It’s finally happened: Science is now officially helping parents — and professional sports organizations — target more athletic children, and choosing which sport to steer them to when they’re still very, very young. In fact, if you’re kid is more than eight years old, well, they’ve missed their shot at athletic specialization. So sorry.
(Should you tell the kids they’re ping pong players, or should I?)
According to a report from the website for WANE TV in Fort Wayne, Indiana, a company in Boulder, Colo. is offering a $149 test for a gene they say can predict which sports a child will be more inclined to succeed at. By targeting a specific sport, Atlas Sports Genetics claims that a young athlete is more likely to maximize his or her potential and actually make the quantum leap so few do into the collegiate and, potentially, professional realm. That last line alone almost surely has professional soccer franchises lining up their testing kits for the next trip to Brazil and Argentina.
If this all sounds like it’s weird science, well, it is. Atlas and other companies which will surely pop up are testing for the gene ACTN3, a gene on the 11th chromosome which, allegedly, can determine whether a person would be best at speed and power sports, endurance sports, or some combination in between the two extremes.
All of this research is the offshoot of a single 2003 study in Australia, all of which just proves that American society will jump the shark whenever it gets a chance to find even the smallest athletic edge. Naturally, there are plenty of detractors to the science, all of whom seem to have been dug out, unsurprisingly, by THE NEW YORK TIMES.
“This may or may not be quite that venal, but I would like to see a lot more research done before it is offered to the general public,” Dr. Theodore Friedmann, the director of the University of California-San Diego Medical Center’s interdepartmental gene therapy program told the Times. “I don’t deny that these genes have a role in athletic success, but it’s not that black and white.”
Of course it’s not black and white. Nothing in sports, or life, is. But even Friedmann is claiming that these genes could make kiddos predisposed to success in particular sports. So does Dr. Stephen M. Roth, director of the University of Maryland’s School of Public Health. Both note that there are other genes that can contribute to athletic success — Roth claims it can be affected by as many as 200 genes — but ACTN3 is clearly a key component.
Of course, no one knows whether kids and their parents will listen to the test results. After all, if Daddy wants Jimmy to be a football player, but Jimmy really could be the next Haile Gebrselassie — that’s the guy who holds all the world records for the marathon — who knows how Daddy will take it. Or Jimmy, for that matter.
Regardless, you know that professional sports franchises that can sign young talent already — think European soccer powers — are going to be walking around South America with cotton swabs. If Manchester United is willing to sign talent based on YouTube videos when they can’t get out to Australia to see a kid in person, you know they’ll take a low cost chance on a 9 year-old whose ACTN3 says he could be the next Wayne Rooney.