Nature vs Nurture

The nature vs nurture debate in athletes and others is a common one that has been going on for many years. Are great athletes born or made? Some say that people of great achievement are born that way. Others claim that anyone who applies the right attitude and effort can be moulded into someone great.

Has it ever occurred to the people on both sides the nature vs nurture debate that they are both right?

Here’s an example: Michael Jordan didn’t even make his high school basketball team due to being too short for that level and for not being considered a player of that level. The following year he grew four inches but he also spent that time training harder than the actual players on the team. The result is a man who is considered to be the best basketball player that ever lived, although not all agree with that.

OJ Simpson is another example. He had bow legs as a kid due to ricketts. At the time though he claimed he would become the best NFL player in the United States some day. He even made the claim to the face of some of his heroes. Lo and behold, he became one of the greatest NFL players ever despite his unfortunate childhood.

Then there are those that seem naturally gifted. Athletes like Usain Bolt who broke the 100 metre and 200 metre sprint world records at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Not only did he break them, he shattered them both.

Bolt was born fast though. There was never a time when he was fat and slow.

I have personally experienced both sides of the nature vs nurture debate. I have studied martial arts for most of my life. Some people were just hopeless and never seemed to improve. Others picked it up fast and were able to excel above much more experienced practitioners.

I have studied human potential for many years. I have looked at areas such as sports, business, martial arts, science and everything else you could think of. Through the process of breaking down and analysing the profiles and attributes of great people, I have made the following observations…

  • First of all people can be conditioned to do just about anything. With the right stimulus a person is able to make adaptations such as physical conditioning and mental processing speed and accuracy. Wherever obsessive, dedicated training takes place consistently, the individual is almost always outstanding in what they are training for.

  • At least 90% of greatness is dependent on mental state. Someone will only train as hard or as consistently as their own brain will leverage them to carry out. Without an optimal mental state a person will simply not do what is required.

  • Efforts of purely physiological components are highly dependent on the nature side of the nature vs. nurture debate. This includes sprinting, marathon running, swimming etc. Basically anything with minimal skill required but maximum physiological capacity needed for the task. Having said that, champions are never just born, they do need some coaching and some effort to get there.

  • Character traits can be determined as natural or learned by studying close relatives of a person. There are instances I have witnessed where a person is very much like their parents in terms of achievement, willingness for effort etc, when they were not even raised by their parents. So a person will generally apply themselves to a similar level that their parents did. In other words, some are born lazy, others are born with a thirst for accomplishment. This plays a major part in the level of proficiency a person reaches.

Nature vs nurture? Both. People should play to their strengths and leverage what they have to their utmost potential. Everyone is not equal in everything. However, everyone could be considered equal overall because each person has a physical or mental trait that has potential for greatness in some area.


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