Height as a Factor in the Success of Young Athletes

The height of an athlete doesn't necessarily limit anyone's ability to participate in a particular sport. However, height might impact your ability to play in certain positions.

For example, all basketball centers are among the tallest on their team. In football, shorter players tend to be running backs or defensive backs.

While hard work and talent are the most important factors, height can influence what sports children and teenagers choose.

For young people, how important is height to athletic performance?

A Gallup News Service survey shows that height among preteens and teenagers impacts their social stature and perceptions of how easily they can get involved in athletics.

The poll measured perceptions among 1.509 adults in the USA. The results of the study provide an interesting look at how stature can steer social assumptions around both girls and boys and preconceptions about their capabilities, particularly when it comes to playing sports.

According to the Gallup survey, Adults overwhelmingly believe that noticeably taller young people have an easier time getting involved in sports… regardless of age grouping or gender of the child. However, in both age groupings, height is believed to be a more important asset for boys than for girls.

Female Soccer Goalkeeper catch the ball on a professional soccer stadium

Soccer & Australian football

Depending on the sport and the position in it, height can—of course—be a practical advantage. In association football (soccer), height tends to be advantageous for central defenders and goalkeepers. The same is true for Australian rules football across all positions; especially for the ruckman, who contests first position of the ball.

At the professional level, the average height of a ruckman is more than two meters tall, or six and a half feet (Maine, Jim. "Aussie Rules for Dummies,” pg. 20), and taller players in general are favored by recruiters. As premiership former player Peter Bell told FOX Sports of being recruited today, I think at 173cm there wouldn't have been long before a big red line went through my name."

American & Canadian Football

Some positions in American and Canadian football are also favorable to taller players. The average National Football League (NFL) player was registered as being six foot and two inches by CNN in 2014. Tall quarterbacks have a visibility advantage, tall wide receivers can compete more easily to catch highly thrown passes, and offensive and defensive linemen benefit from more mass and reach.


The average height of baseball players is 1.87 meters, or more than six feet tall. This has changed dramatically over the decades, with an average player in the 2000s being almost five inches taller than the average player in the 1870’s!

young boys playing basketball


Of all sports, basketball is the one in which extremely tall players are most represented. According to the National Basketball Association (NBA), the average professional player in the USA is around six feet and seven inches tall. 

This is nine inches taller than the average male. The taller the player, the shorter the distance between the ball and the basket—and scoring and rebound statistics bearing out the importance, with the top 10 scoring leaders in the 2016 NBA season having seven players taller than six foot seven inches, and for rebounds all ten above six foot eight inches.

Tall Athletes Not Only Have Advantages

Beyond perception, above-average height factors in physiological advantages that are realized on the playing field, such as greater absolute strength, work capacity, and power; greater weight and reach; greater visibility; and lower metabolic and heart rates. Taller people are also less prone to dehydration.

All is not lost for shorter players, as they are also likelier to have some physiological advantages, including greater agility and endurance, lower centers of gravity, and lower risk of heat exhaustion. Some positions that play these strengths are gridiron football running backs, cyclists on mountain stages, batsmen in cricket, and wide and attacking positions in association football (soccer).

While the beauty of height is in the eye of the beholder, it can certainly be an important factor when it comes to young people's athletic ambitions.

Factors That Influence Height

According to MedicalNewsToday.com, 80% of a person’s height is determined by genetic makeup - or DNA. Sex is also a factor, with males tending to be taller than females. In the USA, the average man is 69 inches tall and the average woman 63.6 inches tall, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Young woman is resting and eating a healthy food after a workout

Factors that play roles in determining a person’s height outside of genetics include:

  • Nutrition. A balanced diet with fruits, vegetables, and plenty of vitamins and minerals are important to growing children to help them fulfill their height potentials. Calcium and protein are also important in children's diets, as well as for pregnant women. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that pregnant women eat a variety of foods that include green and orange vegetables, meat, fish, beans, nuts, pasteurized dairy products, and fruit.
  • Sleep. Long-term sleep deprivation can affect children's growth, due to suppression of growth hormone that is released during periods of sleep.
  • ExerciseEngaging in a variety of sports activities makes bones healthier, stronger, and denser.
  • Supplements. Supplement specially formulated to promote bone strength and growth, and to fight bone loss can play an important role in promoting a person's height - especially for people who have nutritional deficiencies or bone diseases such as osteoporosis.


Height can be important to young athletes' goals, and - fortunately - height can also be influenced.

Parents' attentiveness to these factors may be key to supporting their children's ambitions in sports, as the 20% of height that can be influenced outside of genetics could make all the difference on the field, track, or court.

Tell us about your experiences in the comment section. Did you or your children have a hard time in sports because of your height?



Ludwig, J. (2014, October 18). Height Matters: More for Boys Than Girls. Retrieved from https://news.gallup.com/

(2009, March 18). Bell too short for big time. Retrieved from https://www.foxsports.com.au/

Petti, B. (2011, April 19). The Changing Size of MLB Players (1870-2010). Retrieved from https://www.beyondtheboxscore.com/

Loffredo, J. A., Loffredo, J. A., Garry, G. E., Huberman, D., Pirrotta, D. C., Paniccia, N., Kresovich, M. D. (2016, November 30). SiOWfa16: Science in Our World: Certainty and Controversy. Retrieved from https://sites.psu.edu/

Barrell, A. (2020, January 16). How to increase height: Factors that influence growth. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/

FastStats - Body Measurements. (2017, May 3). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/

Nutrition counselling during pregnancy. (2019, February 11). Retrieved from https://www.who.int/

Dowshen, S. (Ed.). (2017, January). Can Lack of Sleep Stunt Your Growth? (for Teens) - Nemours KidsHealth. Retrieved from https://kidshealth.org/

Can Lifting Weights When Young Stunt Your Growth? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.livestrong.com/

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