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Kunle's Soccer

Posted on 29 September 2002  - 12:00

Tottenham Hotspur (Spurs) Football Club is located in North London. The club is also known as Spurs. Tottenham's home ground is White Hart Lane. The club motto is Audere est Facere (To dare is to do).

Fitness coach Kunle Odetoyinbo begins an occasional feature for Spurs News Online where, in the first of which, he questions whether sporting quality is inherited from parents and examines recent advances in science, football and genetics


I received a letter the other day asking me whether footballers inherit their ability from their parents. As this is the first article for some time, I thought this might be an excellent opportunity to bring to your attention some of the more recent advances in science, football and genetics.

There is an old saying that reads 'to be an Olympic athlete you must choose your parents carefully', clearly in sport there is much truth in this. In the history of football there are many examples of past players whose offspring themselves have gone on to do develop a career in the game.

Does this mean that professional sportsmen and women are born and unless we have that special gene we have no hope of success? Of course not, but there is no doubt that our genetic make-up will determine to different degrees, our potential for developing physical and functional characteristics which shape sport performance.

My interest in this area falls within the context of how our parents shape our physical or physiological make-up. Consider the Heart, Lungs and Voluntary muscle of a footballer, these are a players prized possessions. I say this because soccer is essentially an aerobic sport.

By this I mean that most of the energy provided for movement around the pitch is provided by the consumption of oxygen in very large quantities. This may seem odd, but we all have different abilities to consume oxygen! In other words we all have different stamina and endurance capabilities, which are in turn 50% genetically determined!

We measure this using various fitness tests to calculate an individual’s maximum oxygen uptake. I would expect all players to achieve a minimum level depending upon position in the team, as this will affect their ability to do aerobic related things in the game.

An example of this in football, would be our midfield players and particularly wing backs. These players tend to cover larger distances on the pitch than other players. On a recent count our wide players including Matthew Etherington and Simon Davies covered in excess of 13 kilometers. This demonstrates the need for a high level of aerobic fitness.

Take a look at the results from a variety sports:

Maximum oxygen uptake

Footballers 55 - 65 ml of oxygen per minute

General Public 34 - 42 ml of oxygen per minute

Marathon Runner 80+ ml of oxygen per minute

Boxing 57- 65 ml of oxygen per minute

(Ml stands for millilitres)

Our individual maximum oxygen uptake is almost 50% genetically determined, the rest is influenced by training. Our heart, lungs and muscle provide the apparatus for soccer’s physical behaviour and choosing our parents carefully helps.

There are of course many other attributes which we inherit such as height, balance, speed of movement, flexibility etc. but these are passed on from our parents in differing degrees.

For our young players there is a clear message, you may have chosen your parents in this regard perfectly, however the genetic message can be overridden by inappropriate amounts of exercise, training and diet. In other words you may have been given all of the potential you require to be a great footballer or sportsman/woman but you will still need to work hard on the right things to achieve your goals.

Kunle Odetoyinbo