Are Athletes Born or Made?

Was LeBron James born as the best basketball of all time? Was Michael Phelps born as the greatest swimmer of all time? The answer to that is… kind of. Many people have set out to get to the bottom of this, and, according to CBS News article written by Susan Spencer, one of them is photographer Dan McLaughlin. Refusing to believe that genes are the result of freak athletes, McLaughlin has set out to become a professional golfer alongside the best players in the world. This man, with little to no golf experience, has set a goal to compete on the pro tour against players like Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. McLaughlin says that there is no such thing as “inborn talent.” He relies on another idea started by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers. Malcolm Gladwell recommends 10,000 hours of practice in order to become an expert at anything. With this concept, McLaughlin is currently still training to reach his goal and will likely complete his 10,000 hours of training. Here he is in route to his goal…

If he does in fact reach his goal of making it onto the pro tour, this may be a groundbreaking experiment that will offer a new view on freak athleticism.

There are numerous scientists and everyday human beings who strongly disagree with McLaughlin’s ideas. According to David Epstein, author of the book The Sports Gene, profiting more efficiently from training is decided by our genes. He believes that half of athletic greatness relies on training and the other half relies on natural athletic genes. Susan Spencer of CBS News, in this article, is relating two professional high jumpers, Stefan Holm and Donald Thomas. Both of these athletes competed in the 2007 world championship. She states that Holm had been training for 20 years, as opposed to 8 months for Thomas, and Thomas beat the veteran in his 8th month of high jump. With this event, we have to think there is some direct causation between genes and athletic greatness.

Elizabeth Quinn, and exercise physiologist, seems to agree with this concept in an article explaining how genes affect athleticism. She states that endurance, flexibility, lung capacity, anaerobic threshold, muscle fiber composition, and muscle size are all greatly influenced by genes. All of these factors significantly contribute to a persons athletic ability. She also goes on to explain that genes also affect the way that an individual responds to training, which can give someone a serious advantage over other athletes. This relates back to Epstein’s idea of genes that provide for better reception to training. However, this is where it gets a little confusing. If you are a person with genes that respond better to training, then you may become “great” without having been born with “athletic genes.” However, this doesn’t disprove that athletes are born because it is those genes that you are born with that allow you to make yourself into a great athlete.

So now the question is, does Dan McLaughlin have genes which allow him to respond better to training than the average person. If he does, the results of his experiment will have little to no significance because the effectiveness of his training was due to the genes he was born with. Dan McLaughlin probably should have done a little more research into the gene aspect of training. As of now, the only conclusion we can come to is that athletic greatness comes from both athletic genes and training. However, we can’t forget that the efficiency of training does in fact come from genes we are born with. I still find it hard to believe this man was born to be an athlete…

screen-shot-2016-09-07-at-6-38-46-pm Photo


Muggsy Bogues was a 5’3″ NBA basketball player if you’re wondering.


2 thoughts on “Are Athletes Born or Made?

  1. Jarrod T Skole

    I think that there is more to the natural ability of a person rather than just practice. Do not get me wrong, you have to practice if you are going to become great at anything, but you need natural talent as well. I really want to see how this guy is at golf after his 10,000 hours of training because I also play golf and do not believe he is going to make the pga tour. Golf is a mind game as well as an athletic game. You can’t just practice hitting the ball for hours on end and expect to be great, you also have to have a calm mind and not get flustered when you hit a bad shot or miss and important put.

    I think there is also a correlation between parents and their children’s greatness in sports. If a parent is extremely athletic they are most likely going to pass some of those genes to their child and give them natural athletic ability. But they can also be the person who always pushes their child to their limit and make them practice. Two of my friends have a D1 wrestler as a dad and have been blessed with his will power and strength. With their natural ability and their dad pushing them all the time to be the best, they are both going to D1 schools for soccer and wrestling. As long as you have natural talent, practice, and have that one person who will always push you I think anyone can be a great athlets.

  2. Michael A Lupo

    In my personal opinion, I feel that there is a combination of both natural athletic ability, and hours of practice, which factor into the makeup of great athletes. In the case of Lebron James, if he didn’t have genetics which allowed him to grow to be 6′ 8″, would he still be as physically talented of a basketball player if he was of average height? Maybe he would possess the same skill set as he does now, yet I don’t think his style of play would be as effective if he was the size of an average human being. Another example could be Usain Bolt. I don’t think that there is any form of practice you can do to achieve the speed he has. Even if you run sprints and work out your legs for the rest of your life, you probably still won’t be faster than him. An article found here goes into detail about how sprinters possess natural genetic talent, and practice can only make them faster. Examples of athletes will more normal genetics are also prevalent. Jordan Spieth, one of the world’s top young golfers, possesses a pretty average height and weight. However, thanks to years and years of consistent practice, he is able to be at the top of the golf world. I think that in the case of athletes, whether they are born or made great can be argued both ways, and there are examples that can prove both sides of the argument right and wrong.

Leave a Reply