The Magazine

Practice, Practice?

Great athletes are born, not made.

Jan 20, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 18 • By MICHAEL M. ROSEN
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In conclusion, he recognizes that “we are unlikely ever to receive complete answers from genetics alone, and not merely because environment and training are always critical factors.” Yet he nonetheless maintains that, in certain areas—trainability in particular—genes dominate. And in what is perhaps his most revealing observation, Epstein notes that the practice-only narrative “appeals to our hope that anything is possible with the right environment, and that children are lumps of clay with infinite athletic malleability. .  .  . It has the strongest possible self-help angle and it preserves more free will than any alternative explanation.” 

We want to believe that we, or our offspring, are a scant 10,000 hours away from greatness, that our ultimate dreams can be realized solely through hard work, and that the human mind and body are perfectible—equally so in all individuals. Epstein performs a helpful public service by dispelling such fantasies and reminding us that greatness, in sports and elsewhere, is often God-given.

Michael M. Rosen practices law in San Diego.