This overview provides a general discussion of the roles of nature and nurture in determining human athletic ability. On the nature (genetics) side, a review is provided with emphasis on the historical research and on several areas which are likely to be important for future research, including next-generation sequencing technologies. In addition, a number of well-designed training studies that could possibly reveal the biological mechanism (’cause’) behind the association between gene variants and athletic ability are discussed. On the nurture (environment) side, we discuss common environmental variables including deliberate practice, family support, and the birthplace effect, which may be important in becoming an elite athlete. Developmental effects are difficult to disassociate with genetic effects, because the early life environment may have long-lasting effects in adulthood. With this in mind, the fetal programming hypothesis is also briefly reviewed, as fetal programming provides an excellent example of how the environment interacts with genetics. We conclude that the traditional argument of nature versus nurture is no longer relevant, as it has been clearly established that both are important factors in the road to becoming an elite athlete. With the availability of the next-generation genetics (sequencing) techniques, it is hoped that future studies will reveal the relevant genes influencing performance, as well as the interaction between those genes and environmental (nurture) factors.
© 2016 S. Karger AG, Basel.