One of the most commonly asked questions in sport is about ‘talent’ and the age old debate… Is it ‘nature’ or ‘nurture’ — i.e. are sporting champions made or are they a product of their nurturing and environment?

The answer is of course — there is no one correct answer.

There have been Olympic gold medal winners and professional athletes who have ‘talent-tested’ off the charts.

The sports science academic research journals have been full of investigations, evaluations and analyses of what makes the world's best athletes tick for more than 50 years. We've measured their heart and lung capacities. We've analyzed their blood. We've sampled, prodded and probed every part of their bodies and minds for over half a century.

There's also a mountain of un-scientific evidence — mostly anecdotal and biographical but nonetheless compelling and real — that journals the path to glory taken by so-called ‘less-talented’ athletes who similarly stood on the highest step on the Olympic medal podium.

It's through the study and research of these sporting success stories, that you come to understand there's a lot more to winning gold medals, playing in the Premier League or shooting baskets in the NBA, than what you can see under a microscope, in a blood test or on a gene profile.

The bottom line is this: if you want to be successful at sport, choose your parents, your sporting parents, wisely.

So what is a sporting parent?

A sporting parent1 (or carer etc) is a person who is responsible for providing a child with the opportunity to participate in sport. At some time in their parenting journey, every parent will be a sporting parent.

It could be as the parent of a seven year old driving their child to basketball practice on Tuesday afternoon. Maybe it's as the parent of an eleven year old, sitting next to the swimming pool watching their child swim laps. Or the parents of the thirteen year old who are nervously pacing up and down the sideline while their child attempts to convert a penalty and win the football game for the home team.

At some time in the life of every parent — often for just a single season — they are a sporting parent.

How can sporting parents and carers help their children be successful in sports?

There's no doubt that genetics plays an important and significant role in determining the potential and performance success of athletes.

However, until the technological, ethical, scientific, philosophical, medical, moral and affordability issues have all been resolved, the ability to somehow change and modify the genetically determined elements of sporting talent is best left for science fiction, politicians, molecular biologists and maybe even theologians.

Sporting parents can, however, have a considerable impact on their child's sporting success story; an impact which (thankfully) doesn't require gene-splicing or chromosomal modifications.

The key here is for sporting parents to understand what their ‘job’ is, i.e. to understand how they can best help their child enjoy and flourish in the experience of sport.

Sporting parents are part of a partnership: a partnership where they, their child's coach and their child all play important parts. A partnership with a single focus — helping their child be all they choose to be.

How important is natural talent?

Natural talent is like a brand new, super-size, 8k, smart television… It's nice to have it, but you can still enjoy sport without it!

Ask an experienced, professional coach, a coach who's been at the top of their sport for 20 years or more, what it takes to be successful.

Regardless of the sport they mentor, the coach will likely list their sporting success secrets as:

  • hard-work;
  • passion;
  • commitment;
  • dedication;
  • resilience;
  • loving what they do, and doing what they love;
  • self-responsibility;
  • initiative;
  • determination;
  • independence;
  • drive;
  • values: respect, honesty, integrity, humility, courage;
  • the support of family and friends.

In other words, the things that matter most when it comes to achieving peak sports performance and realizing the full potential locked away inside every child are essentially very human qualities: values, virtues and character.

And who's the most significant influence on the development of every item of the ‘coach's wish list’? Sporting parents.

Sporting parents have the capability and the opportunity to help their child be all they can be in their sports experience. They can help their child realize their full personal performance potential. They can be the most important influence in their child's sporting career.

How? By being a wonderful, kind, supportive, loving parent.

The best advice?

The best advice for sporting parents is… love your children unconditionally, value them completely, accept them absolutely for who they are, irrespective of what they do.

If your child wins, hug them, tell them you love them, tell them you're proud of them.

If your child loses, hug them, tell them you love them, tell them you're proud of them.

Of all the things you can do as a sporting parent, the most important is to be certain that when your sporting child goes to bed each and every night, they lay there, they smile, and they drift off into a deep, peaceful sleep knowing that win or lose, success or failure, whether they kick or they miss that penalty kick, they are unconditionally loved for the simple fact that, they are.


1 A sporting parent: for the purposes of this article, a sporting parent could be a biological parent, a carer, a family member or anyone who is responsible for the nurturing and support of a child's sports participation.