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The Fallacy of "Sporty" Kids

Let’s lay down the law very early- there’s no such thing as a “Sporty Kid”.

There are kids who are interested in sports, and that interest makes them get up and go out to play football or basketball every day, which in turn makes them good at the sport.

And there’s no such thing as a kid who “Just Isn’t Sporty”. There are kids who just don’t the same level of interest in sports, or who used to have it, but quickly found out they weren’t as good as the others and decided that not playing is better than feeling inadequate.

There is no born-with-it genetic code that enables one kid to be interested in sports and want to play them. Even among the so-called talent hotbeds of football or tennis, you wont’ find a genetic predisposition to be good at the sport, much as people have tried. You’ll just find a culture of sport and activity, with perhaps a minor genetic boost for the ones who will go on to be elite level athletes. But we’re not talking about the elites, we’re talking about the average kid who wants, and needs, to stay fit and healthy, enjoy something physical, and be a part of a sports community.

Let’s take the Kenyans, the ultra successful distance runners like Kipchoge, the record holding runner who did the world record 2hr1min marathon.

They’ve got some advantages- the Rift Valley where most of the elite Kenyan runners come from is about 8,000ft above sea level, so they’re always training at altitude. But in that case Mexico City should also produce elite runners, since it’s at high altitude? But it doesn’t, and neither does anywhere else at that level. They tried to attribute it to genetics, but despite several studies, they can’t tie down a genetic predisposition significant enough to account for the tremendous successes.

What is actually happening is that they have a culture of running. Every kid runs. It’s a part of life. Then over time, the best ones stay on to become like Kipchoge. It’s just their way of life. They’re celebrated like the way we venerate footballers. They’re the superstars.

But it’s not genetics.

Finding The Right Sport For Your Kid

So of they can’t find a genetic marker for the Kenyans, I think it’s safe to dispel the myth that one child living in Dublin or another is genetically predestined to be sporty or athletic.

There’s a lot of cultural and societal reasons why some kids haven’t found their sporting niche yet. Games, working parents, lack of facilities, and of course we now have the complication of 2 years of lockdown to contend with. You can argue the cause, but you can’t argue the effects. Kids who engage in sports and exercise get the incredible benefits both physically and mentally. Of course, that depends on having the right sport and the right environment.

I have coached a kid who now lives abroad, so I can comfortably speak about this example without embarrassing him. His parents brought him to our gym as a really overweight 11 year old. The story went that a naturally large frame, years of physical inactivity, and the parents both having weight issues themselves meant that this child had actually broken his ankle previously by just hopping on it, not twisting or turning, just jumping and landing normally. His bones literally couldn’t bear his weight. The hospital had encouraged action, and the parents did the same for themselves. Within about a year, the kid was healthier and slimmer and while he was still a big kid, he looked and felt better. Jiu Jitsu is good for large framed kids.

You see this kid was never going to be a footballer. More Tadhg Furlong than Robbie Keane, whenever he had gone to the traditional sports of running and football, he was left behind on his shorter legs and wide hips. He and his parents gave up on the idea of sports as a thing as they just made him feeling miserable and a failure. The usual name calling happened at school for PE or when picking teams, and he became less and less confident. When he discovered his physical talents lay in his low centre of gravity and his predisposition to greater body mass, he excelled. He was, as we call them, a Unit. But because the sporting culture was all about running around after a football, he thought he was just rubbish at sports.

Fast forward 10 years and he’s now living in Germany and while he no longer trains Jiu Jitsu, he is a competitive Powerlifter, another sport for big guys. He’s bench pressing 160kgs and if the mood took him, could fold the lads who used to slag him about being slow. They’re lucky they can run!

We’ve seen similar stories with kids who are “uncoordinated” or “weak”. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. They just need to find their niche, and usually, that niche will be in sports that are, well, niche.

Thanks for reading my little rant this morning, see you on the mat soon!


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