Nature vs Nurture Case Study: Tiger Woods

The man, the myth, the unbridled skirt-chaser. Although his marital devotion is considerably lacking, his golfing prowess is hard to deny.

He was PGA Player of the Year a record ten times, PGA Tour Player of the Year a record ten times, PGA Tour Money Leader for a record of nine times, Vardon Trophy winner a record eight times, and was the recipient of the Byron Nelson Award for a record of nine times, to name a handful of his accomplishments.

Nature or Nurture?

Is his athletic aptitude a natural ability? Is Tiger simply a rare genetic masterpiece?

No, he’s not. While genetics certainly plays a part, its role is likely quite trivial in the contribution to this athlete’s ability.

Training

Consider his training and years of single-minded practice before you assume he is simply genetically gifted. Tiger’s father, much like Mozart’s, put him to work from an extremely early age. He would sit his highchair in front of him in the garage, where the young Tiger could watch him practice swing while he drank from his sippy cup. Before he could walk his father was teaching him to swing, and this training continued until he had no more to teach, and he handed Tiger over to the pros. At this point Tiger was beginning to make a name for himself as a child prodigy.

In studying the greatest athletes, generals, musicians, thinkers, inventors, scientists, etc. in history, one is hard pressed to find an individual who was not trained from an early age to become a “prodigy”. At bare minimum they were raised in an environment that stimulated their abilities to the highest degree (think Alexander the Great, or Alexandra Kosteniuk for instance).

Application

The good news for us is this: If their abilities are not primarily genetic, their gifts being learned, not inherited – this gives hope to those of us who are not currently gifted, or at least seem to lack stronger talents and abilities than surrounding peers. If the conclusion is that prodigies and geniuses are taught (whether by mentors or self-taught), why then can we not attain similar levels of intelligence and ability?

The answer of course, is that we can, and I will say that not only we can, but we should. Anyone that tells you otherwise is holding you back for a reason – either they want to mislead you for selfish reasons, or have themselves been deceived.

For more information read “Talent is Overrated” by Geoff Colvin – Most of my Nature vs Nurture case studies are inspired by this book, and I want to make it clear that in this portion of my blog, he has done most of the researching legwork.

2 Comments

  1. Farjana February 7, 2013 at 4:35 pm #

    Yes, intelligence nurtured and prowess developed. These are proven facts being imparted to Moms who are currently carrying their babies in their wombs and those who have new born babies. Training babies from conception or from birth if it’s too late for the Mom to do that is being encourage today. Behavior, intellect and psychological are being focused on by these methods, as was the case with Tiger Woods.

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  2. Ritu February 8, 2013 at 7:36 pm #

    Individuals, society and environment can influence an individual’s behavior, talent and abilities. These three attributes can also be developed and honed. This article gives the reader insights on what could be the extent of societal and direct peer’s influence on ones belief in his own ability, talent and intellect. It reinforces that talent and intelligence are not inborn but rather acquired.

    Great post!

    Reply

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