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Are Shorter Players on the Way Back?

This article first appeared in Soccer Journal (The official publication of the National Soccer Coaches Association of America)

A couple of weeks ago, I was thinking about how many small players Barcelona had on their team. I had a hunch that it was a smaller team than most. So I decided to start researching their size in comparison to other teams. Trying to figure it all out and convert centimeters to feet and inches to research this point seemed very time consuming. I had practically given up on the idea of writing this article until I was watching a baseball game and the announcer said that the next batter up was only 5’10” and was rather small in comparison to the rest of the players in Major League Baseball. I thought that baseball was one sport where height was not such a big factor. Shortly after that I was watching the Barcelona/Real Madrid Super Cup and once again noticed that Barcelona seemed much smaller than their counterparts from Real Madrid. Once again, they ended up winning another trophy. My curiosity helped me get back to my research but it helped that the announcer nicely laid out the facts for me. Barcelona was the smallest team by height in La Liga and one of the shortest teams if not the shortest team in all of Europe as well.

Over the past twenty years or so, athletes in general that make it to the top levels, have been getting taller. Basketball and volleyball players of today would make the tallest players way back look tiny. The same goes for hockey players. Even tennis players today are taller than their predecessors. Sprinters in track and field also are taller than their predecessors.

Baseball players tend to be taller but I did not feel that the short player was unable to compete at the pro level. So I researched the two teams (Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays) that played each other in the game I was watching. Of the 55 players on both rosters, the shortest player was 5’9”. There was one player who was 5’10” tall, 2 players at 5’11”, and the remaining 51 players were all 6 feet or taller. Nine of those 55 players were 6’4” or taller. I was totally surprised that short players that were below 6 feet tall are practically not playing professional baseball.

Needless to say rugby players and American football players are very big and tall. Except for basketball, where players are close to 7 feet tall, other sports have many athletes who are over 6’4”. No longer considered big and uncoordinated, these players are very athletic and in control of their bodies. This leads one to believe that if the genes do not have height in the cards of an aspiring young athlete, then they may as well hang them up if they are trying to make it to the pro ranks.

It seems like the smaller players no longer have much of a chance to make it to the top in most sports.

And for a while, soccer seemed to be heading in the same direction, albeit not as dramatically. That of course, took a thunderous turn when Barcelona won the Champions League last season and proved that big is not necessarily better. Here are the statistics for Barcelona. Of the 20 players on their roster, give or take a half inch, 2 are about 5’6” tall, 3 are 5’7”, 3 are 5’8”, 4 are 5’9”, 2 are 5’10”, 1 is 5’11”, 1 is 6 feet, 2 are 6’1”, 1 is 6’3”, and only 1 is almost 6’4”.

I have always felt that the game of soccer is judged first and foremost by technique, skill, fitness, and knowledge of the game and not by brute force, which often comes from being bigger than the other guy. Although some positions could use taller players, (goalkeepers and defenders), in essence, anyone can play the game at the world’s highest levels regardless of size. Everyone is on a level playing field and that is just another reason why, as we all know, soccer is the beautiful game.

And for all those kids who enjoy playing soccer and want to see how far they can go in the sport, it’s nice to know that for one to be a good soccer player and have the possibility of making it to the highest levels, it’s not about heredity in terms of how tall or strong they will be; it’s about skill.

Thanks for reading,

John DeBenedictis

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