In recent years, there has been a lot of research into what makes athletes great. One of the biggest trends to emerge is what is being called “the big bang of body types.” In short, this is research into the changing physiological characteristics of elite athletes and how certain features (height, weight, the length of legs or arms) are key indicators of athletes who can perform at the elite level of their sport.
Having Elite Shape Doesn’t Guarantee Success, but It Increases Your Chances
This information is not intended to say that if you don’t have these elite characteristics you can’t play at the top level of college sports. The goal is instead to give you a better understanding of how this type of information is being used by college coaches to identify talent. There are examples at every level of competition of athletes who are undersized or too slow to compete and there always will be. But, as the research continues into what makes elite athletes elite, this information will be used by college coaches in recruiting.
Why Height Matters in Basketball and Volleyball
The number one reason athletes with elite size get so much more attention in the recruiting process is because it is so rare. When you look on a DI basketball court, it is easy to forget how rare it is for people to be tall. It might be surprising to know that only 4% of the US men’s population is a legit 6’2” or taller. The number of tall people decreases even faster when you begin looking for players who are 6’5” and taller, with less than 1% of the population being that tall or taller. While there might be over 500,000 high school basketball players, if a college coach is looking for players who are (or will be at least 6’5”) the pool of players they will be interested is going to be less than 5,000 and that’s assuming every 6’5” person is going to be playing basketball (which they won’t).
It doesn’t get any easier for women’s sports where height is an advantage. Looking at a DI volleyball court you will routinely see players 5’10” or taller. In the US, only 1% of the women’s population is 5’10” or taller. Coaches know that if they find a talented 6’0” middle blocker, there are probably only a couple 100 of them in the country.
It’s Not Just About Size, It’s also About Shape
The research into the shape and size of elite athletes is showing some other, unexpected trends in other sports.
- Most elite swimmers have big feet and hands, long arms, short legs and long torsos
- Elite runners usually have abnormally long and skinny legs
- Many elite tennis players have abnormally long forearms
- It is common for elite baseball players have almost super human eyesight and average hand eye coordination
Not Having “It” Doesn’t Mean Your Career is Over
You don’t have to be the shape of a Michael Phelps or size of Anthony Davis to get recruited. The fact of the matter is, if college coaches were only going to recruit athletes with these types of unique adaptations, they wouldn’t find enough athletes to field a team. Finding an opportunity to play at the college level and get a scholarship is about finding the right fit. To help you identify schools that might be right for you, look at the athletes on the team or at that division level and see if you match up.
What do you think, does focusing too much on the size of an athlete over simply sports or is only a sign of things to come?