• Jason Wulfsohn // MSc (Med) Exercise Science

Book Suggestion: The Sports Gene - David Epstein


Whether you’re a geneticist, a sport scientist, or a layman, David Epstein makes very interesting points about genetics and sport. He takes the science and builds an engaging narrative. In the most basic sense, it’s the classic case of “nature vs nurture”, but taken apart and put back together as an easy read.

A popular saying I’ve often heard, “hard work beats talent, when talent doesn’t work hard”… but what about when talent does work hard?

In a world full of books telling us that if we practice enough, we can do anything, “set your mind to it and you can achieve it”, The Sports Gene dares to declare a more balanced interpretation of the old “nature vs nurture” debate. Without spoiling too much, it would seem that innate talent just can’t be ignored, but needs to be discovered and nurtured. Seems straight forward to me.

Beyond just being a biology lesson on genetics, we get history lessons which inform us about how genetic diversity in one part of the world lead to genetic pedigree in other parts. The diversity aspect interests me because of the diversity we have in South Africa. On a daily basis we’re exposed to diversity, but I think that sometimes we aren’t cognisant of the diversity moving around us. Being such a diverse nation, we have a potential advantage over other nations. Never mind the cultural and intellectual capital we have from diversity, but us sport scientists should be pleased with the smorgasbord of physical traits that lie within the genes of our people.

As I read this book, I couldn’t help contemplate how we might be able to do things differently in South Africa. I tried to think about how we could be tapping into our rich genetic diversity to greater effect. What sports might get short-changed because we try to force square pegs into round holes? Are there sports that we’re not emphasising enough at South African schools, and hence we miss opportunities to compete? After reading The Sports Gene, you might look at talent identification in a new light. It has certainly made me think a lot about sport participation and the interactions between practice and talent. I’m sure I’ll be able to enjoy some wholesome debate around these questions with my sport science colleagues in the future.

#Genetics #Talent

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