The Sports Gene

Updated: Dec 17, 2020

Here are five takeaways from David Epstein's The Sports Gene.

A few weeks ago I finished reading David Epstein's The Sports Gene. The book came highly recommend and I was not disappointed. The author, David Epstein, was searching for whether or not a Sports Gene existed in any form. More specifically he was looking at, "How specifically, might nature and nurture be at work" in the world's most elite athletes.

There were a number of topics introduced by Epstein that were highly intriguing. He approaches a number of topics and their roles in this balance. Among the topics he discusses are the roles of; gender, ethnicity, history, culture, sport-specific training, innate ability, physical features, and the role of evolution in human beings. Epstein's presentation of his research is something that can be enjoyed by any fan of sporting events. As a coach, there were a number of things that I highlighted as I read. Here are five coaching takeaways that I got from The Sports Gene.

Takeaway #1: Culture Matters

One of the most fascinating chapters in The Sports Gene focuses on the remarkable success of Jamaican sprinters on the world stage. A good chunk of the chapter is spent on the genetics of the Jamaican people. However, Epstein also highlights an incredible culture that has been built, from a young age, around achieving success on the track.

This made me think about how that kind of culture must be built in the most successful programs around us. Within those programs, there exists a basketball culture that is present from a young age. They are indoctrinated into the sport from an early age, and in the long run, the best ones will stick around. If you can get the best athletes to stick around in your sport, and then get them to undergo (and survive) rigorous training - champions can emerge.

Takeaway #2: Learned Perception

One of my favorite studies in the book was one that was done with Volleyball players. The concept was to show a sample group of non-volleyball players and a sample of volleyball players a number of pictures.

They would show them a number of snapshots of volleyball pictures at a rapid speed. Then upon the presentation of the picture ask them if the ball was present or not. In the end, the volleyball players recognized whether the ball was present or not at a much higher rate. They were able to do this through the recognition of body positioning, or as Epstein explained it, "the chunking of sport-specific information".