The Sports Gene by David Epstein

 

Sports Gene

Summary

  1. A very intriguing book which describes real-world situations meant to bring into the light the very old old question of nature vs. nurture. The athletes he covers such as Michael Phelps, Serena Williams and Usain Bolt are extremely successful in their sports but are they natural athletic “freaks” or are they simply athletic people who have honed their skills to the highest level?
Key Takeaways
  1. Certain segments of the population have genetic advantages because of their ancestry. For example, more hemoglobin lets some train and recover faster, have better bodies and proportioned limbs for their sport, etc.
    • Just because people have those advantages does not mean they will be great, simply that they could have the tools to reach greatness
  2. Alaskan mamulets that run the Iditatarod are in fact a completely new breed. They train and are able to get in shape while training. No need to stop and recover. Unbelievable
  3. Average mile run time for the average student at St. Patrick’s high school in Kenya is around 5:30. The population in this area is extremely gifted naturally for this sport
  4. Stefan Holm is a Swedish high jumper who had trained his whole life and in this book is compared to Donald Thomas who trained for about a year and won the World Championships. Thomas had an unusually elastic achilles tendon which catapulted him like few others could. Great example of the natural talents some have.
  5. Best athletes don’t really have better reaction times, they can take extremely small amounts of data and make very educated guesses. Albert Pujols can predict almost exactly where the pitch is going to be as it is leaving the pitcher’s hand. However, when Jenny Finch, a gold medalist women’s softball pitcher, pitched at him he could not hit a single ball. It’s not that she was necessarily a better pitcher, he just did not have a data set to predict where her pitches were going to be. Alex Rodriguez would not step up to the plate against her for fear of being embarrassed
  6. 17% of men 7ft or taller are in the NBA. NBA players have much longer arms than the general population, with black NBA players having even longer arms
  7. Yao Ming was bred to be a great basketball player. His mom and dad were the tallest people in China and were both on the national team and were “brought together” to have Yao
  8. MLB player’s visual acuity is close to the theoretical limit of human eyesight
What I got out of it
  1. While some people definitely have genetic predispositions which give them natural advantages over others, it still takes incredible determination and commitment to turn these skills world-class. It is somewhat frustrating though to hear how in one year Thomas was able to beat Holm in the high jump. Holm was solely dedicated to this sport for his entire life but still could not match Thomas’ natural skills.

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