Thursday, April 15, 2010


In today’s world of gossip and news at the speed of light, character and sport are closely linked and becoming an issue that will have greater impact on all individuals and especially those performing in sport.  (Tiger Woods is an excellent example) I believe that just as animals play fight to learn about how to survive as adults in the wild, sport for humans is a way to develop character for the future.  Class, honesty, respect, teamwork, and loyalty through sport can be developed in an environment that is safe and controlled.   Character is not learned.  It is developed through experiences that test an individual.   It is easy not to steal when one has pockets full of money.  Character is tested and developed at crossroads in sport and in life.  The great thing about sport is that it allows one to have numerous occasions to develop character on a regular basis.   Great lessons are learned through these experiences.   Unfortunately in some instances parents want their children to have good character, but do not allow them to develop character through experiences in sport.    One of the biggest complaints of coaches I have worked with over the years is that parents want to control the outcome of their children in sport.     The idea that everyone is a winner does not allow a competitor to experience what failure feels like and how to understand that failure is nothing more than a reward for having the guts to compete in the first place.  It is also a disservice to the athlete to not allow them to find their true gifts. 
I loved football when I was young.   Throughout elementary school all I could think about was playing football.   The problem was I was a skinny kid that could out eat anyone but could not put on a pound.   As time passed all the other kids got bigger and I continued to eat and continued to stay skinny.  Football was no longer an option as the coaches were afraid I would get hurt.  I was devastated as football was everything to me and I wanted nothing else.  Unfortunately there is not a position for a skinny 98 pounder.   By not being able to play football I found my way to wrestling where they just happened to have a 98 pound weight class.  Wrestling was the best thing I ever did for myself.  It was a sport that taught me so much.   All through high school and throughout college wrestling gave me lessons in life that I have carried into the present.  Had my mom or dad went to the football coach and insisted that I be able to play football, to protect my self esteem , I never would have found my gifts and would not have been  lucky enough to find a sport that changed my life forever. 
Failure is the best thing that can happen!
The moral of the story is that failure is sometimes the best option.   Building self esteem does not come by only winning.  It comes by learning how to fail.  Understanding that taking risk may result in failure, but the act of taking risk allows a young athlete to learn that failure is not the end of the world and that the lessons you take away is where the true value exists.    A young athlete must learn how to win, not be given a win.    Time training and the subsequent improvement is where the lessons start.   Coaches tell me all the time that most young athletes today want  only to  play in the games  not do the training necessary to play well. 
I think the idea of character is best described in the following quotes.  Needless to say character and integrity is the difference between a good athlete and a great athlete.  Sometimes things are not fair, sometimes we are let down.  How we deal with this is the true value of sport and the training for sport.
In training athletes at Titan we are demanding of our athletes and it is our job to help the athlete develop their bodies but also the character necessary to be a champion.  We develop this character through training and the sacrifices, failures and successes that come with training.  We are demanding of the athletes we train. We want the athlete to be the best they can be physically, but we also want to instill the idea of character that today is oftentimes given little importance.  
 My hope is that through sport and training you will allow yourself to learn lessons that will develop the character that will serve you well your entire life.
The last quote by Thomas Jefferson is very appropriate today.  When I was in high school after a wrestling meet we could not wait to see our name in the paper, because wrestling was pretty much an anonymous sport.  However, in today’s world of technology the internet allows any public action to be recorded for the whole world to witness.  It is a great medium because someday you will be able to show your children and grandchildren what a stud you were.   Just remember that bad actions are also now a permanent record in cyberspace for all to see forever.  

John Wooden

Thomas Macaulay

Loyalty means nothing unless it has at its heart the absolute principle of self-sacrifice.
Woodrow Wilson/Twenty-Eighth President


A Philosophy of Life by Thomas Jefferson—
In matters of principle, stand like a rock; in matters of taste, swim with the current.  Give up money, give up fame, give up science, and give up earth itself and all it contains, rather than do an immoral act.  And never suppose that in any possible situation, or under any circumstances, it is best for you to do a dishonorable thing.  Whenever you are to do a thing, though it can never be known but to yourself, ask; yourself how you would act were all the world looking at you, and act accordingly.
He who permits himself to tell a lie once finds it much easier to do it a second and third time, till at length it becomes habitual; he tells a lie without attending to it, and truths without the world believing him. 
Train smart, have fun and you will prevail.


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Genetics and Sport

I think the most overused and one of the most dangerous terms in the athletic vernacular is “gifted”. Of course there are certain body types that are much more appropriate to certain sports and movements than others, however the term gifted is often overused and in many cases discourages individuals from the recognition that hard work and diligent training will overcome most gifts. Genetic athletic gifts are like a glass. It is true that some people are born with bigger glasses (DNA/Genome). However, the size of the glass is only a measurement of potential; training is the act of filling a glass (Epigenetics /Phenome). Athlete A is born with a glass that is 25% larger than athlete B. The athlete with the smaller glass fills his to the top and the “gifted” athlete only fills his half way. The non gifted athlete will prevail on the field. My point is that we are all born with different DNA which we have no control over. There is a whole body of research which has identified different athletic genes. We all know individuals who are just natural at a given sport. However it is the expression of the gene (epigenetic) that we have the ability to influence through smart training. This is one area that we have a great ability to control.

The best way to understand this is by thinking about identical twins. Identical twins have the exact same DNA or genome. In many cases it is almost impossible to tell them apart. However, if one of the twins pursued long distance running and the other twin was a power lifter the differences would be very pronounced. Why is this difference so pronounced if their genetics are identical? The expression of the genes is seen in the phenome of the twins. If both twins have identical genomes, what causes the differences in the body types of the marathoner vs. the power lifter? The different forms of training have expressed the identical genes differently in the physiques of the twins. It seems obvious from this example, but how do you influence your own genes?

The word epigenetic means over the gene. In other words the expression of the gene over the underlying DNA that you are born with is the epigenetic of the gene. The study of epigenetics is one of the leading areas of genetic research today. What the research is finding is that different stresses on your body (training would be one stress) will mark your genes to behave in a particular way. Much of the research has revolved around mapping the markers that result in negative expressions of the genes that subsequently express themselves through diseases of the body. Researchers are trying to determine how to remark your genes to block particular diseases. The same principle of gene expression is also evidenced on the training side. In fact the scientific community is finding that a lot of the training adaptation of an athlete is more a result of the epigenetic marker than the training itself.

Now I come back to the”non- gifted” athlete and how the concept of DNA and Epigenetics plays into training. By the way, I do not think there are any non-gifted athletes. These are just athletes who have not found a sport that supports their gifts. I will discuss the subject about the disservice that is done to youth today in the interest of self esteem and sport in a future entry. Youth athletes do not discover their gifts because they never “fail” at a sport.

Genetics are important for certain types of sports. Height can be very important in the game of basketball. However, I believe that epigenetics are the bigger determinant of performance in sport today. The science is finally catching up and showing that through training an athlete can change the expression of the gene to produce a result that supports performance in a particular sport. This concept is far reaching to curing disease. It will also have huge impact on an athlete’s ability to perform through a better understanding of what specific stresses result in a particular gene expression that improves sports performance. In the past this gene expression has usually happened by default.

So the moral to the story is that there is hope for individuals who do not believe they have the gifts to perform at the highest level of a particular sport. Of course there are limitations, but it is amazing what can be done with the proper training strategy. With proper motivation, desire, and the most effective training, an individual can produce the most effective genetic expression to match a particular sport!

Is there a secret way to train to accomplish this gene expression? What are the strategies and tactics necessary to mark your genes and develop the desired result?

I will begin to answer in subsequent entries. In the meantime train smart, have fun, and you will prevail.