Posted by: kathyseal | December 2, 2008

Passion to Play Outranks ‘Sports Gene’

What will they think of next? When it comes to extracting money from worried parents, there’s no shortage of business models. Now the so-called “sports gene” test for only $149 is finding a market for one reason only:  because we parents are under so much pressure these days to make sure our kids succeed. That’s because kids are facing competition everywhere they turn — in school, in sports, in music, you name it.  One girl I know even had to compete to get into her school’s community service program!

All this hyper-competition makes us parents feel like our kids must be “the best” if they’re going to survive in a dog-eat-dog world. Our evolutionary hardwiring — which arose when it was essential for parents to push their kids to compete for food and to stay away from predators — reacts to the competition in our children’s world by turning on our “fight or flight” anxiety.  It makes us feel that we have to do whatever we can to help our kids compete and win.

Enter the entrepreneurs willing to “help” us do that! Enter our criticism of parents for taking that bait.  And yet.  Let’s tease out exactly why we criticize them. Because isn’t it perfectly understandable that we want our kids to achieve?  Sure.  But the problem is that  schemes  like genetic testing put pressure on the kids to excel.  And such pressure backfires.  What makes children excel in sports is their love of the game — which comes from the fun of playing, the feelings of camaraderie, the pride from acquiring new skills.  Their passion motivates them to practice and eventually excel.  But pressure from without — from anyone, for example,  expecting them to live up to the ‘promise’ of a so-called ‘sports gene’ — is a good way to kill that passion.



  1. We should deal with the message, not blame the messenger. Of course parents will be turning to offerings like “sports gene” testing in hopes of benefiting their children. The test result may be misleading, difficult to apply properly and of negative value overall, but the technologies will improve and some day may actually enhance decision making. Such testing seems silly now and in the near future will probably spawn harmful fads. However it will eventually produce “babies” that should not be thrown out with the bathwater.

    Genetic testing is being developed for “personalized medicine” where some day medicines can even be tailored for individuals to conform with their unique DNA patterns. Why not apply the same principles in the behavioral sphere once the technology has become sound and reliable?

    Of course, we can and will go overboard with genetic testing for behavioral traits. Ultimately, however, our best approach is not to turn our backs on additional information, but to deal with our tendency to put unwholesome pressure on our kids and on ourselves. Focus should be on promoting good parenting, on how to foster — or permit — optimal development of our children, rather than on refusing to accept newfangled tools that we may be tempted to misuse.

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