Book Review: The Sports Gene

May 25, 2018

I first heard about "The Sports Gene" during the keynote presentation at the IADMS conference. The speaker may have only made a split second reference to the book, but I was intrigued and immediately added it to my "Books to read" list in my phone. I finally got around to reading it and wanted to share my overall impressions of it with you here.


Let me get straight to the point: I LOVED IT! 


The quick overview:


Why are some athletes more successful than others? If they are good at one sport, are they good at them all? Can athleticism be learned or is it inherited?... All of these questions (plus many more) are addressed in this book, which discusses the age old question of nature versus nurture in athletics. It takes a look at the most elite athletes in the world, across all sports, and tries to figure out what they have in common that makes them so successful. Ever heard of the 10,000 hour rule? You know, the one that states that practicing a skill for 10,000 hours is the key to success. OR is there actually a "sports gene" that elite athletes hold which makes them elite in the first place? These are just a few of the hypothesis that this book breaks down to help shed some light on the debate.

Spoiler alert: there are no magical, definitive answers given in this book. Just a lot of interesting research and real life stories to only further peak your interest. 


A few highlights:

One of the most fascinating things I personally took away from this book was the section talking about running, because I realized I saw the research playing out in front of my own eyes. For as long as I can remember I have hated running, and quite honestly am TERRIBLE at it. I get tired so easily and my calves constantly feel like they are working 3x as hard as they need to. It never fails that Pat can go months without running, hop on a treadmill, and run 5 miles while barely breaking a sweat. WHAT THE HECK!? Well, guess what? I learned that research on some of the most elite runners in the world shows that those with a smaller calf circumference and pelvic width are much more inclined to be successful at running. (Guess who has the bigger calves in our relationship!? ) This is something I have always suspected, but now I have the research in front of me to back it up. Want to know why runners from certain areas of the world dominate the running circuit? Check out the book to find out!


There was also a story about a former world record holder for pole vaulting, who merely fell into the sport by accident after someone bet him he couldn't make it over. He did make it and went on to become one of the most successful pole vaulters ever. This story was strikingly familiar to me, because one of the most successful US women's pole vaulters went to my high school. Although she was always a successful athlete, she did not start pole vaulting until college and immediately starting winning national titles with may less years of training compared to others in the sport. There is certainly something to be said for genetics!


I could go on forever here about all the amazing stories and facts in this book, so my best advice is go pick up a copy and read it for yourself :-)


My honest reactions:


The book is written by David Epstein of Sports Illustrated. At first I was unsure why it was not written by someone with a more scientific or health related background, but let me tell you, this guy knows how to write a good story! He does a great job of merging the scientific evidence with real life stories of successful athletes to make it an easy to read, yet educational book. 


I will caution you, it was a bit of a slow read for me-- but not in a bad way! It has A LOT of science and references to research in it, some of


which might take reading a few times to really absorb it. Naturally, the topic of genetics comes up often and at times the book goes into depth about how certain traits and genes work. I found myself having to re-read these sections a few times to really make sure the information sunk it. It was, however, well balanced with portions that were more story based and flowed much easier. Overall, it is certainly not a light or mindless read, but a VERY interesting one!


Who should read it?


There is a pretty wide audience that I think will find this book interesting. Especially if you work with athletes, elite or not, you should be reading this book! Physical Therapists, coaches, teachers, sports enthusiasts- do your self a favor and go grab yourself a copy!


I would love to hear your own reactions to this book if you have read it, or once you do!!









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