Compete, Lose, Win, Thrive. Part 1: Nature vs. Nurture

I have previously written a lot about developing as an athlete and on how to compete. My last article focused mostly on the physical side of athletic development, in this article we will look more closely into the emotional development of being athletic and how a persons surroundings and lifestyle will affect their desire to compete and grow as an athlete. Nature vs. Nurture: This long running debate argues whether a persons behaviour is influenced more by their environment and surroundings or by their genetic make up. The topic is particularly applicable to sport and athleticism and it is fascinating to think that some people could be born as champions whilst others could have been a champion if only they were born in a different town, year or had a different group of friends. My opinion on the matter is that both Nature (a persons genetics) and Nurture (a persons environment) are equally important when creating a champion. Some people are simply born more athletic than others and are better suited to certain sports. Genetic advantages could be the percentage of fast/slow twitch fibres that a person has in their muscles, it could be the length of their femurs or torso that give them an edge in certain sports or it could be their levels of natural testosterone or growth hormone. All these things are out of your control and purely down to nature, but simply having these genetic advantages does not automatically make you a champion. The counter argument is that if this genetically gifted child is not placed in the correct environment from a young age, it will be extremely more difficult for them to develop compared to a less genetically gifted child who gets the right experiences. In my opinion, there are far too many subjective factors to consider to say that a certain way of ’Nurturing’ a child will help them develop more or faster than others. A basic example could be this; Imagine that the same person is born in 2 different scenarios. Scenario 1, the child is born with an older sibling. That older sibling will challenge the younger one in every way from the day it is born and it is very possible that the younger one will actually develop much faster due to these physical and athletic challenges. Scenario 2 is that the same child is born without any siblings, they do not receive the same physical and athletic challenge growing up however they do get 100% of their parents attention, funding and time to help them develop athletically. Two completely different cases of ‘Nurture’ that could have the same or opposite results. It is impossible to know what environment is perfect for a developing athlete and the circumstances will differ depending on the individual. If you think back in to your past, I am sure you will be able to pin point certain times or people that have had the biggest influence on your development, whether that is athletically, intellectually or emotionally. I believe that I have a good genetic make up for the sport I do. I have a decent amount of fast twitch muscle fibres, no irregular bone lengths and pretty symmetrical features from left to right and back to front, no respiratory issues and a pretty fast metabolism. This is a solid base for developing as an athlete. I have always had these features, which could be the reason that I did well in sports growing up. However, I am sure that there are thousands of people with ‘better’ genetics than me that are not successful athletes and there are thousands who have ‘worse’ genetics than I do that are successful athletes. This, for me, is why the ‘Nurture’ argument is so interesting and important to a persons development. In the second part of this article, I will look more closely into the key experiences and influences that I have had on my athletic career. By looking back and identifying these features, it is easier to continue to develop myself and I can also use important lessons that I have learned to help others. To be continued...   By: Phil Hesketh, Performance coach and Director of Training at Innerfight , Head of Red Zone Training