Beyond Basketball

Taller athletes excel in a wide range of sport.

Height can play a significant role in contributing to success in some sports by offering certain natural advantages.

The NBA has done a brilliant job of marketing basketball around the world over the years as the best sport for the tallest players.

They have done such a good job in fact that most people seem to forget that taller athletes often participate in a wide range of sporting activities. Here are a few more sports, beyond basketball, where height offers an advantage.

In college and professional basketball the shortest players are usually well above average in height compared to the general population.

In men's professional basketball, the guards which are usually the smallest players on the team, tend to be around 6 ft 0 in (1.83 m) to 6 ft 3 in (1.91 m).

The average height for basketball players is about 6 ft 7 in (2.01 m) and the centers, which are usually the tallest players on the team, are generally from 6 ft 10 in (2.08 m) to 7 ft 2 in (2.18 m).


In baseball, pitchers tend to be taller than position players. Being taller usually means longer legs which help pitchers generate velocity.

Longer arms usually mean a release point closer to the plate making the ball reach the batter more quickly. The ball also comes from a higher release angle as opposed to deliveries from a shorter pitcher.

While taller position players have a larger strike zone, most position players are at least of average height because the larger frame allows them to generate more power. Most successful modern pitchers are safely over 1.83 m (6 ft 0 in), some to taller extremes like the south-paw, 6 ft 10 (2.08 m) power pitcher Randy Johnson (At Right).

Tall guys make good pitchers. Now that a few have made a splash in the MLB, hopefully the door is wide open for others to follow.

6 ft 10 Ryan Anderson was a First round draft pick. He's been out a couple of seasons due to shoulder problems, but he's a lefty too and often compared to Randy Johnson.

7 ft 1 Right handed pitcher, Ryan Doherty is featured in this article about his decision to persue college level baseball. This article compares him to his shortest (5ft7) competitor at the college level.


A longer reach and powerful punches make tall boxers intimidating, but captivating to see in action.

7ft Nikolay Valuev is the tallest heavyweight champ ever.

6ft6 Wladimir Klitschko and 6ft8 Vitali Klitschko (At Right) are brothers and both are world class boxers.


Many of the most successful fast bowlers have been well above average height; for example past greats Joel Garner, Courtney Walsh, and Curtly Ambrose were all approximately 2.00 m (6 ft 7 in) tall. Similarly, Glenn McGrath, also regarded as one of the finest bowlers to play the game, was 1.95 m (6 ft 5 in) tall, well above average height.

Taller bowlers have access to a higher point of release, making it easier for them to make the ball bounce uncomfortably for a batsman.

6ft10 Will Jefferson (At Right) is probably the tallest professional cricketer ever. He has the potential to become a great slip fielder because of his exceptional reach, and claims he can play deliveries that shorter batsmen cannot. Both attributes make him quite a dynamic young player.

6ft8 West Indian fast bowler Joel Garner yielded ground to no man,and is widely considered to be the meanest-ever bowler in one day cricket. His Test record was equally impressive. Nicknamed 'Big Bird' by his teammates and the press, Garner was an integral part of the great West Indian teams of the late 1970s and 1980s.


This track and field event consists of ten sporting contests held over a two-day period. The event pushes athletes to their limits and is one of the most highly respected gold medals in Olympic competition.


100 meter race
Long Jump
Shot Put
High Jump
400 meter race

110 meter hurdles
Discus throw
Pole vault
Javelin throw
1500 meter race

Roland Schwartzl
At 6 ft 7 in Roland is Austria's most popular, if not its tallest decathalete.

Football (American)

In American and Canadian Football, a tall quarterback is at an advantage because it is easier for him to see over the heads of large offensive and defensive linemen while he is in the pocket in a passing situation.

At 1.75 m (5 ft 9 in), Doug Flutie (At Right) was initially considered to be too short to become a NFL quarterback despite his Heisman Trophy-winning success at the college level. Shorter quarterbacks often compensate for their lack of height by "rolling out" or using other means to get out from behind the much taller linemen.

In addition, shorter quarterbacks have an advantage with their lower center of gravity and balance, which means they are better able to duck under a tackle and avoid a sack. According to the former Washington Redskins quarterback Eddie LeBaron, being shorter means you can throw the ball higher instead of a sidearm release, meaning it is harder for the defense to knock it down. Shorter quarterbacks also generally have a quicker release time than taller quarterbacks.

Tall wide receivers have an advantage of being able to jump considerably higher than shorter defensive backs to catch highly thrown passes. Of course, this advantage has limits because exceedingly tall receivers are normally not as agile or lack overall speed or strength.

Tight ends are usually over 1.93 m (6 ft 4 in) because they need greater body mass to be effective blockers and greater height is an advantage for them as receivers, since they run shorter routes based less on speed.

By contrast, shorter defensive backs are utilized because of their typically greater agility, as the ability to change directions instantly is a prerequisite for the position.

Offensive and defensive linemen tend to be at least 1.85 m (6 ft 1 in) and are frequently as tall as 2.03 m (6 ft 8 in) to be massive enough to effectively play their positions. Height is especially an advantage for defensive linemen, giving them the ability to knock down passes with their outstretched arms.

Linebackers have perhaps the greatest range in height in American football with players at that position standing anywhere from 1.78 m (5 ft 10 in) to 1.98 m (6 ft 6 in), mainly because strength and quickness, combined with mass, is more important than height, in and of itself.

Short running backs are at an advantage because their shorter stature and lower center of gravity generally makes them harder to tackle effectively. In addition, they can easily "hide" behind large offensive linemen, making it harder for defenders to react at the beginning of a play.

Thus, in the NFL and in NCAA Division I football, running backs under 1.83 m (6 ft 0 in) are more common than running backs over 1.91 m (6 ft 3 in). Former Heisman Trophy winner and Pro Football Hall of Famer Barry Sanders, thought by some to be the greatest running back in history, is a classic example of a running back with an extraordinarily low center of gravity, as he stood only 1.71 m (5 ft 7 1⁄2 in). However, Jim Brown, another player often considered the greatest running back of all time, was more than 1.88 m (6 ft 2 in) tall, demonstrating benefits conferred by the greater power and leverage which height provides.

Punters are generally very tall because of longer legs achieving greater leg swing and this translates into more power on the ball.

During the 2009 season, there were three players tied for tallest in the NFL. All three stand 2.86 m (6 ft 9 in). They are: Jared Gaither of the Baltimore Ravens, Dennis Roland of the Cincinnati Bengals and Demar Dotson of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Football (Soccer)

Height is often an advantage for central defenders who are assigned to stop forwards from scoring through the air, as exemplified by players like Matej Bagarić (2.01 m (6 ft 7 in)), Per Mertesacker (1.98 m (6 ft 6 in)), Brede Hangeland (1.95 m (6 ft 5 in)), Christoph Metzelder (1.94 m (6 ft 4 1⁄2 in)) and Christopher Samba (1.93 m (6 ft 4 in)). There are, however, central defenders who aren't above average height and these average or shorter players work hard to increase their jumping abilities and quickness to overcome their lack of physical presence in defending.

Goalkeepers tend to be taller than average because their greater armspans and total reach when jumping enable them to cover more of the goal. Examples of particularly tall keepers include Gianluigi Buffon (1.91 m (6 ft 3 in)), Vanja Iveša, Željko Kalac, Goran Blažević, Andreas Isaksson, Edwin van der Sar (1.97 m (6 ft 5 1⁄2 in)), Petr Čech (1.96 m (6 ft 5 in)) and Maarten Stekelenburg (1.95 m (6 ft 4.5 in)).

Tallest players featured at the 2006 World Cup include:

6 ft 7 in British player Peter Crouch (At Right) signed to Liverpool for £7 million, making him worth over £30,000 per centimetre to the club. His post-goal dance with hands outstretched, elbows rigid at right angles and jerky movements have been widely parodied.

6 ft 7 in Caribbean player Dennis Lawrence is a defender in the Trinidad and Tobago team. He also plays for Wrexham FC.

6 ft 8 in Serbian player Nikola Zigic. The Red Star Belgrade striker is Serbia’s secret weapon - he’s scored 55 goals in 77 matches during the last two seasons, and has been voted Serbia’s player of the year twice in the last three years. And he set up two of Mateja Kezman’s goals in qualifying.

6 ft 8 in Czech player Jan Koller has been recovering from a cruciate knee ligament injury that he sustained in the 2005 season. He is deadly in the air but is also blessed with a good touch as well. Koller’s international goalscoring record of better than a goal every other has helped him become the Czech’s all-time leading scorer.

Tallest Players at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa

Ice Hockey

Traditionally the NHL was filled with diminutive players with the tallest ones topping out at about 6 feet (1.3m). The game's increasingly physical style of play has put a premium on imposing players and the league's average height is about 6 ft 1 in (185cm). Taller, bigger players have a longer reach, are more able to give out and sustain body checks, and have greater leverage on their shooting such as a slap shot. Current examples of taller than average players are Eric Staal, Rick Nash, Ryan Getzlaf, and Joe Thornton, all of them are 6 ft 4 (194cm) as well as 6 ft 8 in Tyler Myers.

Zdeno Chára
At 6 ft 9 in (206cm) the Slovakian Zdeno is the tallest player to ever play in the NHL. He is currently the team captain of the Boston Bruins and won the Norris Trophy while playing for them in 2008-09.


In rowing, tallness is advantageous, because the taller a rower is, the longer his or her stroke can potentially be, thus moving the boat more effectively. At the Olympic level, the average male rower is about 6 ft 3.5 in (192cm) and the average female rower is about 5 ft 8 in (172cm)

Sir Steve Redgrave - 6 ft 5 in (196cm)
Sir Steven Redgrave CBE (At Right) is an English rower who won gold medals at five consecutive Olympic Games from 1984 to 2000. He has also won three Commonwealth Games gold medals and nine World Rowing Championships gold medals.

Redgrave is one of only four Olympians to have won a gold medal at five consecutive Olympic Games. This achievement led to him being hailed as Britain's greatest Olympian.

Matthew Pinsent - 6 ft 5 in (196cm)
Matthew first teamed up with Sir Steve Redgrave in 1990 for the coxless pair. They continued rowing together through most of the 1990s which culminated in their triumphant gold medal finish in the coxless fours at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Rugby Union

The tallest players on a rugby union team are generally the guys playing the "lock" position. They have an advantage during lineout jumpers as their height increases their chance of winning the ball. Current examples of world-class locks are 6 ft 6.5 in (2m) Victor Matfield, 6 ft 7.5 in (2.02m) Chris Jack, and 6 ft 6 in (198cm) Paul O'Connell

Richard Metcalfe
Richard was capped 11 times for Scotland at rugby and made his debut against England in the 2000 Calcutta Cup winning side. He has the accolade of being the world's tallest rugby player at 7 feet 1 inch. He played for Premiership title winning Newcastle Falcons and European Cup winning Northampton before an injury prematurely ended his playing career at Border Reivers.


Height is generally considered advantageous in swimming. Taller swimmers with longer arms are able to achieve better leverage, hence more acceleration, in the water. Water resistance also goes down with increasing height. This is especially true for freestyle. An example of a tall swimmer is Michael Phelps, at 6'4" (193 cm) who won eight gold medals at the 2008 Olympic Games. The average height of the 8 finalists in the 100 meter Freestyle final at the US Olympic Trials was 6'5" (196 cm).

Ian Thorpe - 6 ft 5 in (195cm)
Nicknamed the Thorpedo and Thorpey, Ian is a retired Australian freestyle swimmer. He has won five Olympic gold medals, the most won by any Australian, and, at the 2001 World Aquatics Championships, he became the first person to win six gold medals in one World Championship. In total, Thorpe has won eleven World Championship golds, the second-highest number of any swimmer. His height and his size 17 feet have oftem been cited as secrets to his success.

Michael Groß - 6 ft 7 in (201cm)
Michael was probably the finest swimmer in the world in the 200 m butterfly race from 1981 to 1988. In this period he set four world records, won two world titles, four European titles and one Olympic gold medal. With a reported arm span of 7 ft (213cm) is widely considered the finest European swimmer ever.

Michael Phelps - 6 ft 4 in (193cm)
Michael is an American swimmer best known for winning 14 Olympic gold medals, the most by any Olympian.


Height can be advantageous as it allows players to create more power when serving, and it gives tall players a greater arm span, allowing them to get to sharp-angled shots more easily. However, being tall can have some disadvantages, like the difficulty of bending down to reach low volleys

John Isner - 6 ft 9 in (206cm)
John achieved his career-high rank of #18 on July 5, 2010, which pleaced him as the second-ranked American tennis player behind Andy Roddick. His most famous victories were against Roddick in the 2009 US Open, and against Nicolas Mahut at Wimbledon 2010 in the longest professional tennis match ever played.

Ivo Karlović - 6 ft 10 in (208cm)
Ivo is a Croatian tennis player. He has won four ATP singles titles: three in 2007 and one in 2008 and is the tallest player ever on the ATP Tour, though sometimes his height is reported as 6 ft 9 in (206cm). Ivo is a serve-and-volleyer, and he has what is considered one of the best serves on the tour. His height enables him to serve with high speed and a unique trajectory that allows for a more acute angle from his racquet to the service line. This means that most of his serves are unreachable, let alone returnable, rendering most of his matches rally-free encounters.


With the addition of the two-person sand game to the Olympic line-up, Volleyball's popularity is growing. Whatever style of game, taller athletes will always be a major force at the net.

Canyon Ceman - 6 ft 5 in (196cm)
Canyon's best international finish was second place with Mike Whitmarsh in the 1997 FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships in Los Angeles. Ceman led the Los Angeles Athletic Club to an indoor volleyball national title earlier in 2001.

Mike Witmarsh - 6 ft 7 in (201cm)
It's easy to see why Mike Whitmarsh began playing volleyball in 1986 and is one of the few top 10 players who did not grow up playing the sport. Whitmarsh teamed with Mike Dodd to capture the Silver Medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. Recently, he placed first (2000) and second (2001) in the last two King of the Beach competitions in Las Vegas. After starring on the professional tour for 15 seasons, Mike committed suicide at age 46.

Updated October 1, 2010.   By: Quartknee




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