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Sports Medicine

, Volume 37, Issue 11, pp 961–980 | Cite as

Genes, Environment and Sport Performance

Why the Nature-Nurture Dualism is no Longer Relevant
  • Keith Davids
  • Joseph Baker
Review Article Genes, Environment and Sport Performance

Abstract

The historical debate on the relative influences of genes (i.e. nature) and environment (i.e. nurture) on human behaviour has been characterised by extreme positions leading to reductionist and polemic conclusions. Our analysis of research on sport and exercise behaviours shows that currently there is little support for either biologically or environmentally deterministic perspectives on elite athletic performance. In sports medicine, recent molecular biological advances in genomic studies have been over-interpreted, leading to a questionable ‘single-gene-as-magic-bullet’ philosophy adopted by some practitioners. Similarly, although extensive involvement in training and practice is needed at elite levels, it has become apparent that the acquisition of expertise is not merely about amassing a requisite number of practice hours. Although an interactionist perspective has been mooted over the years, a powerful explanatory framework has been lacking. In this article, we propose how the complementary nature of degenerate neurobiological systems might provide the theoretical basis for explaining the interactive influence of genetic and environmental constraints on elite athletic performance. We argue that, due to inherent human degeneracy, there are many different trajectories to achieving elite athletic performance. While the greatest training responses may be theoretically associated with the most favourable genotypes being exposed to highly specialised training environments, this is a rare and complex outcome. The concept of degeneracy provides us with a basis for understanding why each of the major interacting constraints might act in a compensatory manner on the acquisition of elite athletic performance.

Keywords

Environmental Constraint Sport Performance Deliberate Practice Magic Bullet AMPD 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Notes

Acknowledgements

No sources of funding were used to assist in the preparation of this review. The authors have no conflicts of interest that are directly relevant to the content of this review. The authors wish to acknowledge the help of Pam Smith of the School of Human Movement Studies, Queensland University of Technology, in preparing this manuscript for publication.

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Copyright information

© Adis Data Information BV 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Keith Davids
    • 1
  • Joseph Baker
    • 2
  1. 1.School of Human Movement StudiesQueensland University of TechnologyKelvin GroveAustralia
  2. 2.School of Kinesiology and Health ScienceYork UniversityTorontoCanada

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