Beating the odds – Does height really matter ?
In last years post ‘So you want to be an Olympian’, I discussed talent identification and the research that looks at body type, size and genetics, trying to determine whether it is possible to pick out a future olympian before all the training. My conclusion was that although there have been some very successful talent identification programs, there is still a lot we don’t know.
Height is one of the factors that is thought to significantly influence success in sport. Tallness is often sort after, as it is thought to give a distinct advantage in sports like basketball, volleyball, netball, fencing, swimming, rowing, tennis and some track events. Being tall has been associated with greater absolute strength and power, longer leavers, longer reach, lower resting metabolic rate and a lower risk of dehydration.
Smallness however is also be an advantage particularly in sports where weight is important and it has also been associated with greater agility, faster reaction times, faster limb acceleration, greater endurance, better balance and lower risk of heat exhaustion (1).
Predicting adult height in a growing child
There are a number of ways to predict adult height. In the UK, children are regularly weighed and measured in the first five years of their life and these measurements can be used with the tables in their ‘red book’ to predict how tall they will grow. Similar tables can also be found online and used in conjunction with age and parental height to get an idea of final adult height.
In research scientists often use an even easier method, using a mid-parental height to estimate adult height making an adjustment for sex (2).
FOR GIRLS = (mothers height (cms) + fathers height (cms) -13cms) /2
FOR BOYS = (mothers height (cms) + fathers height (cms) +13cms /2
It’s common knowledge that people born to tall parents are more likely to be tall themselves but it’s not quite as simple as the above equation would suggest. Although about 80% of the normal variation in human height is inherited from your parents, a resent study identified nearly 700 different genetic variants within these genes (3). The remaining 20% of variation is caused by differences in diet and life style. Some research has even shown that height can be effected by the type of sport that you do.
Does height matter
There is no doubt that children that mature early have an advantage when being picked for teams. There is a huge volume of research that looks at what is known as the ‘relative age effect’ and I have touched on this in my post on Long Term Athlete Development. The relative age effect is the idea that children born in the first three months of the school year have a sporting advantage and dominate school and college teams. This is a particularly interesting area for coaches, as research looking at professional athletes and teams does not always show the same association.
Beating the odds
This week I was sent the You Tube clip below by England Hockey. The clip is the story of Brandon Todd a 5ft5 basketball player and his goal of being able to dunk a basket ball. With hard work and research he defeated expectation and now does what is unheard of for someone his height. He not only has all the advantages of being small, he is beating the tall people at their own game.
(1) Samaras, Thomas (2007). Human body size and the laws of scaling. New York: Nova Science. pp. 33–61. ISBN 1-60021-408-8. Retrieved 2012-11-18.
(2) Lloyd et al (2014). Chronological Age vs Biological Maturation : Implications for Exercise Programming in Youth. J of Strength Cond Res 25(5), 1454-1464
(3) Study lead by Prof Tim Frayling http://www.exeter.ac.uk/news/featurednews/title_415086_en.html