Sports For Short People
Before we look at sports for short people, take a few minutes to consider below the overall benefits of sport and exercise, whatever your height. I shall then review sports where height is less of a problem and in particular those that favor short people.
Along with following a good diet, taking part in a sport rewards us in such amazing ways, providing health benefits that help keep our minds and bodies in good shape. Simply put, sport and exercise are ‘the miracle cure we’ve all been waiting for’ (NHS) (UK) Benefits of Exercise).
If you are concerned about your height and it’s on your mind a lot, it’s worth considering these benefits in respect of your mental and physical well-being and also the inner confidence that involvement in a sport can bring.
Some sports require people to be of a certain stature, in order to compete at the top level, for example, it will be highly unlikely that shorter people will be successful in basketball or netball. Other sports such as table tennis are more accessible to shorter people as they do not rely on being of a certain stature.
So, let us now consider the title question ‘are there any sports good for short people?’ A short person could participate in any sport if the goal is simply fitness or recreation, but to compete at a world-class level, there are certain sports best avoided, so that time is focused on those that are more realistic. There are also some sports where it is actually a benefit to be short, others where it’s not an advantage or disadvantage and thus, those sports can still be excelled at with proper training.
Sports Where Height is Not a Deal Breaker
Soccer (USA) - aka Football (UK)
Whatever type of person you are, I would be surprised if you have never watched a soccer game in your lifetime! By far the most popular sport worldwide, with an estimated fan base of 4 billion, and millions of shirts sold each year. We shall refer to it as soccer for the purposes of this article. Hugely popular in the UK and Europe and fast becoming big in the USA, soccer is a team sport that allows people of shorter stature to thrive.
Key positions often relate to a player’s build as well as their talent. Soccer attracts over 260 million players of almost any size and shape. Barcelona player Lionel Messi is around 5.6.75" (169.5cm) and clearly demonstrates that stature is no barrier to outstanding play and actually can aid in quickness and swift changes of direction. Messi displays attributes crucial to soccer success, such as excellent ball control, speed, and agility.
Stars such as Messi, Maradona 5’5” (165.1cm), or Pele 5’8” (173.8cm) are significantly smaller than a defender such as former Manchester United player Rio Ferdinand, who stands at 6’3”(192cm), but they have a compensating weapon to use against taller players: agility.
Successful female players include Marta Vieira da Silva 5’4” (162.6cm), who by many is considered the greatest female to ever play the game; Homare Sawa 5’5” (165.1cm) and Kelly Smith 5’6” (167.7cm). Body type is not as important in soccer as other sports, however, agility is an essential trait, as is speed, with players regularly performing near a thousand changes of direction per game.
Position wise, it is advantageous for goalkeepers to be tall, thus maximizing the chances of reaching a high ball. Center-backs also need to be tall and physically strong because they need to head high balls, and body-check the opponent. A regular striker can also benefit from being short, as it is easier to dribble the ball, which makes it harder for them to be taken down, and therefore goals are more likely to be scored.
In soccer, short players have a range of benefits. They have "fast reaction times, accelerate better, move with more agility, and have a greater strength-to-weight ratio", writes multidisciplinary scholar Thomas T. Samaras in “Human Body Size and the Laws of Scaling.” So, we can see that the lower center of gravity of a shorter person will influence greater stability and ability to maintain overall control on the field.
Martial arts include Judo, Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Boxing, Wrestling, Karate, Tae-kwon-do, and Kickboxing. They're practiced for a variety of different reasons including self-defense, physical fitness, entertainment, and competition. Some even consider martial arts as a way of achieving spiritual growth. This article looks at one of the most popular, judo. Participants in martial arts are known as judoka’s.
Judo was created in 1882 by Jigoro Kano as a physical, mental, and moral pedagogy in Japan. It is now an Olympic sport and is increasingly becoming hugely popular worldwide. As well as being a sport, judo has many far-reaching benefits such as building inner confidence, mental toughness, and toughening you physically.
Height and size is no barrier to successful participation in judo as it is a discipline that is technique orientated.
In fact, being short has its advantages due to having a lower center of gravity, which will help you to stay more ‘grounded’ and make you more difficult to knock over.
In judo, it is important to throw your opponent by making use of his loss of balance; the law at work here is the law of gravity. For example, when you're trying to throw someonee lse, especially if they're taller than you since you're closer to their center of gravity it's easier to get into position and launch them to the floor.
Successful judokas include females Daria Bilodid 5’8” (172.8cm), Paula Pareto 4’10” (147.4cm), and males Lukhumi Chkhvimiani 5’4’ (162.6cm), and Naohisa Tahato 5’3” (160cm).
One of the most famous martial arts experts was an incredible person named Bruce Lee, a Chinese America Hong Kong actor, philosopher, and martial arts instructor who founded his own martial art named Jeet Kune Do. He is universally regarded by many critics and other martial artists to be one of the most influential people to have ever lived. Height was indeed no barrier to Bruce Lee, who stood at 5’7” (170.2cm).
People of all heights, ages, and abilities can play table tennis. It is more than 200 countries worldwide that pick up the table tennis paddle and the game is constantly gaining new followers.
The world number one as of 2021, Fan Zhendong stands at 5’8” (172.8cm); Ma Long 5’9” (175.3cm) and Jha Konak 5’5” (165.1cm), proof that height is no barrier to playing the game successfully. Deng Yaping 4’11” (149.9cm) is a table tennis player from China who won 4 gold medals at the Olympics, also 9 gold medals and 5 silver at the world championships.
Table-tennis is often played outdoors and is available in many leisure centers. With similar rules to tennis, the scaled-down environment allows for people of all sizes to succeed. This is one of the best sports for short legs, as agility and speed are key.
According to The British Heart Foundation, the moderate activity of table tennis, it can provide a healthy workout, strengthening your core as you play, swiping the ball. You will also notice your hand to eye coordination improving. The sport has many great benefits such as strengthening muscles, improving flexibility and suppleness, and also sharpening reaction times. All of which, importantly, help to improve one’s quality of life.
One of the great things about tennis is that it’s a sport that can be played at nearly any age, height, and skill level. A typical tennis match will tend to last anywhere from one to two hours.
It is an excellent sport for improving cardiovascular health, which is essential for lowering your risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. It also enhances flexibility, balance and coordination, and is a game that requires the cooperation of the whole body.
Tennis has wide-ranging benefits. Returning a shot takes mental and physical agility. Playing tennis gets you moving – and moving is good for the body and the mind.
Another huge bonus is that it helps improve bone health, as along with strengthening muscles it also has a positive impact on your bones. Exercising regularly can increase your peak bone mass and can slow its rate of loss over time, an important factor in maintaining our optimum height. Please refer to our blogs ‘Can stretching make you taller?’ and ‘What foods make you grow taller?’ for more detailed information.
There are many taller tennis players out there, but there are also many world-class shorter male tennis players including Flavio Cipolla, 5’8” (172.8 cm), Diego Schwartzman, 5’7” (170.2cm), and Olivier Rochus 5’6” (167.7cm). Successful female players include Sara Errani 5’4” (162.6cm), Dominika Cibulkova 5’3” (160cm) and Billie Jean King 5’4” (162.6cm).
So, when looking at a sport that suits you, tennis is a game well worth considering. Along with the physical benefits, it improves discipline and social skills. Tennis makes you more disciplined because the skills needed to master the game take patience, time and dedication.
That’s a lot of time spent practicing and focusing on getting better. Tennis helps you in achieving a better degree of socialization, as you have to interact with different players. All these factors are hugely beneficial in improving overall self-confidence.
As with soccer, this is a sport that favors athletes who are both taller and shorter, depending on their position in the field. The average smaller player can maneuver around tight places and get into those that large players cannot, an important benefit of the game.
One scrumhalf Nate Augspurger, who is 5’7” (170.2cm), has mentioned is is a benefit that the scrumhalf is short, which helps him excel. Nate is a committed world-class, professional rugby player who plays scrumhalf for the San Diego Legion in Major League Rugby.
Other successful players are Canada’s Phil Mack, 5’7” (170.2cm), Jamie Mackenzie 5’8” (172.8cm), Scotland’s Greig Laidlaw 5’9.5” (176.5cm) and New Zealand’s Aaron Smith who stands at 5’7” (170.2cm).
It’s not unusual for the player playing the position of hooker to be relatively short compared to his teammates, although he is also usually heavier than a scrumhalf. South Africa’s Bongi Mbonambi and Australian Tolu Latu, both 5’9” (175.3cm) are examples of this.
“I’ve always tried to play the game fearless because you’re always up against much bigger guys,” said Mack. “You can’t shy away from the tackle, even when that other guy is over 200 pounds. You’ve got to have heart.”
Sports Where Being Short is an Advantage
A list of sports where flexibility, weight and a low center of gravity are concerned, being small is the greatest advantage:
- Archery (skill sport, but short height allows better balance, better chance at hitting target)
- Cricket (low center of gravity and some positions require quicker agility which allows short athletes to compete)
- Diving (divers need flexibility)
- Gymnastics (gymnasts need flexibility, better balance, less chance for falling)
- Horse Racing (riders carry less weight on the horse)
- Motor Racing (riders carry less weight)
- Soccer/Football (low center of gravity)
- Shooting (skilled sport, and short people have greater balance needed in order to hit the target)
- Figure Skating (similar to gymnastics)
- Skiing and Snowboarding (balance is key here)
- Trampolining (balance and flexibility)
- Weightlifting (less distance to lift weight above head)
Sports Where Height Doesn’t Matter
- Badminton (tall have a longer reach, but short tend to have greater balance)
- Boxing (lightweight classes)
- Cycling (mountain bike, BMX bike) less weight to pedal the bike for riders on uphill climbs
- Skiing (alpine)
- Skating (long legs will have longer strides, but shorter legs can turn easier)
- American football (kicker and running back only; several have been under 5’9” (1.75.3cm); (a kicker requires skill and running backs who are shorter are going to be harder to take down, easily maneuvering)
- Baseball (2nd baseman, shortstop, and designated hitter positions only, as positions are closer to the center of the diamond and there is a shorter distance to throw the ball; and for hitting there is a smaller strike zone, and therefore a good chance of getting on base via walks)
Any Sport is Possible
Let's take the NBA, where you’ll seldom see players below 6’0” (183cm), who really excel. This pattern is typically true for all positions, as basketball players are taller than in other sports.
However, there is an average height for each position, as long as you’re tall enough, it becomes a matter of skill and there have been some successful short players, such as Spud Webb who even won the 1986 NBA slam dunk contest at 5'7"!
So, are there any sports in which short people excel? We have learned that without a doubt there is. We know that quickness, dexterity, and agility favor shorter athletes, and for team sports certain positions require these skills on offense or defense.
The best sports for short females are often the same as the best sports for short males. One could also argue that there are sports where being tall is a disadvantage, such as those which benefit from having short players with a lower center of gravity.
At the beginning of this article, I emphasize the importance of sport and its benefits in respect of well being, building confidence, and of course, keeping a healthy body. Research indicates that bodily movement can increase your energy levels, promote good quality sleep, and reduce stress. ’If exercise were a pill, it would be one of the most cost-effective drugs ever invented’, says Dr Nick Cavill, a UK health promotion consultant (1).
Whatever your height, there is a sport out there for you to involve yourself in and to reap the rewards. I have described those who have achieved greatness in sport regardless of their stature, sometimes in spite of it. We are not all destined to reach these heights, but what this article has sought to do is outline the wealth of choices out there available for us all and provide clarification that height need not be a barrier for short people.