Genetic Testing to Determine What Sport you are Best Suited for Playing

Setting aside the ethical complications and issues with genetic testing it is interesting to consider if it is possible to have genetics show what sport(s) a person would be good at. The science behind the tests is varied and arguments have been made for and against. A simpler test is to look at finger length. The ratio of index finger and ring finger lengths is an indicator of how much testosterone was absorbed in the womb.

Genetic Testing

There are a number of ‘tests’ that purport to show athletic ability. Much of it centers on the slow twitch or fast twitch muscle fiber ratios. Endurance is connected to slow twitch muscle fibers while explosiveness and sped are related to fast twitch muscle fibers. A 2003 Australian research study that showed a variation of the ACTN3 gene was correlated with the production of fast or slow twitch muscle fibers. Researchers found that the R variant of the ACTN3 gene was linked to the production of a protein linked to fast-twitch muscle fibers and the X variant of the gene seemed to block the production of the protein. Athletes who had two sets of the R variant, therefore, appear to be better suited to sprint and power sports while those who inherit two X variant genes seem to have better endurance and excel in sports such as marathons.

In 2007, researchers in South African found no significant correlation between 457 endurance athletes and the XX variation of the ACTN3. In 2008, scientists at the Research Institute of Physical Culture in Russia couldn’t confirm a relationship between the XX variation of the gene and endurance performance, although they did find the RR variant in successful power sports athletes.

Critics of the science argue that the labs that perform this genetic testing focus only on one gene when many genes are related to athletic ability, and the science is too young to say that the ACTN3 gene is the most important.

 Australia is considering adopting testing to determine the best sport for children to build their athletic teams (it has long been assumed that the USSR and China do something simlilar involving genetics and peronality tests).

“One of the country’s leading Sports Medicines experts has warned Australia risks being left behind the rest of the world unless it embraces genetic testing for athletes. Professor Peter Fricker says testing could help identify athletes who have the potential to be strong at particular sports. Professor Fricker, who’s been with the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra since its inception 21 years ago, is Medical Director of the Australian Olympic team for the Athens Olympics.”

A company in Colorado (USA) now sells testing kits for $160 so that parents can test their children. They claim to give parents early information on their child’s genetic predisposition for success in power or endurance sports. Parents receive a specially designed DNA kit to collect a DNA swab and are mailed results in about three weeks. 

Finger Ratios

Comparing the ratio of index finger (pointer finger) and ring finger lengths (also known as the 2D:4D ratio) is another way to try and predict where sporting success is most likely to occur. 

In the majority of women, the index and ring fingers are almost equal in length. While in men, the ring finger is usually noticeably longer than the index finger. Male sporting ability can be linked with finger length as revealed in a study carried out at the University of Central Lancashire. The findings revealed that men with longer index fingers are more likely to be better sportsmen.

In the largest study of its kind, carried out at Kings College London, it was shown that women with a longer ring finger were more likely to be good at sports such as tennis, swimming and skiing. However, the same study also showed a correlation between women with a longer index finger and an increased prowess in cricket, martial arts and gymnastics.

Research from Teesside University has shown that the index finger/ring finger ratio has the potential to explain sporting success because of mental toughness. This research investigated the relationship between 2D:4D and mental toughness, optimism, aggression and performance.


The results showed that participants with 2D:4D ratio were more likely to demonstrate mental toughness and have higher levels of sporting achievements. Dr Golby explained: “It appears that high prenatal levels of testosterone may result in increased mental toughness, optimism and hence aptitude towards sport. This provides tentative support for the conclusion that mental toughness may be partially biologically predetermined.”

This would seem to suggest that mental toughness/perserverance is the cause of greater sporting ability. Coaches will agree that dedication is, perhaps, the significant factor in an athletes continued improvement. Studies, such as the  infamous German music student study that revealed the 10,000 Rule, have also showed that serious practice time is directly correlated with success. Coaches are now quoting this number when they talk about player practice and dedication contributing to success. Of course, they need to be practicing the ‘right’ things, which still puts responsibility on the coaches.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, November 9th, 2011 at 18:28 and is filed under Coaching, other. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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