My minor degree from Penn State was in Movement Sciences, which is a fancy way of just saying Sports Science. Specifically, I studied biomechanics of human movement and even found a graduate level class in it at Southern Miss. When I heard about David Epstein's "The Sports Gene" I had to find it and read it. It didn't disappoint.
The book focuses on several regions around the world including Jamaican sprinters, Kenyan long-distance runners, why people near the equator have longer limbs and much more. I was hoping to find out if athleticism was more about nature or nurture, meaning are great athletes born or were they made through lots and lots of practice? The short story is they are typically born that way, but to become elite practice also plays a big role.
The book kind of gets in the weeds a bit about genetics and DNA composition, so you should be prepared and interested in that topic. However, the bulk of the book spends more time in individual cases from around the world who were world class athletes.
What I Learned?
1. As stated above the fact that people tend to need both nature and nurture in their court to be elite world-class athletes. What you're born with only takes you so far, so adding technique and practice can put you over the edge.
2. The most fascinating example in the book for me was the long distance runners. It helped to be born and raised in the mountains where air is thinner.The residents tend to adapt to this altitude and can exercise regularly in it. An added bonus was being a thin, long-limbed and springy physical build living in this altitude. This combination along with generations of breeding have made particularly one tribe of Kenyans incredible endurance athletes.
3. Many collegiate programs are already doing this, but it is important to think about the traits you want in your sports' athletes. If you're a basketball coach recruiting for length, should you concentrate your efforts on players with family origins near the equator where limbs tend to be slightly longer?
About the Author
Andy Rupert is a Penn State (B.A. John Curley Center for Sports Journalism 08') and a Southern Miss (M.S. Sport Management 09'). He has spent his whole career working in sports and tourism digital marketing and metrics.