Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Mother Mystique

The role of the mother in sports-related genetics has gotten increasing amounts of attention from scientists in recent years.

Yes, obviously all athletes have mothers. And yes, the word is out that a lot of coaches look at the mothers if they want to know what kind of body an athlete might have when he or she has finished growing. That’s because scientific research has proven that all kinds of physical traits get passed on primarily through the mothers’ chromosomes. Let’s call it the “Mother Mystique.”

Specifically it’s something like the mom’s mitochondria determining how much bang for the buck a person gets when they exercise, but I’m a little fuzzy on the details because the last time I heard this lecture was during labor when Mr. Coach got to chatting with the nurses.

Note to other women: Do NOT bring a professor of exercise physiology into the delivery room. They’ll be all like, “Well, honey, the physiological reason you’re feeling pain in that region of your body right now is because your discombobular artery is pressing on your parapsychopelvic nerve but maybe if you try a little more biosystematic oxygenation....” At which point the wife of the professor of exercise physiology tells him to do something NC-17 with HIS parapsychodiscombobular whatever.

But there was also something in there about why Mr. Coach was sure the newest Coach family member (then in transit) would resemble his mother in the body department – i.e., longer, leaner, more sarcastic. And so far, he’s been right.

Little Mr. Coach is pretty much a carbon copy of his mother (but with a much bigger Pokemon card collection). Little Miss Coach is more of a mix of both parents’ bodies but does seem to be lengthening out like me, the older she gets. She also has transitioned from swimming into ballet, and I can tell you those people are even more fixated on the Mother Mystique than swim coaches are.

But a lot of mothers of prospective college recruits (and ballerinas) freak out, thinking their children will be penalized because Mom doesn’t fit her high-school jeans anymore. They shouldn’t. That’s because no matter what the effects of time or Twinkies, your underlying bone structure and body type will be readily apparent to any halfway decent coach. If you want to go on a diet or start exercising more, do it for you. Don’t do it for some dumb college coach.

In the meantime, if you’ve got a kid with a modicum of talent in any physical endeavor, do what any loving mother should do – never let the father forget who the kid gets it from.


  1. Happy Mothers' Day, Jane. In many cases the drive for athletic excellence comes from the maternal relationship, not just the maternal genetics. Ask my father. ;)

  2. Gosh, Michael, I don't think I've ever met a sports mom like that! >:-)


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