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Saturday, September 19, 2009

height in sports

Height in sports – the impact on becoming successful

Sport, regardless of the type, the emphasis should be fully upon talent, ability, (intelligence )and skill. These qualities would identify a young player as a potential professional and the honing of these qualities and dedication to training would then be the remaining determining factors for the path of the athlete’s future career. This much is a given fact and is known to followers of sports worldwide. The question that is being asked is not a contradiction of these given facts but instead a question of whether another factor is taken into account by coaches, the public and even the players themselves. This question is whether the height of an individual plays an impact on the success of the player in their chosen field.

In a profession that is not sport related , the same qualities of ability , skill and intelligence come to the fore. But it is unlikely that any job interview will refer to the applicant’s defining criteria for a successful interview as height. In theory this should apply to sport also, but sport is a profession unlike any other and indeed sports differs from another and in some each aspect of the same sport differs vastly from another, such as batting and bowling in cricket. In some sports such as basketball a shorter player may have trouble making his high school basketball team but will have no trouble breaking into the same team one year and one growth spurt later, with micheal Jordan being the most prominent example.

Also, does height really blind selectors to pick a taller player over a shorter one in basketball? Allen Iverson was a #1 NBA draft pick in 1996 and @ 6’0” would be considered short in basketball and so this may show the open mindedness of the teams of NBA. But Yao Ming was a #1 NBA draft pick in 2002 and @ 7’6’’ is the tallest player at this time and also the first #1 draft pick to ever be chosen without having played at least college basketball in the US . The Houston rockets frankly said that he was chosen on scouting reports and height, which shows that a “ bigger is better” mentality while it may not prevail may sometimes take the forefront of decision making.

Height however does not transfer into success and really may be position dependent at least in basketball. Both allen Iverson and yao ming have established themselves as dominant players who have gathered multiple all star picks while player completely different roles with vastly contrasting styles. Allen Iverson is in fact one of the most prolific scorers in the history of the NBA and averages the 3rd higest scoring per game in the history of the league. This are the roles they have been given and have excelled in these positions but the questions of whether they are capable of excelling in other positions could be asked. However , if the need never arises then the relevance of this question is academic.

Steve nash, a 2 time MVP winner in the NBA is 6’3’’ which is not usually the height of regular MVP trophy winners but he is known for his tremendous game awareness, passing skills and three point shooting. This therefore is outside the realm of height and is solely based upon skills level.

. Height should then be a large factor in the scoring of headers in football, but one can look at the case of 6’7’’ peter crouch of Portsmouth and England to see this is not so. One of the tallest strikers in the EPL crouch rarely scores with his head and even then they usually lack power.

In complete contrast the 6’8’’ jan koller of borussia Dortmund is a formidable presence in the air and usually scores powerful headers despite strong marking by defenders. Former german international carlsetn jancker, 6’4’’ however was notoriously weak in the air but had very good control and quick turning ability and scored many with his hard right footed shot. Everton attacking midfielder Tim cahill is a frequently scorer of headed goals despite his 5’10 stature .

The obvious contradiction to the usual scorer of goals would be the 6”2 fernando hierro who was Spain’s leading goal scorer of all time with 29 goals despite being a central defender, since almost all of his goals came from headers resulting from corners and free kicks . Height is often an advantage for central defenders who are assigned to stop forwards from scoring through the air, as shown by players such Per Mertesacker,6'6" and Marco Materazzi, 6’4’’ but Fabio cannvaro @ 5’ 10 is regularly rated as the best central defender in the world and has won the player of the tournament at the 2006 world cup.

For attacking, especially wider ones, positions the height of the player may become irrelevant. In fact it is frequently said that the low centre of gravity by shorter players give them an advantage with close control. lionel messi and diego maradona at 5’5’’ are below average height and are among the best playing today and the best ever respectively. Kaka and zlatan ibrahimovic , 6’1’ and 6’3 respectively are taller attacking players who have especially good ground footwork.

Cricket may the sport where the height of the individual has almost no effect on their ability to be chosen to a team or to become a great player. This is especially so in the case of batting. The current record holder of the highest indvivual score is brain lara , 5’6’’ who claimed the record from 6’2’’ matthew hayden. Donald bradman , the holder of test cricket’s highest average at 99.94 was 5’7’ while sachin tendulkar the current test cricket leading scorer and leading century maker is 5’5’’. Great players such as clive lloyd , 6’4’’ and Inzamam-ul-Haq 6’3’’ were above average height which shows that the level of run output of a batsman is not in any way proportional to his height.

Many successful fast bowlers are over 6 ft for example past ,Courtney Walsh, and Curtly Ambrose were 6'6" and 6’7 respectively.Glenn McGrath is also 6'5½" .In general, taller bowlers release the ball higher in their bowling action, making it more likely to create sharp bounce which is more difficult to play.

Lasith Malinga 5’6’’and Shoaib Akhtar , (6'4") are among the fastest bowlers in modern cricket and vary greatly in their height.

While height may play an initial factor in the selection of an individual in certain sports such as basketball or even as a football striker , it is obvious by the vast differences in height by successful players that height is not a commanding factor. A good player will stand out regardless of his heights while an average player will not be spared mediocrity by his height. Several players have taken what may be considered a height “disadvantage” and turned the coining of such a phrase into a complete misnomer while the height advantage is little more than a perception.

It is increasingly clear that height should play no part in determining the success of a player and while height may not allow the player to partake in some aspects of the game they will , if talented enough, replace the need for those aspects of the game by refining their skills and rendering the skills they do not possess as unnecessary.

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