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Sports: In Their Genes or In Their Hearts?

Let’s pretend I just had my daughter’s DNA tested, and I’ve gotten some important news I wish I’d known a long time ago: she doesn’t have the genetic predisposition to be a good ice skater!

Let’s pretend I just had my daughter’s DNA tested, and I’ve gotten some important news I wish I’d known a long time ago: she doesn’t have the genetic predisposition to be a good ice skater! So I’ve got to get over to the neighborhood rink right away to tell her to get off the ice, and we can take her skates straight to the Salvation Army. Even though you love and enjoy skating, I’ll tell her, any further energy expended here is nothing but a waste of time, money, and your inborn talents. What you need to be doing, I’ll inform her, is running hurdles; your DNA profile makes that abundantly clear.

DNA Genes

Are you thinking right now that I’ve lost my mind as well as my priorities? That what my daughter enjoys doing and is motivated to do ultimately means more than what she’s supposedly “cut out” to do? That there’s no such thing as genetic testing, anyway, for the purpose of determining the best sport for your child?

Well then you, my friend, are seriously behind the times.

There was an article just last fall in the New York Times explaining how easy it is to simply swab the inside of your child’s cheek for a DNA sample and send it to a lab for profiling. You and your child will then receive a certificate titled Your Genetic Advantage, detailing whether your child is designed to excel in sprint, power and strength sports, endurance sports, or activity sports (or perhaps a combination of those). An included packet of information suggests the specific sports that are most appropriate and what paths to follow so the child reaches his or her potential.

When they talk about reaching your child’s potential, of course, what they mean is reaching his or her potential in sports. But even if I believed those claims (which I don’t) I guess I’d rather have my children reach their potential in a bit broader category, namely, the one called “life.” And I think you have the best chance of reaching your potential in life when you get the fact that success in your endeavors has mostly to do with the effort you’re willing to put in. Talent, or whatever we call the part that was handed to you on a silver platter, means little in comparison to effort over the long haul.

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It’s the person who hangs in there, works through setbacks, keeps learning, and won’t give up who ultimately succeeds the most. And I want my children to believe that they have the power of success or failure in their own hands — that it’s mostly their own choices that determine how far they will or won’t go in their careers, in their relationships, in their intellectual pursuits, and yes, in sports too. In fact, talent can sometimes undermine you, because when things come too easily, it’s harder to develop the habit of working through setbacks.

And I might as well add that I don’t want my kids to think a lack of advantageous genes lets them off the hook for anything, either. Even if they could prove to me that they don’t have a genetic predisposition for cleaning their rooms, they’d still have to clean them.

One of the parents who’s a fan of genetic testing of children said, “It’s good to match them with the right activity.” But what makes an activity “right?” One thing that’s right about skiing, for our family, is that we live near a ski resort. If we lived in Tallahassee, then skiing wouldn’t be the right sport for either of our children, no matter what their genetics said. Desire, luck, convenience, effort, and even, in the case of skiing, proximity — I would think any one of these things might supersede genetics in determining what sport is right for any particular person.

But another parent was quoted in the Times article as asking, “What if my son could be a pro football player and I don’t know it?”

I say you’re better off not knowing. You’re better off not knowing that your son is supposedly cut out for football, and my daughter and I are better off not knowing that she, I imagine, is not cut out for skating.

Let both kids follow their hearts.


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