Sports and Genes

Nature (genes) vs nurture (environment and freewill) is debated in many domains, one of them being athletics. Some people believe great athletes are born while some people believe great athletes are made. The truth is there are three factors of athletic development/potential: freewill, environment, and genes. Genes control hereditary traits such as height and natural athleticism. Freewill is your personal willpower. It is your decisions to practice, workout, and improve at your sport. Environment is the people, places, things, culture, and era in time that surround you. All three of these factors interact to influence your athletic development. All three are about equally important. None, individually is far superior than the others. Great individual work ethic is limited without good genes and a good environment. Good genes are limited without good willpower and a good environment. And a good environment is limited without good willpower and good genes. But if all three factors are good, a player can become great.

Now that you have an overview of the three factors of player development, I will now focus on genes, because your attitude toward genes greatly influences your development. Remember, genes are just one of the three factors. It shouldn’t be over or undervalued compared to the other factors. However, many people overvalue the importance of genes. They believe that having great genes is required for being a great athlete. However, this has been disproved by thousands of athletes who have succeeded despite having below average natural athleticism.

The important thing to understand about genes is that you can’t control them. You are born with them, and after that, you can’t really do anything to improve them. All successful people only worry about things they can control. They don’t waste energy worrying about things they can’t control. So if you’re an athlete with below average natural athleticism (genes), stop worrying about how your genes limit you. That is pointless. Instead, focus on what you can control, which is your work ethic (freewill) and putting yourself in a good environment to succeed in. Have a growth mindset, focused on improvement rather than a fixed mindset, focused on excuses. A goal of every athlete is to maximize their potential. No matter how high your ceiling (genes) may be, try to reach it.
However, there are times when you should worry about your genes. Genes should be considered when setting goals. You still need to be somewhat realistic when setting goals. If you are only 5 feet tall, it may still be possible for you to make the NBA, but the chances are very slim. If you truly want to, you can still try, but you may want to choose an easier path to success based on your genes. Your genes may be more suited for a certain sport. In this case, you should use this knowledge to make a smarter decision about which sport to play. If you are 7 feet tall, you should probably choose to play basketball over soccer. It is after you set good, realistic goals that you should stop worrying about genes and focus on the other two factors of player development.
A proper attitude toward genes isn’t only for athletes with below average genes. It is also for athletes with great genes who have amazing natural talent. These athletes need to be careful not to rely too much on their genes. At the high school and college level, their natural athleticism may be too much for their opponents. However, at the highest levels of sports, most athletes have good genes. At this point, you can’t just rely on your natural talents. You need to also have great work ethic and be in a good environment.  Don’t use your good genes as an crutch or an excuse to not work hard. Remember, your goal should be to reach your athletic potential, and this requires you to always maintain a good work ethic and place yourself in a good environment. You can’t do this if you use your genes as a crutch or an excuse. If you have good genes for sports, appreciate them, be grateful, and be motivated to get the most out of them by working hard to reach your potential.

Understanding the three factors of athletic development and having a better attitude toward genes will help you greatly. Next week, I will write about another factor of athletic development: freewill.