Over the past few years popular books like ‘Bounce’, ‘The Talent Code’ and ‘Talent is Overrated’ have contributed to the belief that practice is a more potent ingredient in the recipe of a champion that natural, in-born talent. The nature V nurture debate is important for coaches, players and parents as it drives speed of development through personal habit and coaching protocols. Here’s my take on the argument.

I take a very simple view of a very complex landscape. Neither nature nor nurture are the defining characteristics of the world’s greatest soccer players. It’s a melting pot of factors that, when stirred together in a positive manner, can produce champion footballers.

I like to break the nature V nurture debate down to 3 main factors – genetic, environment, and coaching:

Genetic factors – natural physical ability (hand-eye/foot-eye coordination, visual acuity, pre-dominant type of fibre muscles etc) and in-born mental attributes (interest, focus, determination, motivation etc….and yes, there is plenty of empirical evidence to suggest we are not born with a ‘clean slate’ mentally!)

Environment – parental influence; peer influence; school influence; opportunity (access to facilities, coaches)

Coaching – physical and mental development protocols (essentially, the quality of coaching)

Why is it important to break down development and potential in this way? Because it gives you the player, coach or parent the very best chance of planning the most effective improvement programme, and the very best chance to be the very best you can be as a player, a coach or soccer parent. Here’s a few questions:

  • Can you make the very most out of your in-born capabilities? You may not have a physique like Cristiano Ronaldo, but maybe you have his determination and focus. Maybe what’s in-born for you is your drive and motivation – these are things that can separate you from your peers.
  • Can you make the most from your environment? As parents can you help your soccer child develop quicker and more effectively by finding the best coaching programme in your area? Can you offer your young soccer player the comfort to know that no matter how she plays your daughter will have a supportive home to come back to even after her worst performance or game.
  • Can you, as a soccer coach, develop the football psychology of your players. Can you create a ‘no stone left unturned’ coaching environment that helps your players compete with fun, freedom and focus?

Understanding the 3 factors that influence the development of a player – genetic, environment and coaching – is a powerful process for all involved in the beautiful game. It is something that I, as a football psychologist, will continue to espouse as a spread my soccer based messages.