Nature vs. Nurture

Darwin’s nature vs. nurture debate has long been discussed in regard to our educational system.  But the concept is also relevant to performance and more specifically, athletic performance.  Recently, it seems as if nurture has become all the rage.  Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers helped make Anders Ericsson’s 10,000 hour rule popular which suggests: the key to expertise in any field lies with a person practicing a specific task for a total of 10,000 hours.

When working with clients I always encourage them to lean on their preparation and work ethic.  Our preparation is directly linked to our confidence, which is directly liked to our performance.  Preparation and work ethic certainly breeds competence.  It’s a simple and easy concept that allows people to improve.  Golfers need to work on their swing, college students need to study their “major”, and guitarists need to practice their tunes.  I tackled this concept previous in my first “Mental Monday” article.

But, what about nature?  How do we explain the “lazy” athlete who still makes it to the professional level, the Ivy League scholar who rarely has to study, or the rocker who is more interested in drugs than practicing with the band?  Eric Jaffe did a terrific job looking at the pieces that lead to excellent performance.  The article sites research, which suggests practice alone can’t account for individual success.  Jaffe quotes David Hambrick’s research, which found that general cognitive skills that greatly lead to achievement are largely innate.  Hambrick is quoted as saying, “In my opinion, the deliberate practice view has gone about as far as it can go, but it seems clear to me that there’s something else.”

Certainly this debate will go on.  Much has been made of the genetics of superstars like LeBron James, Usain Bolt, and RG3.  However, all of them will go back to their work ethic and ability to prepare as the reason for their success.  There’s no denying that genetics play a role, but there’s also no denying that putting in the work will give you, the athlete, the best opportunity for success.

So whether you are 5’5” or 6’5”, direct your attention to the process of fulfilling YOUR potential, rather than sulking about what you don’t have.  For every LeBron James there is Spud Webb, for every Usain Bolt there is Oscar Pistorius, and for every RG3 there is Drew Brees.  Nurture your ability and give yourself the best opportunity to be successful.