Genetics in Sports: Do They Matter?
Updated: Dec 7, 2018
The two pictured to the right were pretty good at baseball, right? Specifically the player to the far right was a HOF caliber talent, the player to the left? His Father. Why exactly was the son better than the Father? Surely because the genes he received from his Father. What about Craig though? Well....who the hell is Craig? Craig is Ken Griffey Jr's brother. For the record he played 7 seasons of minor league ball and somehow made it to AAA with the Mariners with a career .224 batting average, back when we could justify a player a "good" based on that statistic. We could give hundreds of more examples of siblings being pro athletes and having Fathers that were also a pro athlete, yet one sibling being better. Anyone aware that Hank Aaron had a brother? Tommie was a home run hitter too, and they hold the record for combined home runs between siblings, Tommie contributed 13.
Maybe we should understand that just because someone shares the same last name and bloodlines doesn't insert innate talent into that individuals body. The fact of the matter is something we should all know and remember is that everyone is different. Yet I see it countless amounts of times whether hearing about a prospect for the MLB draft or a player getting recruited to schools, "he has it in his blood". Does he? If that's the case tell me why Craig Griffey was a minor leaguer lucky enough to get to AAA Jr. is a HOF'er.
Now what I can tell you is that genes do matter in how we train, not necessarily in how we select players to our programs/organizations. My desire to write about this derived from Altis.com and understanding their interest in partnering with Athletigen, which is a genetics research company focused on athlete development. Altis is a track and field based educational platform much like mytpi.com is for golf. I have personal beliefs of the benefits of track and field performance development and the correlation to baseball. I believe if we can simply improve an players sprinting form we can improve his athleticism. Besides the point, what role does genetics have on our athletes?
Athletigen’s sports genetics profiles report on 100+ key factors for nutritional, training and therapeutic approaches that are unique to each athlete, and are required for optimized and sustained performance. They can take in information from a simple DNA swab just like the 23andMe tracks your DNA to find your family heritage. From this DNA it will generate reports that will show how your body reacts to caffeine to how quickly your recover and how much sleep your body really needs to your mental performance capabilities and even see if you're at injury risk. Honestly, I highly encourage you check out this article that show in more detail how Athletigen is going to effect the sports performance industry.
Back to the Griffey's, for the record Ken Sr. was battling injuries in his mid 30s with the Yankees. Was this something the Reds maybe could have predicted in today's world with DNA reports before trading for Griffey Jr. in 2000? Yeah, most likely. Or at least had an idea about it might be coming, which most teams know nowadays that players in their mid 30s are on their way out. There are some exceptions of players who can still perform at a high enough level to validate worthy enough value, contract dependent to talent/performance. Bartolo Colon is a tremendous example or Julio Franco, Nolan Ryan, Cal Ripken Jr. and more. Is it because of their genetics that kept them in the game for so long? But then again, there is information out there that will put the athlete in the best position to be healthy by knowing how to train them and attack their diet to produce optimum output.
Now I can tell you for sure that genes have a place in determining how the athlete should train, whether genes have a role in player selection I think it plays a minuscule role. You can still have a stellar athlete from a father who is a carpenter and a mother who is a teacher, but those genes may effect how quickly they develop physically and mentally. However, that athlete who is the son of the professional athlete, still needs to work his tail off and devote the 10,000 hours required to achieve mastery or become a pro. It will not be simply "given" to him through his bloodlines. There have been great experiments to prove that. Such as Janet Starkes' "occlusion test", concluding that learned perceptual expertise is more important than raw reaction skills in athletes. Anders Ericsson infamous "10,000 hour rule" is what makes an expert. Without the DNA testing your best bet is to practice and participate in the art of deep practice. Do you think Ken Griffey Jr. practiced more than his brother Craig? I would assume yes, but I do not know for sure.
The gene factor really is much deeper than the fact someone shares the same DNA or last name as another individual. Really to the point where as coaches, we don't truly know if it will have an advantageous effect on that player.
There is much more information to dive into that suggests genetics plays a role in physical and mental performance. It presents great interest to me and hope this sparks interest in others as well. I want to conclude that you cannot simply say, "his Dad played pro ball" and that means you are getting a good player, because it doesn't.