5 Reasons Genetic Testing Of Athletes Is Wrong

Track athlete

"Don't worry son, it's your parent's fault that you can't run track. They gave you bad genes. That's why you failed the genetic test."

Genetic Testing of Athletes

It’s hard to believe, but one day this could be the reality.  Little Johnny (or Susie) could be told that they can no longer play a sport because ‘they don’t have the right genes for it.”  In case you haven’t heard about it, there are now companies out there who will provide genetic testing of kids for athletic purposes.  The companies claim that they are trying to help the parents so that their kids can be steered to sports that they are the most suited for.  I’ve got some problems with this whole concept.

5 Reasons Genetic Testing of Athletes Is Wrong

  1. Specialization – Don’t we have enough of an issue with kids specializing in one sport too early?  Isn’t this going to make things that much worse?  In case you aren’t aware of my views of focusing on only one sport, you can read my thoughts here.  There are a lot more athletic and medical personnel who share my viewpoint due to burnout issues and physical wear and tear on the bodies of young athletes.  The testing companies say that it will save you money because you won’t put your child in something that they won’t  be that good at.  Of course they’re going to say that – they are selling their product.
  2. Goes Against What Sports Teach – You remember all of the things that sports teach a kid – hard work, dedication, perseverance, teamwork, not giving up, etc.  Guess what?  Genetic testing robs your kid of the chance to learn many of those basic things.  If they are put into something that will always come easier to them than some other sports, then how will they learn to do something when it is difficult for them?  Additionally, if you already know that you have the necessary tools, what’s the motivation to work hard to develop them further?As for teamwork, one of the issues with teams is that every person is not exactly the same.  You have to learn to work together and realize your strengths and weaknesses.  That might be hard to do in a sport where all of the athletes have the same gifts.
  3. Injury Information – One of the factors behind genetic testing is that it could possibly identify players who are at risk for certain injuries.  Maybe there is some benefit to this in certain cases.  However, most of the parents who most want the testing done on their kids are focused on one thing only – a college scholarship!!  Guess what parents?  As soon as your future college coach finds out that you are at greater risk for certain injuries, oops, there goes the scholarship down the drain.  Years ago I was involved in a discussion about female ACL tears and femoral notch width as a factor.  The discussion eventually turned to the a question of what would happen if college coaches ever wanted to know this information about potential signees.  Ethics dilemma?  You bet!
  4. Telling Kids Something Else They Can’t Do – It seems like in our modern society, we’ve become the ultimate people organizers.  We want to label everyone!  The world has turned into a place that has provided an excuse for everyone and whatever they do.  Do we really need to put more labels on kids?  Why can’t we just let them be kids?  Why do we have to tell them that they won’t be good at something else?  For many kids sports is a temporary escape from “life”.  Maybe we should keep it that way.
  5. Do We Need A Test? – I understand that the test gives exact details about what a kid is capable of.  Do we really need a test for this?  If you want to know if a kid is fast, have him race other kids.  If you want to know if he’s a good jumper, test his vertical jump.  As a young kid, training won’t have had much of an effect yet.  Just compare your kid to other kids and see how they perform.  If they are naturally fast, or strong, or whatever else, then you probably know enough.

Let The Athletes Be

Obviously somebody thinks that this is a good idea (probably the people making money off of the tests).  I’m all for using technology to help coaches and athletes.  I just think that genetic testing goes too far.  I like the excitement of seeing someone develop and use their God given ability, regardless of what that is.

Mark

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Does It Matter?

Pic of Gears
Do you have any missing gears?

That’s the question.  Does it matter?  Does it really matter?  About now you’re asking, “does what matter?”  (That, and why is there a picture of machine gears on a sports performance blog).   I have answers for both of these.  

The question “does it matter” refers to the various parts of training an athlete.  Things like flexibility, power, strength, rest & recovery, planning, nutrition, outside of training activities (use of tobacco, drugs, and alcohol), stress, quality of training, etc.  I could probably list a lot more but I think that you’ve got the idea.  So, do they matter?  Do all of them matter?  Are some more important than others?  They all matter!!!  Each one represents a major part in the process of developing an athlete.  If you mess with one part, you mess with the whole athlete.  Want an example?  It’s a well know fact that stress caused by a job, school, a personal situation or anything else can affect you physically.  In fact, too much stress can put you in the hospital. Stress, which is usually non-physical in nature, can affect you physically.  See how things are all tied together. Your body works together as one.  If one part is not functioning up to par, other parts try to help out. That is one of the amazing things about our body.  Of course, if a part or system has to pick up the slack from some other system, then it can’t do it’s own job 100%.   That decreases your ability to function fully.  If you are an athlete, that’s not what you want.  You want every part to be working together at 100%.  That makes you able to  train and perform better and will lead to better results. 

The best way that I’ve ever heard this explained was by Mark Verstegen.  He used the example of a bunch of gears or cogs working together.  Each of the gears represented some of the things that I mentioned previously.  (See, I told you that there was a reason for the pic of the gears). The basic idea was that each of these gears helps to keep the entire machine (your body) working smoothly.

I’ve had athletes finish a workout and then go light up a cigarette. First, it’s unhealthy in general (and disgusting, but that’s my opinion).  Second, he was an athlete!!!  Why would you go train hard and then go do something to sabatoge yourself immediately afterwards????  I know that we can’t control everything that our athletes do.  I get that.  However, we have to educate them as to why all of these things are important. I don’t think I’ve met too many athletes who just wanted to “make the team”.  Most of them have a competive desire to excel, to be the best.  Hopefully we as coaches can make them understand the importance of taking care of all of the “gears” in the system.

 

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