Nature vs. Nurture


When we look at an athlete’s career we consider how much they improved the day they started with you until the time they graduate. The athlete highlighted in the picture I provided improved immensely during her time at our high school. Her first race in the 400 dash was an underwhelming 1:18.50 by the time she was a senior in high school she was able to run 60point as our lead off in the 4×400 meter relay. Her split in the 4×400 relay is a large improvement for a young lady who to the naked eye was already very fit and robustly built for track as a freshman. By the time she was a senior I was happy to see her meet my expectations I had for her as a freshman. She worked incredibly hard and earned every second of improvement. For most coaches this is a common story of hard work paying off. However, for this young lady that is just the tip of the iceberg. Recently she went back to her family’s homeland of Communist China. Obviously, it’s a culture shock to visit China from the United States but not the way you would think. Arriving in China her family wondered who this imposter was!? She indeed is a descendant from China even though she is a full foot taller, more muscled and even darker skinned then her entire family! Her outlying physical characteristics led a number of people to ask her strange questions like what country are you from? She even had another coach in China try to recruit her to play sports at his secondary school saying “we have no one around her who looks like you!” Recently graduated, my athlete laughed and thought all of this attention was very funny. As funny and interesting this clash of cultures might seem it becomes more fascinating when considering why there is such a drastic physical difference? The difference…. she spent her entire life in the United States. As much as we want to focus on genes as the largest contributing factor for sporting success I would point to her environment. Gene expression is something many researchers are just beginning to really understand. I believe because my athlete was born in the states with a different diet, stimulus, and sporting opportunities she became a dissimilar athlete then one who would have developed back in China. Her story is one all coaches should keep in mind as they progress a kid from a young age to adulthood. This story is important because an athlete’s environment is the biggest influence on their development. Remember we only have a few hours a day over the course of the couple of years to make a positive impact. Understanding these realities the life of the athlete before you matters! As a coach the take home message is help parents and athletes make good choices away from the track. In turn you as a coach should do your best to respectfully learn a detailed understanding of your athlete’s environmental background. The contribution of environment good or bad cannot be overlooked. Enclosed below is a video of this athlete in action. L. Hu in action