Have you ever wondered why certain athletes have risen above the crowd to be stars? Take LeBron James, for instance. Perhaps it is his innate talent as a leader and physically gifted body that has accelerated him to the top of basketball stardom. On the other hand, it is difficult to dismiss the painstakingly long hours of practice that he has put in to accomplish undeniably amazing feats. 

The nature versus nurture debate revolves around whether nature — your genetics — or nurture — your upbringing and environment — is more important when it comes to shaping your athletic potential. It has been the subject of intense controversy since the dawn of sports. Personally, I believe that it no longer should be a debate; it has been proven that being an amazing athlete requires both nature and nurture. 

The nature side of the debate argues that athletic potential is solely determined by the instructions in each cell of our body that we call our genes. In fact, most of our visible physical traits manifest as a result of the interactions between multiple genes. 

One common trait that can exemplify this is height. Studies suggest that up to 80 per cent of your height is determined by the genes you inherit from your parents!

But what about the other 20 per cent? Research suggests that your environment contributes to some of that percentage. Getting good nutrition means that your body has a larger pool of resources it can use to grow and develop. Additional studies have found people have gotten taller as their nutrition got better. Thus, your environment can, at times, enable you to take advantage of your genetics.

Another trait mainly determined by your genetics that can greatly influence your athletic potential is your body type, which simply refers to how easy it is for you to gain mass in the form of muscle or fat. According to bodybuilders, there are three main body types: ectomorph, mesomorph, and endomorph. Generally, mesomorphs have the easiest time maintaining muscle and leanness; ectomorphs can find it difficult to put on weight due to their fast metabolism; and endomorphs may gain more muscle, but this often comes with more fat. Therefore , mesomorphs have the highest likelihood of being better athletes. 

You might be wondering: to what degree do my genes determine my body type? The truth is that three genes can reliably predict your body mass index because of how different their expression patterns are from each other. So genes do play an important role when it comes to athleticism.

But despite the fact that the gift of a particularly athletic body type is genetically inborn, it may take some learning for athletes to take full advantage of their power, or to overcome other disadvantages they may face. Learning is heavily influenced by your environment, in the form of your upbringing or your coaches, to name some factors. 

Let us consider arguably one of the most famous basketball players in the world, Kobe Bryant, to illustrate this. Bryant was a naturally gifted player; at a height of six feet six inches, he was described to have a “killer instinct” that allowed him to always find a way to win a game, no matter how unwinnable it seemed. However, what he is more famous for is his training off the court, his drive, and the exceptional level of skill he cultivated through his training.

His work ethic was unmatched, and it even allowed him to overcome the disadvantage of having small hands for a shooting guard. This is truly what has put him in discussion for the greatest basketball player of all time. 

On the other hand, let us consider another player — Shaquille O’Neal, a former teammate of Bryant. He made the most of his natural height and muscle in order to have an extremely successful basketball career. However, his lack of work ethic — a trait that his teammates have observed — prevented him from achieving even more success and was a detriment to his teammates. Therefore, we can see how nature and nurture work together to elevate well-rounded athletes above those that simply have raw inborn gifts.

All in all, building the best athletic performer possible, according to recent events and research, depends on both genetics and environment. The limits of genetics are apparent — being naturally gifted can only take a person so far. Grit, hard work, and the determination to practice are what truly elevate an athlete’s game.