Yep, for under $200 you can now purchase mail-order kits that give you the information you need to determine if your youngster was born to be an elite level athlete. That’s the story out of a recent Associated Press article by Lindsey Tanner, Could gene tests tell if kids can be sports stars?
I suppose gene testing for talent was inevitable with how fast genetic science is moving these days. And as pediatrician and sports medicine specialist Dr. Alison Brooks’ (University of Wisconsin, Madison) quote in the article points out, “my guess is we’re going to see more of this, not less.”
I would certainly concur with Dr. Brooks’ statement as our current sports atmosphere sure seems to encourage a “‘winning is everything'” type approach to sports participation, which lends itself to the idea of predetermining one’s genetic athletic talents.
Another important factor to keep in mind about this “winning is everything” type of attitude is the loss of emphasis on the important attributes one can gain through a positive, competitive sports experience.
You know, the type of things that open up opportunities for cultivating strong work ethics and teamwork, inspiring a solid sense of perseverance and discipline, testing and building one’s character, etc., along with developing a lifelong interest in staying active. The kind of traits, on the “inside” (intrinsic), that help individuals overcome adversity and, in turn, create a sense of self-satisfaction that cannot be measured in dollars and cents. Qualities not as easily revealed by genetic testing; nevertheless, pieces that should weigh heavily as to why youth should play sports.
And I have yet to really focus in on the possible negative aspects of predetermining one’s genetic potential I mentioned earlier. It is not that the tests in and of themselves are necessarily a bad thing but how they are likely to be used that will cause a problem. A parental conversation may go something like this:
Jim: Hey Susan, let’s get little Johnny and Mary tested to see if they have the genetics to become great athletes.
Susan: Do you think that is a good idea?
Jim: Yes of course, just think how much money we could save if they both get scholarships and how much money they could make if they are really, really, good and make the Olympics or go pro!!!
After Test results:
Jim: Hey Sue guess what, Mary’s tests came back with all the markers for great athleticism, however, Johnny’s did not.
Susan: So what should we do?
Jim: Well, let’s sign Mary up for all kinds of sports and get her on the fast track toward that Division I scholarship. We can’t start early enough with her you know.
Susan: And what about Johnny?
Jim: Well, it’s probably best not to worry about Johnny. He may find something else to become interested in.
As silly as this example might seem, it does point out that some very real biases would likely occur depending on the perspective parents take. In fact, there are those who may (pushing the silliness aside) see this as not a big deal and just a way to find out where one’s offspring’s talents might lie.
However, those who have experienced what it really, truly takes to be remarkably successful in sports (whether at the state, national, Olympic, or professional levels) know full well that there is A LOT more to that than mere physical talent. In fact, there are those that might say talent is of less importance in its impact on the level of athletic success one can achieve than other attributes – especially in the vast majority of highly skilled sports.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that talent does not have a place at the table of athletic success; that would be inappropriate for me to say. However, what I am saying is that there are so many other factors, very important factors, that a strong emphasis on one’s talents could very well do more harm than good.
And what about little Johnny? Do you think that predetermining his ultimate failure in sports (which would happen with some parents) would be a good thing for his development? What about the pressure and overabundance of attention that would likely be given to Mary? Would this be a good thing?
Lastly, some of the most inspirational sports stories ever, have at their core the idea of someone, or some team, being told that they were not good enough, not talented enough, not big enough, not strong enough, or haven’t developed their skill early enough, to accomplish what they have set out to do…AND THEY ACCOMPLISHED WHAT THEY SET OUT TO DO ANYWAY!!!
Me, I vote for leaving the athletic genetic talent tests in the box while encouraging kids to play sports, inspire them to be the best they can be at whatever they choose to do, and allow their own dreams to take them where they believe they can go. In the end, they will learn where their talents lie and take ownership themselves over their own success in sports, if that is what they truly want to do.
The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle
Bounce by Mathew Syed