"Dance of the Football Field," by Weaver Hawkins, 1947

On March 2, 1962, Wilt Chamberlain scored an astounding 100 points in a game against the New York Knicks — a record that still stands. There’s no doubt that Chamberlain is a giant among basketball players. But no player operates in a vacuum. How much did team culture or the collective mood on the court contribute to Chamberlain’s exceptional performance that day?

This question of how the collective influences individual performance is central to the work of SFI’s investigation into the limits of human performance. In a workshop that takes place June 25-27, experts from a range of disciplines, including physiology, organizational behavior, sports analytics and applied mathematics, explore how the collective affects the individual — including on the basketball court.

“There’s been a lot of work on time series to see what the chance is of making so many baskets in a row. But what is the likelihood of a streak based on what the team is doing as whole?” asks SFI Professor Jessica Flack, the director of SFI’s Collective Computation Group and organizer of the June 2018 workshop.

The workshop — the group’s second on the subject of human performance — identifies key questions to explore further at a larger workshop in 2019. While the focus is on sports, the insights these sessions will yield can apply to other fields as well, such as biology and economics, Flack says.

“Sports naturally lend themselves to this issue, because of team chemistry, team culture, and how it relates to individual performance on the field,” she says. And because games are videotaped, a lot of data can be gleaned from analyzing those videos.

But even in individual sports such as marathon running, the collective comes into play, she adds. “There are collective effects, like pacing, and runners running in clusters,” she says. “And that seems to affect their times. So understanding why that synchronicity happens would be fantastic.” The military, too could benefit from understanding these relationships between the collective and the individual, she adds.

Read more about the "Limits to Human Performance: The Role of Collective Effects and Team Performance" workshop.