What makes champions? A review of the relative contribution of genes and training to sporting success
- 1Department of Human Biology, Exercise Science and Sports Medicine, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa
- 2Exercise Science and Sports Medicine, South African Medical Research Council and University of Cape Town, Newlands, South Africa
- Correspondence to Ross Tucker, Department of Human Biology, University of Cape Town, Exercise Science and Sports Medicine, Cape Town, PO Box 115, Newlands, 7725, South Africa;
- Received 1 September 2011
- Accepted 6 March 2012
- Published Online First 25 April 2012
Elite sporting performance results from the combination of innumerable factors, which interact with one another in a poorly understood but complex manner to mould a talented athlete into a champion. Within the field of sports science, elite performance is understood to be the result of both training and genetic factors. However, the extent to which champions are born or made is a question that remains one of considerable interest, since it has implications for talent identification and management, as well as for how sporting federations allocate scarce resources towards the optimisation of high-performance programmes. The present review describes the contributions made by deliberate practice and genetic factors to the attainment of a high level of sporting performance. The authors conclude that although deliberate training and other environmental factors are critical for elite performance, they cannot by themselves produce an elite athlete. Rather, individual performance thresholds are determined by our genetic make-up, and training can be defined as the process by which genetic potential is realised. Although the specific details are currently unknown, the current scientific literature clearly indicates that both nurture and nature are involved in determining elite athletic performance. In conclusion, elite sporting performance is the result of the interaction between genetic and training factors, with the result that both talent identification and management systems to facilitate optimal training are crucial to sporting success.
Competing interests None.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.