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Differences between Africans and Europeans impact performance

Many people in the world of football have been under the false impression that the only difference between races participating in the sport -- Europeans, Africans, and Asians -- is skin colour. This view is fundamentally flawed.

Scientists across the globe have been discovering differences in genetics, environmental factors and culture between European, African and Asian athletes. The overwhelming evidence is so convincing that it is ridiculous to deny it.

Jon Entiene -- in his recent book, “Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports and Why We’re Afraid to Talk About It” -- encompasses the conclusions of a plethora of scientists who confirm the superiority of the African athletes’ genetic makeup.

There are significant differences in physical constitution, predispositions for sport performance, behaviour, temperament, culture and traditions that can nullify any coaching or training concept designed for global application. On the other hand, it is essential that such differences are objectively recognised in the process of maximising performance in the context of each population group’s distinctiveness.

The findings of extensive studies and research identify such differences in genes, hormones, body composition, bones, developmental rates, etc. The following summary of aspects is of primary importance.

Early age motor skills
African children develop more rapidly in coordination, balance and motor skills. African babies start walking at eight or nine months of age, a developmental milestone reached on average by Caucasians at the age of 12 months.

Rapid development
Despite considerable variations in body size between different African population groups, children at the age of six or seven reach a level of loco-motor development and agility that is achieved on average by European children at the age of nine to 11 years.

Implication: The process of learning ball skills and techniques of specific movement (turns, jumps, direction change, etc) can start at least two years earlier than most conventional concepts suggest. More diversified and complex ball skills can be learned and mastered before the age of competitive pressure; that is, before the age of 15 or16 years.

In turn, it would create a substantial developmental advantage as children can gain early tactical maturation. The overall consequence would be an optimal performance by the age of 17, 18 or 19 years, concurrently with reaching the physiological peak. Ultimately, the benefits can extend to attaining maximised competitiveness of playing style and tactical organisation.

Reactivity, speed, explosiveness
A genotype -- ACTN3-RR variation identified as responsible for reactivity, speed and explosive power -- is two times more dominant among Africans than Europeans. Africans have a significantly faster patellar tendon reflex time (knee-jerk reflex), which is a key variable required for football’s lightening leg and foot reflexes.

Implication: Through specifically developed and enhanced training, natural explosive power and superior reactivity could result in maximising technique sharpness, speed of movement and overall tactical efficiency. Special resistance and plyometric training could be introduced in the youth development programme from the age of 13 to14 years. Consequently, quality gains in the style of play, team organisation and overall performance can be expected at all levels of competitive participation.

Superior speed-endurance
South and East Africans have muscle that provides great endurance and speed-endurance by producing less lactic acid and other products of muscle fatigue. This process involves more muscle enzymes, which burn fat and spare glycogen and protein, thus increasing resistance to fatigue.

Implication: Specially designed forms of high complexity aerobic/anaerobic training (multiple technical and tactical tasks concurrently performed) would develop and maximise players’ capacity to sustain their work-rate at a level that is superior to any of the current standards reached in international competitions. Similarly, a faster effort recovery and super-compensation should be expected.

Self-esteem, creative mentality and expressiveness
African youths have higher general self-esteem than Europeans. Particularly important is the feeling that they can perform better than other groups in football-related tasks -- competitive challenges, improvisation and creativity-based actions, style and attractiveness. The following aspects related to Africans’ feelings and football mentality traits require special recognition:
- A ball is a means through which extraordinary creative energy is released
- The game is a serious form of art which is deeply appreciated by those engaged in it (players and fans). This feeling reflects a specific genetic expression and is culturally and socially supported
- Players must learn to dribble, pass or score with deception, or they might not be successful
- Style and expressiveness are critical attributes in football. They are essential for the African player’s ability to keep out of tension and remain creative
- Playing with flair is rewarded
- Showing coolness under pressure is necessary to ensure success despite the high risk at stake whenever decisive individual actions are taken
- African football players are the least introverted and anxious as compared to European or Asian players
- Pre-conceived tactics or patterned and stereotype play systems -- so highly regarded in the game mentality of European coaches and players -- are rejected by many Africans as severely restrictive to their natural sense of tactical freedom and improvisation

Implications: These determinant psychological traits that are culturally and socially reinforced constitute a crucial factor in providing coaching and the performance of African players with optimised answers.

The entire scale of game and performance components -- complex playing capacity, style, system organisation, competiveness, etc -- can only be maximised if the bio-cultural, social and environmental profiles characteristics of African players are unconditionally reflected in the content and application of coaching and playing mentality.

It is important to acknowledge that:

1. Besides Africans’ common genetic pool, there are variations of genetic expressions and environmental influences between North, South, East and West Africans. These variations are obvious in differences of playing styles and performance dynamics reflected in the game mentality of teams from various regions of the continent.

2. The intermixtures of individuals into other genetic makeups would influence genes expressions to various degrees but this does not exclude the possibility of such intermixtures providing similar native characteristics that can match the profiles described here.

3. Currently, the general content of coaching and training does not recognise the specifics of African players’ bio-environmental and cultural profile. It starts with Fifa and CAF and goes down to the National Associational of African countries. This severe abnormality retards the progress of the game in the continent and denies African football the opportunity to challenge for international success and dominance.

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