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The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance (2013)

by David Epstein

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
4231649,622 (4.13)11
In high school, I wondered whether the Jamaican Americans who made our track team so successful might carry some special speed gene from their tiny island. In college, I ran against Kenyans, and wondered whether endurance genes might have traveled with them from East Africa. At the same time, I began to notice that a training group on my team could consist of five men who run next to one another, stride for stride, day after day, and nonetheless turn out five entirely different runners. How could this be? We all knew a star athlete in high school. The one who made it look so easy. He was the starting quarterback and shortstop; she was the all-state point guard and high-jumper. Naturals. Or were they? The debate is as old as physical competition. Are stars like Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, and Serena Williams genetic freaks put on Earth to dominate their respective sports? Or are they simply normal people who overcame their biological limits through sheer force of will and obsessive training? The truth is far messier than a simple dichotomy between nature and nurture. In the decade since the sequencing of the human genome, researchers have slowly begun to uncover how the relationship between biological endowments and a competitor's training environment affects athleticism. Sports scientists have gradually entered the era of modern genetic research. In this controversial and engaging exploration of athletic success, Sports Illustrated senior writer David Epstein tackles the great nature vs. nurture debate and traces how far science has come in solving this great riddle. He investigates the so-called 10,000-hour rule to uncover whether rigorous and consistent practice from a young age is the only route to athletic excellence. Along the way, Epstein dispels many of our perceptions about why top athletes excel and explores controversial questions such as: Are black athletes genetically predetermined to dominate both sprinting and distance running, and are their abilities influenced by Africa's geography?Are there genetic reasons to separate male and female athletes in competition? Should we test the genes of young children to determine if they are destined for stardom? Can genetic testing determine who is at risk of injury, brain damage, or even death on the field? Through on-the-ground reporting from below the equator and above the Arctic Circle, revealing conversations with leading scientists and Olympic champions, and interviews with athletes who have rare genetic mutations or physical traits, Epstein forces us to rethink the very nature of athleticism.… (more)
  1. 01
    Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by Anders Ericsson (caimanjosh)
    caimanjosh: Both deal with the science behind expert performance...Sports Gene is more focused on athletic performance, but Peak provides more detail on just what "deliberate practice" actually entails. Both are worth a read.
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» See also 11 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 15 (next | show all)
على الرغم من أن العمل الجاد والتدريب أمران حاسمان بالتأكيد في أي رياضة، إلا أن القدرات الرياضية تتأثر أيضاً بشكل كبير بالأصل البشري للفرد وسلالته العرقية. من الهيكل العظمي إلى العضلات وحتى الدافع المحفز للتمرين، تلعب الجينات دوراً كبيراً في تحديد المصير الرياضي. أوضح تجلي لهذا الأمر يظهر في الفجوة والاختلاف الكبير بين قدرات العدّائين المنحدرين من أنساب شرق وغرب إفريقيا.

لا أملّ أبداً من قراءة ما يحمله لنا علم الجينات من تفاسير لجوانب مثيرة من حياتنا.
كتاب جميل جداً ومناسب لكل مهتم بالرياضة وراغب بفهم الفيزيولوجيا وراء الأداء الرياضي العالي. ( )
  TonyDib | Jan 28, 2022 |
An awesome genetics and sports read. Epstein highlights improbable and amazing sports stories, about 50% you'd know, and the rest just simply incredible. He gives the current knowledge of genetics related to all realms of athletics and pushes us to not be so PC and recognize and further utilize our genetic predispositions and not be mired in the " 10,000 hrs" rule in the nature vs nurture battle. ( )
  bsmashers | Aug 1, 2020 |
Not sure why I didnt like this more. Seems right up my alley. Sports. Science. Genes. But just could never get into it. Liked the reads about how the genes really control everything, and you either have the good ones or you dont. You can practice - but that only takes you so far. Got about half way through and had enough ( )
  bermandog | Dec 30, 2016 |
What makes a professional athlete? Does practice really make perfect -- can anyone do it? David Epstein sets out to answer this question, and the result is, well, maybe.

Epstein looks at a variety of sports and what traits are exhibited by the pros. Baseball, as it turns out, is a visual game -- while strength and reflex is important, it is exceptional visual acuity that separates the pros from the rest. Exceptional vision is a genetic trait, and those with genetically poor eyesight should probably seek a different profession. Genetics can't tell with certainty what combination of genes will make a pro athlete, however, it can spot poor genes that could stomp out a dream at a very early age.

Some sports, like golf, is more of an acquired skill. He follows the still-on going efforts of a man who decided one day to be a pro golfer and thought to test the 10,000 hour theory, which posits that if you spend 10,000 hours doing any given thing, you will become adept at it. While progress is encouraging, the bell curve would indicate rapid progress early in the program, with gains becoming more incremental and difficult to come by as the player reaches a certain point (and it's beyond that point where the masters dwell).

Epstein covers a variety of sports, not all of them big time, big money concerns. He tells us why Michael Jordan was destined to fail at baseball, and why Usain Bolt is the phenom he is. Some day we might be able to order certain genetic profiles that at least block the "you'll never make it" traits, but the road to perfection is complex, and there is likely to never be any guarantees. ( )
  JeffV | Sep 19, 2015 |
The Nature vs. Nurture controversy applied to sports. Pretty technical evaluation, best suited for those with strong background in genetics. ( )
  VGAHarris | Jan 19, 2015 |
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In high school, I wondered whether the Jamaican Americans who made our track team so successful might carry some special speed gene from their tiny island. In college, I ran against Kenyans, and wondered whether endurance genes might have traveled with them from East Africa. At the same time, I began to notice that a training group on my team could consist of five men who run next to one another, stride for stride, day after day, and nonetheless turn out five entirely different runners. How could this be? We all knew a star athlete in high school. The one who made it look so easy. He was the starting quarterback and shortstop; she was the all-state point guard and high-jumper. Naturals. Or were they? The debate is as old as physical competition. Are stars like Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, and Serena Williams genetic freaks put on Earth to dominate their respective sports? Or are they simply normal people who overcame their biological limits through sheer force of will and obsessive training? The truth is far messier than a simple dichotomy between nature and nurture. In the decade since the sequencing of the human genome, researchers have slowly begun to uncover how the relationship between biological endowments and a competitor's training environment affects athleticism. Sports scientists have gradually entered the era of modern genetic research. In this controversial and engaging exploration of athletic success, Sports Illustrated senior writer David Epstein tackles the great nature vs. nurture debate and traces how far science has come in solving this great riddle. He investigates the so-called 10,000-hour rule to uncover whether rigorous and consistent practice from a young age is the only route to athletic excellence. Along the way, Epstein dispels many of our perceptions about why top athletes excel and explores controversial questions such as: Are black athletes genetically predetermined to dominate both sprinting and distance running, and are their abilities influenced by Africa's geography?Are there genetic reasons to separate male and female athletes in competition? Should we test the genes of young children to determine if they are destined for stardom? Can genetic testing determine who is at risk of injury, brain damage, or even death on the field? Through on-the-ground reporting from below the equator and above the Arctic Circle, revealing conversations with leading scientists and Olympic champions, and interviews with athletes who have rare genetic mutations or physical traits, Epstein forces us to rethink the very nature of athleticism.

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