Little Ones Get Test For Sports Gene

Just when I thought I had seen it all…

There are now people willing to take your money to test your child’s genetic potential (supposedly).

Born To Run? – Little Ones Get Test For Sports Gene

I strongly suggest reading through the full article at the link above.

After reading through it, I am happy to see that I’m not the only person who has several issues with this kind of test. For example, Dr. Stephen M. Roth, director of the functional genomics laboratory at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Health, had the following to say:

“The idea that it will be one or two genes that are contributing to the Michael Phelpses or the Usain Bolts of the world I think is shortsighted because it’s much more complex than that… Athletic performance has been found to be affected by at least 200 genes.”

Dr. Roth makes an excellent point. Athletic performance is an infinitely complex subject. It is not something that we can determine based on a single genetic test. There are countless factors to consider (such factors could fill an entire book).

Perhaps more importantly however, parents need to lighten up and let kids be kids. My problem isn’t necessarily the study itself or those involved with the study, but rather the message that it potentially sends. Why would anyone need to genetically test a 2 year old to determine his so called athletic potential? Would you actually stop your child from playing a sport that he enjoys because a genetic test says he will not excel?

Can you imagine telling little Johnny that he cannot play basketball this season as he is not genetically suited for the sport? What happens if he isn’t genetically suited to play ANY professional sport? Should we discourage him from participating in all sports? What happened to PLAYing sports because we enjoy them? Remember, PLAY is fun!

My son is 2 and a half years old. He is already in his second year of gymnastics. My wife does not take him to this class in hope that he’ll be a future Gold medalist however. He happens to enjoy the class, which is more important than his future in the sport! He also has a chance to interact with others his age. It’s a win-win situation in that it is fun and useful for his development (physically and socially).

As the kids get older, we won’t need a genetic test to know who is the fastest runner on the playground or the best baseball player on a little league team. Dr. Carl Foster (director of the human performance laboratory at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse) outlined a much easier way to determine if a child will be good at sprint and power sports. In his words,

“Just line them up with their classmates for a race and see which ones are the fastest.”

Did we really need a doctor to come to this conclusion? As a kid, we held races at recess almost every day. That is what kids do! In the 4th grade, we had already figured out what it took a doctor to realize in the article above!

Simple observation is all that is necessary, but once again, kids shouldn’t play sports with the sole mission of becoming professional athletes. Sports are fun. Physical exercise and activities should be encouraged. Not everyone on the little league team is going to play major league baseball. We shouldn’t dissuade our kids from playing simply because they don’t have what it takes to perform at the professional level. If professional potential was a prerequisite, there wouldn’t be any youth sports teams. We’d be lucky to find a single player within each city.

It’s also worth nothing that 2 year old children are not old enough to specialize in a single sport. Perhaps the most important aspect of childhood development (athletically) is to play a variety of sports. Not many baseball players can run like Usain Bolt, but all baseball players need to run to first base after hitting the ball. Running is part of the sport, whether you are a slow first baseman or a swift footed centerfielder. Kids should run, jump, kick, throw, catch, and play! The time will come when they are old enough to specialize, but they will be much better off (better prepared) if they were allowed to participate in several sports as youngsters.

Defy The Critics

And let’s not forget that many athletes have disproven science. For example, the New York Times article above references one long jumper from Spain. According to genetic testing, he shouldn’t be able to compete, but surprisingly enough, he is the best jumper in his country. As one researcher said (when commenting on the jumper),

“We don’t yet understand what combination of genes creates that kind of explosiveness.”

Could it be that we aren’t as smart as we like to believe?

Wouldn’t it make more sense to instill a relentless work ethic within our youngsters? I’d rather have my son believe that he has the ability to defy his future critics (refer back to this entry on Conventional Wisdom for a related discussion). As has been said before, we often become what we believe.

Unfortunately, I won’t be surprised when certain parents who didn’t “make it” pass on their own failures by telling their children that they too cannot make it. They put all of their trust in science, and never even attempt to go against the grain.

As a trainer and coach, I have personally seen young fighters walk into the gym on their FIRST day who were everything but natural athletes. Any genetic test would have put these athletes at the bottom of the totem pole. But guess what, I’ve seen some of these very “unnatural” athletes become dominant fighters at both the amateur and professional level. They refused to believe the naysayers.

And please note, I’m not suggesting that certain athletes are not genetically superior. Usain Bolt is clearly a gifted sprinter, but there is still a very large middle ground for many sports (not all sports, but many). Many from this middle ground can become something special with a truly relentless work ethic, proper coaching, etc. These factors have nothing to do with the genetic hand that you are dealt. Regardless of what science suggests, we still have the ability to write a considerable portion of our future. It has not yet been determined and is entirely up to you (the individual).

As a parent, I will certainly pass this belief on to my children, and can only hope that others do as well.



  1. Kids should be allowed to be kids! They should be allowed to run, to jump, to throw, to catch, and to play all sports. Time will tell, as Ross states, what their potential may or may not be. They should enjoy their childhood, because all too soon they will face the burdens of adulthood.

  2. Yea, this was one of the stupidest things ive ever seen… what ever happend to simply paying attention to our children and discovering their strengths and weaknesses.

    No, we dont pay attention anymore… we pay $ for some else to tell us who our children will become! WTF?


  3. The idea that early sports specialization will lead to virtuosity is endemic. For every Tiger Woods there is are thousands of children who resent their parent(s) and are neurally stagnant by the time they reach puberty. Kids should enjoy multiple sports and activities and get as wide an athletic base as possible. Most importantly, they should learn to ENJOY sports and fitness as a way of life instead of pure drudgery.

  4. Ross, I didn’t know you before today. Your training ideas were recommended by a boxing gym in Columbus, OH. I have a 5 and 1 1/2 year old, both boys. I couldn’t agree more with your post, and your annoyed tone. You can’t test for passion and you can’t test for tenacity. Plenty of people have the genetics and never use it, and plenty of others cannot be beaten because they’re told they can’t win. Who wants to see machines compete? This post is the perfect counterpoint to your compilation video. This is about humans with the audacity and commitment to exceed all expectations and move it to another level, because they enjoy the fight. Life is plenty of ‘test’. Don’t these people have Cancer to cure?

  5. You are “right on” again – just let the kids play. Kids ask to “play a game” of basketball, soccer etc. Sports are games and games are play, yes they are competitive but usually that is part of what makes them fun. I agree with Dadi Astthorsson, let kids enjoy many different sports, I see too many parents driving their children into sports specialization: wrestling, hockey, baseball etc. These kids play only that sport all year, they want them to get a scholarship or even go professional. As a result I see repetitive use injuries in these kids all the time due to specializing in one sport only. Children need varied activities for overall development. Do we want our children to hate sports when they get older or enjoy activity for its own sake, which will help them more in the long run? Why not just encourage kids to play and move and interact with others. If you watch children at a park they teach each other to work together, solve problems, move and enjoy themselves. This is all without our stepping in and taking charge, we need to encourage not force. Genetic or other testing can find inherent traits in all of us but doesn’t determine us, the sports and business world has to many examples of people that beat the odds for success, encourage your children for their successes but let them gain from their failures. Just let kids be kids and play.

  6. Agreed, young kids should be taking part in a variety of sports in order to improve neuro-muscular development, coordination and gain a wide variety of general sporting skills. If they wish to specialise at a later stage in life that should be their decision, and the skills they have developed from playing various sports when younger will only benefit them when they do. As a percentage of the school sport playing population, very few people go on to being professional sportsmen or women. This, however, should in no way prevent us from letting our children have fun and develop physically and socially by playing whatever sports they desire. As Ross has stated, it’s a win-win situation.

  7. Great entry as always. I think you forgot one thing, though. Not only might such test results lead parents to take their kids out of certain sports, which they just do for their enjoyment, but they also might push them into a sport, the kids absolutely dislike, just because the test might suggest, the kid could be a talent in that particular sport. I think, that is just as bad for the development of the child.

  8. Hard work surpasses talent. In my family we have had several extremely gifted athletes who never turned professional because they did not have it in them to work hard enough. I’ve met people who after 2 years of practice still looked like beginners but DID turn professional due to never giving up and working harder than everyone else. THAT’S A FACT!

  9. I think Martin summed up the point I was going to make. Character counts a lot…these people forget the work that even an “Usain Bolt” has to put in to compete at that level.

  10. hi ross, i agree whole heartedly with what you say, but just a thought regarding “relentless determination”.i truely believe that we inherit not only what we look like on the outside but also what we have on the could it be possible to inherit “heart”? i think so. have a look at some of your habits or aspects of your character, my guess is you,ll see strong links to not only mum and dad, but further back down the generations. nature vs nurture debate rages on!

  11. Yeah,I hear lots of “kids should” and wot about leave them kids alone? Who u r after all trying to shape their destiny? Parents? And what about your own experience? About your own lifestyle? Remember if you not involved into any sport if you dislike sport activities and active life yourself you can choke pushing children hard into different sports but i strongly suggest (that’s my own statistics) that later on in their lives they will accept your lifestyle in 8 cases out of 10. For example if all you have to boast is some achievement in your school years and you like to repeat “I was the champion of whatever” it won’t make them follow your steps because “was” never enough… I mean children accept as a fun and a norm what they see around in everyday life,that’s why alcoholics children so often becoming alcoholics themselves (i lived in one of former soviet union republics before in a really rough neighbourhood with asocial families and seen it all ) 7 of my childhood mates out of 10 those from families with alcoholics started to drink themselves,and the rest 3
    because they found sort of a sheler or refuge in a sport (we started to do some sport in a wee shed,made a “club” there for ourselves made all equipment and all) not drinking at all. Now my another three mates from families with active lifestyle not doing any sport whatsoever because they been under pressure since they were small children and after reaching age of about 16 quit it all. They hate it. And only 2 people whom i know are absorbed sport as their lifestyle because parents just enjoyed being active themselves and never ever pushed their children. It was always kinda “up to you” attitude with good humour and all. So it’s all really relatively i mean that with any tests it’s impossible to control human life without ruining it… i meant if you are doin’ it for fun expect your children will do same 🙂 and if u’re couch potatoe don’t u think your child gonna be an active man (hard to predict though but just less likely) 🙂
    You’re great man Ross Your power is in your lifestyle and your son most likely will enjoy the sport. I like your approach ,if you want to get fit just start doing something it’s not about money it’s about your imagination and dedication 🙂 We were doing something similar,no money no facilities to train no good gyms around just few kettlebells, punching bag (self made) and skipping rope and you know what? We were alrite 🙂 . I’m father myself have a daughter 8 years old and two more coming.. 🙂 Sorry for my poor english btw

  12. There are thousands of cases of people defying the norm. How many times have I heard the story of Michael Jordan who wasn’t good enough to make his highschool basketball team. We all know how that story ended.

  13. Ross, when i read the blog, i remember my son, he 14 months old, hopefully i can make him more health and strong

    thank you

    Fitness first Personal Trainer

  14. So much to agree with in the above posts, except inheriting heart, can’t agree with that one. Btw has anyone thought about the fact that this study was done on elite athletes who had trained for years. Maybe, just maybe, training, nutrition, dedication, and the human spirit/will can alter genetics. Of course so many ppl will cry havoc about that statement but could any scientist disprove my statement? I doubt they would even ever try. They have been taught one thing and accepted it as truth and now look only for the evidence to PROVE what they already believe. Hmmmm so much for “science” 🙂 and no I don’t think science is evil or anything extreme like that, just that too many people accept what “authorities” say as truth just because the “authority” said it. Don’t ever buy into that ideology. Observe for your self, Think for your self and determine your own path. Thanks for the great post Ross. Keep it coming brother!

  15. You hit the nail on the head Ross with “sports are for fun”. Winning is good, but you have to learn to win and lose and still enjoy it. If you play sport just to win and dont enjoy it, whats the point? rationalisation leading to irrational behaviour…

  16. Great post, as usual. In case you haven’t seen it, I recommend the movie Gattaca, which explores a similar issue. The tagline for the movie is: “There is no gene for the human spirit.”

  17. Let’s hope this kind of technology is never used. If it is we may be missing out on some great performers.

    Larry Bird, who was slow and couldn’t jump, was one of the greatest basketball players I have ever seen.

    Genetics is just a tiny bit of the puzzle.

  18. Hey Ross!!! It’s your boy Chuck!!!

    Man Doctors need to give it up already they just keep making themselves look like an ass everytime they try and predict what man can do.

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