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Genetics vs. Hard Work

Lately, the age-old debate on the role of genetics vs. work ethic in determining training outcomes has been a popular discussion with our athletes. Recently, some of the results our athletes have seen during their time training at GP has been chalked up to “genetics” by some outsiders. From their perspective, training is all the same. At the end of the day, they are lifting weights, running, jumping, etc. There was not, or could not, have been anything special about our training system that allowed these athletes to excel beyond what they had previously done. In their opinion, the results these athletes achieved had everything to do with being genetically “blessed”.

What becomes apparent with their argument is the lack of appreciation that exists in regards to the sophisticated nature of training methodologies aimed at long-term athletic development. Long-term athletic development is a concept many coaches, trainers, athletes, and parents are either unfamiliar with or don’t have the patience for. They want immediate results; regardless at what expense those results come with.

When athletes approach us for coaching, we have a big task on our hands. There is a lot of information we must gather regarding each athlete in order to design the most effective training program possible. Keep in mind, there is an incredible amount of detail that will influence how each athlete will respond to training and it is our responsibility as coaches to know the details and address them appropriately during training. The information we gather by spending sufficient time testing and analyzing various performance markers before and during training becomes invaluable in understanding what to address with our athletes.

When designing and coordinating the training plan, we also account for each athlete’s current state of readiness to train. There are a number of factors to consider when determining readiness to train and this information is critical to know as a coach. The ability to identify the degree of intensity and volume an athlete can handle during each training session is critical to progress and avoiding unnecessary training loads. We want to ensure that each training session produces quality work, not pointless work. It’s incredibly easy to ruin an athlete; getting them to progress year after year is a tremendous challenge.

What critics fail to see is exactly how much work, quality work, these athletes put in week after week for months. They don't acknowledge the endless hours of discipline and hard work that athlete was put into a training system that addresses their developmental needs. Instead, nowadays, people find it more convenient to simply blame genetics for their comparative lack of progress or dismiss the athlete’s hard work and suspect cheating (i.e. drug use).

This is truly a shame because it is the culture sport has created. It’s unfortunate to have a young athlete become bigger, stronger, or faster and, in turn, have their peers and others in their lives ask them, “What are you taking?”

Let me be clear about something: if you are failing to see progress in your training program or are seeing more time on the bench than on the playing field, chances are you are simply being out-worked in terms of quality of effort and direction in your training.

You really should take a look in the mirror and ask yourself how bad do you want it. If you want to be great in your sport, greatness is not something you simply decide. You must act upon it. There is a lot of discipline and hard work required to become an elite-level athlete.

Roughly, how much hard work?

You may or may not be familiar with the “10,000 hour rule”. The rule basically states that 10,000 hours is the amount of work needed to reach mastery in any discipline or skill. Even thought the rule has received some criticism, the point remains that it at least provides us with a tangible number when understanding how much time is needed to develop a high-degree of mastery in any pursuit.

Let’s break down the 10,000 rule a bit further. If you practiced your sport two hours a day, five days per week, it would take you just under 20 years to reach your 10,000 hours. More commonly, most young athletes practice their sport 1 hour per day, 3 days per week. At this pace it would take an athlete 64 years to achieve mastery. As you can quickly tell, being a “recreational” athlete will never allow you to reach elite status. Mastery requires time, a lot of time, and thus is a serious decision to dedication that one doesn’t make on a whim.

Remember, hard work is only one side of the coin. Anyone can work hard. Anyone can go nuts during a training session and work to complete exhaustion. For novice trainees, this may even produce some results in the beginning. But what happens in the coming weeks or months when you stop developing and hit that dreaded plateau? This is one of the biggest problems we see, especially in developing athletes. Far too often, talented kids stop developing because of poor attention to individual considerations. When working with young athletes, there has to be a period of development that cannot be rushed. This requires an extreme amount of patience on the part of coaches, athletes, and parents. Athletes must earn the right to progress by being consistent in gradual development.

At GP, we consider coaching athletes to be a long and potentially slow process. We also acknowledge that some athletes may not be interested in this approach. However, our interest is not just in creating quick and easy success for athletes, but directing a process that will allow them to reach their true athletic potential. From a coaching stand point, anyone can create changes in an athlete. It’s not hard. Simply having anyone perform an exercise or a routine that is new will create change. But, is that change purposeful? Was it directed towards meeting that athlete’s needs? Or was the change made to simply make a change without an understanding as to why the change was made?

This is where hard work within a well-directed training program, under the guidance of a knowledgeable coach will trump hard work without direction. Our training system tailors each program to meet the individual athlete’s needs, differences, and current level of readiness to train.

It is not uncommon for some of our athletes to tell us they have “worked harder” during training sessions. They are accustomed to coaches running them into the ground and trainers mindlessly make them do high-intensity work with little rest. What else do we hear? We hear these same athletes are failing to improve. Rather many of them feel extremely fatigued and unmotivated. Sure they saw some results to start, but lately they are frustrated and confused.

When first starting at GP, they may feel that our system of training looks “easy”. This is a huge mistake. Our training may appear to be “easy”, but each training session is demanding. Each session is extremely detailed and may move at a slower pace than some athletes care for. News flash: if you’re more interested in going nuts than being productive, there’s not much any training system can do for you. Simply put, if you work hard to get better as an athlete, but also have some detailed thought applied to your training, the results will be greater than you would ever expect.

Yes, athletes with superior genetics do exist. Their genetics will allow them to progress more rapidly and experience great adaptations to training stimuli than athletes with lesser genetics. But they are more rare than you think. When it comes down to it, quality work in a well-designed training program aimed at long-term athletic development, under the guidance of a knowledgeable coach likely has more to do with superior athleticism than genetics alone.

As the saying goes,
“Genetics are the hand you've been dealt, but it's how you play the hand that counts.”
 
More related reading:

https://gallagherperformance.com/6-factors-that-influence-an-athletes-dedication/

https://gallagherperformance.com/attitude-is-everything/

 
How to Develop Physical Fitness
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