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Nature v Nurture in Athletics

written by: Superbwriter•edited by: Emma Lloyd•updated: 9/27/2010

In this article, the relevance of nature(genes) and nurture (environmental factors) in making of top-ranking athletes is discussed. The important points of nature v nurture in athletics are presented with focus on how both complement each other in attaining superior performances.

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    Introduction

    Did you ever wonder what the secret is behind the greatest performers of athletics? The ongoing debate about whether the success of record achievements in athletics can be attributed to nature's gift of correct genes or the capacity to nurture and develop talent through solid, hard work is still unresolved. This article will discuss the issue surrounding the debate on nature v nurture in athletics and in achieving success in the field of athletics. Although there are several examples of athletics sportspersons who against all odds have made it to the top, nurture alone cannot account for their success. The athletic capacity of any person is influenced not just by nurture or environmental factors but also by nature or inherited genetic characteristics. A top player of athletics succeeds only when born with the right genetic nature which must be supported by nurture in the shape of environmental influences.

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    The role of nature as compared to nurture in superior athletic performances

    A person can only become successful in athletics when proper training of nature’s given genetic traits help in the development of the desired athletic phenotype. Advances in research have demonstrated that many genetically influenced characteristics such as muscle strength, size and fiber content (these impact twitch), lung capacity, stamina and VO2 max flexibility and single gene variations like the ACE gene determine an individual athlete’s success. Other nature (genetics) factors like association between the insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) genotype and responses to muscle training also have an impact on a human being’s athletic ability/ performance. Some genes limit the production of proteins and studies are being carried out to access their impact on the regulation of muscle strength and mass. The enzyme adenosine monophosphate deaminase (AMPD) limits muscle energy metabolism when rigorous athletics training is carried out. Results obtained in many research studies however are indicative of the fact that deficiencies of AMPD can be overcome through appropriate physical training and longer performance experience.

    In favor of nurture (environmental factors) the amount and quality of training have an impact on athletics abilities of individuals. Adequate nutrition and some environmental factors such as microgravity, age, underlying illness and weight also shape athletic capacity. A high-ranking athlete needs both nature and nurture to develop the correct set of skills like aerobic capacity and endurance. At the same time, nurture in the form of appropriate physical training programs coupled with proper diet and physiological training are equally important in contributing to excellence in athletics.

    At present there is sufficient scientific proof of the fact that single gene variations in individuals are responsible for a natural predisposition of superior performance in some field of athletics; there is evidence that the context of performance is influenced by many environmental factors also. For example, you can’t expect any short person to become a top-ranking basketball player. In the same vein, a human being whose height is say 6 feet 6 inches will never be a successful gymnast.

    All superior performances in the field of athletics require both nature and nurture to grow and develop. In addition to the genetic gifts of nature and the element of nurture, it is still not clear what role the interaction between nature and nurture plays in the making of a great athlete. The dynamics of this interaction between nature (genes) and nurture (environment) is yet to be fully understood. Athletics depends on high levels of function of the movement systems, many of which are affected by aging and degeneration of genetic systems. Instead of carrying on the debate about nature versus nurture, sports science has to carry out research which can provide better understanding of the complementary dynamics of nature v nurture in developing superior performance in athletics.

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    References

    1) Brutsaerta, D. A & Parrab, E. J. (2009). Nature versus Nurture in Determining

    Athletic Ability. Med Sport Sci., 54; 11-27.

    2) Davids, K & Baker, J. (2007). Genes, Environment and Sport Performance: Why the Nature-Nurture Dualism is No Longer Relevant. Sports Med, 37 (11).

    3) Collins, M. (2009). Genetics and sports. 2nd ed. Basel: Karger; 43-101.

    4) Baker, J., Horton, S., Robertson-Wilson, J., & Wall, M. (2003). Nurturing sport expertise: Factors influencing the development of the elite athlete. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, 2; 1-9.