity into a team’s playing style.

According to NBA data from 1986 to 2008, too many styles of play among a single team had a negative effect, but a diverse core group of basketball players produced positive results. This “happy-medium” is referred to as redundant heterogeneity that occurs when the core players are diverse and surrounded by supporting players who share similar traits, or the same “heterogeneity profile.”

A sweet spot for diverse playing styles may be necessary for basketball, but studies that have to do with a different game — baseball — show diversity among those teams has little effect. A study about diversity (which included demographics like age, race and playing style) within baseball teams claims there is no direct correlation with team performance. The explanation comes from baseball’s low inter-dependence; therefore diversity has little to no effect in the sport.

Diversity’s influence over team performance in different sports can at times be difficult to measure, but by promoting a diverse team of players and playing styles, athletes can have an opportunity to gain a better understanding of the world in which we live.

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Ohio University’s Online Master of Athletic Administration program specializes in developing interscholastic Athletic Directors, building on the students’ passion for serving young student-athletes and running a highly-successful athletic department. Ohio University is a pioneer in sports education. By establishing the first academic program in the field of sports administration, this online program is recognized today as the premier professional training program for candidates seeking careers in the sports industry.


Kellogg Insight, “How Diverse Should Your Team Be?”
Washington Post, “Diversity is good for team performance in soccer”
Research Gate, “Racial diversity, Age Diversity, Interdependence, and Team Performance”