Does height matter in sports?

Does height matter in sports?


Hello, physics friends. So I was watching the COPA
America earlier this year, and I got talking to a friend
about Leonil Messi’s height. He’s 5 foot 6, which seems
shorter than average. Maybe? Well, it turns out
that the average height of an Argentinian man
is 5 foot 8 and 1/2. So is Leonil Messi’s stature
an advantage for him? Well, the height of an average
male professional soccer player is 5 foot 11. So is height an
advantage in sports? Obviously, some sports
attract tall people. Michael Phelps is 6 foot 4,
but Gabby Douglas is 5 foot 2. Just last week, Olympic gymnast
Simone Biles and Olympic volleyball player David Lee
posted this photo on Twitter. And these heights are pretty
representative of their sports. In swimming, 5 foot 9 for
female Olympic gold medalists and 6 foot 3 for men. That’s around 7
and 9 inches taller than their respective
averages, worldwide. The average gold medal
gymnast, on the other hand, was 5 foot 1 for women and
5 foot 4 and 1/2 for men. Both an inch and a half shorter
than their respective averages. So swimmers are tall
and gymnasts are short. Volleyball players are
tall and divers are short. And then there’s
soccer players that are somewhere in the middle. This seems like an
obvious question, but is height an
advantage in sports? The answer seems
pretty simple at first. Volleyball players that are
tall can spike more easily. Short gymnasts have a
lower center of gravity so they can balance
on the balance beam. You know, like, it’s much
easier to stack two books horizontally, so their
center of gravity is low, than to stack them
up end to end. Try it. And shorter people,
on average, weigh less just because of scaling. So they have less inertia. That is, less tendency to keep
going in the same direction. And you can change direction
and flip more quickly. The same is true of diving. So divers tend to be short. It’s less obvious what–
somebody’s going to get hurt. As I was saying,
it’s less obvious why swimmers are tall, though. A swimmer’s goal is to be
as fast as possible in water while fighting friction and
drag, 1,000 times more of it than in air. So to accelerate
quickly, a swimmer needs to apply a lot of force
with her torso and limbs. So we need to figure out how
a swimmer’s height affect her maximum possible force. So the amount of
force you can apply is proportional to the
physiological cross-sectional area of your muscles,
which indicates the number of muscle fibers
contracting and releasing in that muscle. So imagine we have two people–
one 6 foot tall person we’re going to call Flow and
one 5 foot tall person we’ll call Bubbles– with
identical proportions. Every part of Flow is
6/5– or 1.2– times bigger than Bubbles. That means that if the radius of
Bubble’s bicep equals 3 inches, Flow’s bicep radius would be
3 times 1.2, or 3.6 inches. But the cross sectional
area of the bicep is proportional
to radius squared, because the area of any
shape is approximately proportional to r squared. So in this super
overgeneralized case, Flow’s bicep has 1.2 squared
or 1.44 times more area than Bubble’s. So Flow can apply 1.44
times as much force, just by being 1.2 times taller. And on top of
that, being heavier won’t really bog
you down in water because of the buoyant force. So tall people get a
disproportionately large boon in the strength department
just by being taller. But gymnasts need
to be strong, too. So shouldn’t they
be tall as well? Well, the type of strength
you need to pull yourself through water is different
than the type of strength needed for gymnastics. In gymnastics, what
matters is how your weight compares to your strength. That is, your strength
to mass ratio. It’s easier to hoist
up a smaller mass. So the ideal would be to keep
the mass small while increasing strength. Let’s go back to
Flow and Bubbles, although the names don’t
make quite as much sense now. Flow is actually
at a disadvantage, because tall people
disproportionately gain mass. That’s because mass is
proportional to volume, which is proportional
to length cubed. So with height, you’re
endowed with brute strength. But it’s not as easy to hoist
and throw your body about. That’s why sprinters
are, on average, taller than long distance
runners, because they need that power, the big
muscle strength, in order to increase their
speed really quickly. Whereas long
distance runners need to maintain a pace
for a long time, which is easier
if you’re lighter. So now in soccer, the
average female Olympic player is around 5 foot 6. And the average male
player is around 5′ 11″, closer to average height. Well, soccer requires you to
be more well-rounded– fast and agile with the
ball, which is better if you’re light and
short, but power to sprint and get those
headers and put pressure on the other team. So you need height there. So statistically, it’s better
to be somewhere in the middle. But, of course, it all depends
on what position you play. Now just because I’m tall
doesn’t automatically mean that I’m a good swimmer. And just because
my sister is short doesn’t automatically mean
that she is a good gymnast, although she actually is. But a little math
and physics can help explain how your
height might give you a statistical, but not
necessarily practical, edge in certain sports. But there’s an obvious caveat. Short people and
tall people aren’t necessarily proportional. A tall person might
have disproportionately broad shoulders or long limbs. But this process
gives a ballpark mathematical relationship
between height and physical strength. There’s actually an entire
field of study called allometry, or scaling, devoted to figuring
out how the physical abilities and characteristics
of living things change depending on
how big they are. It’s an interesting blend
of biology, statistics, and physics. There’s actually a bunch
of sports researchers in this field. One researcher actually
predicted how fast competitive rowers could go
based only on their sizes and the weights of their boats. And was accurate to within 1%. Medical researchers who
develop pharmaceutical pills use mathematical relationships
by first giving medicine to mice, then using
allometry to figure out what dosage a human,
who might be 15 times taller than a mouse
is long, might need. Kind of strange, isn’t it? That you can make
all these predictions just by knowing one thing. That is, how tall something is. That’s one of my favorite
things about science, is that one thing can be
related to unexpected phenomena. And you can describe
it all using math. Very cool. Thank you so much for
watching this video. And happy physics-ing.

100 Replies to “Does height matter in sports?”

  1. the statistic for soccer is not so relevant.. why? as a centerback or as keeper you need to be tall (as a keeper to cover more and as a centerback to stay better in physical duels and in airball situations) and as a winger you need to be smaller in order to be more agile and to accelerate quicker :).. (talking from experience), but the average height of 1.80 could work for any position on the field :))

  2. Mixing imperial with metric caused a US mars explorer to crash into the planet at high speed. Imperial Yuck!

    The average height of female volleyball playes in US is 182cm.

  3. There is another benefit to short height in gymnastics. Some rings poses like the planche become much harder the longer your arms become. Some think it might be impossible for anyone over 6' tall to do a planche.

  4. Great video Diana… I dont agree with the anti-imperial comments. this is an educational physics channel and the concepts matter more than using International Units. If the haters were true with the premise of their arguments and wanted an academic view of these concepts then they should use the meter in their personal calculations. besides it's a simple conversion between feet/inches and meters. sheesh. keep up the great work Diana!

  5. Have you seen a photo of Jose Altuve standing next to Aaron Judge? Both were contenders for American League MVP last year. Altuve is 5'-6", 162 lbs. while Judge is 6'-7" and 282 lbs. Interesting…

  6. This is stupid. Being tall does not mean being stronger. It just means being taller. A person's height doesn't mean they have bigger muscles because humans aren't simply scaled versions of each other. They are individuals with different body compositions and different fiber type compositions

  7. If I understand it right, the age of the universe is determiined to be 13.7 billion/trillion years, because that is the limit of the obserbale universe. If the universe is possibly expanding beyond what we can observe, then surely the universe must be older than what we can observe? So what is the real potential age of the universe?

  8. Im a 5ft 3 Gymnast and im considered tall. I have a wider chest and more muscle which makes me a great tumbler. But the also really jealous of tall slimmer gymnast because they do The artistry better, which gives them better points when your not elite

  9. It depends on what you do, in volleyball there's a player that's called libero and height is not important for that position

  10. You've made the same mistake everyone does about soccer players' average height. The only players whose official listed height is correct are those 6ft3ins or taller. Players 6ft to 6ft to 6ft3ins are listed as 6ft3ins. Then, more is added the further down you go, so at the very bottom end, up to eight or nine inches are added.There's a bit of a difference between the British players and elsewhere. For example, British players have been relegated an inch when they've moved to Major League Soccer or a European club. But in the UK, a player who is 5ft10ins will probably be listed as 6ft1ins, and a player who is 5ft5ins will be listed as 5ft10ins.Lionel Messi is really only about 5ft2ins. Players who really are 5ft7ins are listed as 5f11ins.This all seems to have begun way back in the early 1980s. The fact is that players have shrunk. In the 1970s, they were the same height as the average man, but I'd say that the average British-born player in the English Premier League, excluding goalkeepers, is only about 5ft7ins – three inches shorter than the average for a young white British man.

  11. In badminton my height is a big problem with dealing in doing smashes. For me it affects my skill in Badminton. 😩

  12. In soccer, shorter players have greater balance as their center of gravity is lower. But defenders and goalkeepers need to be tall for greater reach.

  13. I am a swimmer and I would also like to point out that with the extra height you also have to swim less overall because it is foot to flip turns (tall people turn farther out) to hand

  14. Acrobatics/flips keep you short by stunting your growth. Taller people can flip faster if the can transition their bodies from a large plane to a smaller one.

  15. So that seems to be the second reason why I sprint better for short distances than any long distances. I am quite tall (177cm), and I'm a girl. I also swim pretty well. Hehe, physics support my favourite sports 😀

  16. 4:37 I never would have thought in my life to see Werder Bremen in a Physics Girl ideo! Im thrilled right now! 😀

  17. As a gymnast with a sibling that also was a gymnast I've managed to stick at it longer and advance faster at my height of 4"10 than my sister who's 5"8, and a majority of my friends who started at the same time but ended up being taller so I'd say shortness is an advantage, I also have much less mass to pull myself up on the bars at 43kg than my tall sister does at 75kg, on the other hand she's much better at rugby than me (in both of these sports we started at the same age and ability level) but we're about even skill level when it comes to martial arts (being little and light is an advantage imo because I'm still in the under 12s height/weight section at 20 while she's been in the adults since she was 13) I guess it really depends on the sport and proportions of your body and muscle mass to determine what is and isn't advantageous

  18. There is another reason why height matters for swimmers. If one is taller, they are that much closer to the finish line (Since swimmers are horizontal in the water)
    There is a big advantage at the start as well as at every turn, probably slightly offset by the extra rotational energy needed to turn their extra mass around. + for long gangly armed people!

  19. I'm short and in volley ball I spike perfectly I also got all stars every year when I was younger and I was still short

  20. football (soccer) is the best sport because height truly doesn't matter the best player is messi he is 5ft7 and his rival aka second best player is C.Ronaldo and he's 6ft2 . they both have two different game style yet they are both at the top of their game.

  21. here am i a 17 yr old 5'11" swimmer and still growing… i pray every single night for the past 16 months :))) i pray that i'll reach arount 6'1" God help me!! In the past 2 months i have also been hanging on a bar for like 2 minutes almost every day 🙂 yea i am pretty obsessed about this

  22. I was actually hoping that she would say that it's okay if your not tall, you can follow your dream and play basketball, but basketball wasn't mentioned and…… well, it's okay… I really liked the way you explained though

  23. Shorter people will also have a lower 'radius' of sorts, so their moment of inertia will also be lower, allowing easier slow down, giving them an advantage in gymnastics.

  24. This is great and informative. But you're trying too hard to be quirky and enthusiastic, it's rather distracting and annoying

  25. Well I mean, I’m tall. The class was playing baseball, and the ball went to the ground and rolled right past me. Everyone was disappointed that I didn’t get it. Well, I’m sorry, but if I had bent down any lower, my back would’ve snapped. So I guess, sometimes.

  26. No, in swimming, you want leñgth and less cross-sectional area, like a boát. Thus height is an advantage. But more so, we need to push harder against the water than our body's drag, so we need leverage on our paddles (hands and feet) to move!

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