The “you’re either born with it or not” Fallacy

One of my biggest pet peeves is hearing coaches and sports commentators talk about how great athletes are “born” with certain traits. These people may say things such as “when it comes to great leadership, you either have it or you don’t, and this guy has it.” I’ve heard similar statements regarding traits such as throwing accuracy, strength, speed, coordination, mental toughness, and feel for the game. While there is certainly some truth to these statements, their overall message is false. I agree that genetics play a role in athletic development, but to say that you can’t teach leadership, mental toughness, or any other skill or trait (besides height) is completely false. Just because learning certain skills comes easier for naturally talented athletes doesn’t mean they don't have to work very hard to become a pro. And just because learning certain skills may be more challenging for some athletes doesn’t mean they can’t train hard to master these skills.

There are thousands of examples of kids who developed into great athletes and leaders despite first being labeled as untalented. This is because natural talent and genetics play a smaller role in athletic development than people think. At first, it may seem like natural talent plays a large role, but over time, its impact fades. Eventually, experience, coaching, and thousands of hours of training begin to outweigh the importance of genes.

In reality, saying “you’re either born with it or not” is just an excuse. For athletes, it’s an excuse not to work hard. This excuse causes athletes to justify their laziness because they think to themselves, “Why work hard if I might not have what it takes to succeed?” The sad part is that this excuse creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. If an athlete doesn’t believe he has the genes to becomes a great leader, he won’t have the motivation to train his leadership skills, and because he doesn’t train his leadership skills, he never becomes a great leader, which confirms his initial belief.

And for coaches, it’s an excuse not to teach, which also creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you don’t believe that a certain athlete has the genes to become a great athlete, you won’t have the motivation to give him the best instructions and coaching, and because you don’t give him quality instructions and coaching, he never develops into a great athlete, which confirms your initial belief.

As you can see, the “you’re either born with it or not” attitude has great consequences. This fallacy has caused thousands, if not millions of athletes, to give up on their dreams. It has also caused thousands of coaches to treat their players unfairly. I’m not saying that every kid has the potential to become a professional athlete, but I am saying that we are definitely missing out on some hidden greatness by placing too much importance on natural talent. If we, as coaches, did a better job teaching a growth mindset and treating our players more equally, we would greatly improve the quality of our sports. And one of the first steps to accomplishing this is to stop saying things such as “you’re either born with it or not.”