What sports are best suited for short people?
June 15, 2006 3:21 AM   Subscribe

I'm trying to find sports other than horse racing, rowing (specifically the cox) and gymnastics, in which being small-framed or just plain short can be an advantage. Is there some advantage gained in having a low centre of gravity in things like surfing or even skateboarding?
posted by bunglin jones to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (37 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If your small and fast then football (soccer) is the perfect game for you.

The winger Shaun Wright-Philips was signed by Chelsea for £21million last year and he is a mere 5ft 5.

It is said that his low centre of gravity means he can slip by even the toughtest challenge without loosing balance
posted by cgfoz at 3:57 AM on June 15, 2006

Rugby - being short and wide (and enjoying running through walls) is a prerequisite for the Hooker.
posted by patricio at 4:02 AM on June 15, 2006

It can help in wrestling, depending on the skillset. While height gives you extra reach and leverage once you're on the floor, being shorter means its harder to get you into hold positions like the half-nelson or armbar.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:10 AM on June 15, 2006

Motor racing? Some of the Formula 1 drivers look pretty small. And I think a low centre of gravity might be good for things like Judo and wrestling.
posted by echelon at 4:11 AM on June 15, 2006

Sports where power/weight ratio matters. Pole vault? The best hill climbers in cycling aren't usually very big. For that matter, rock-climbing, but reach matters there, so I guess it's not so good?
posted by normy at 4:22 AM on June 15, 2006

Weightlifting? Since it goes by weight class, the shorter you are, the more muscular you can be while still maintaining a lower weight class.
posted by antifuse at 4:38 AM on June 15, 2006

Yeah, weight lifting is the non-intuitive sport in this category. In addition to the wieght class thing, being shorter means having to move the weight a shorter distance. See Pocket Hercules.
posted by OmieWise at 4:41 AM on June 15, 2006

Yes to sports with weight classes... some combat sports, competitive weight lifting, etc.

IRL racing doesn't take weight into consideration, thus you get the Danica Patrick controversy -- she weighs only 100lbs, cars all weigh the same, so she frequently has a 75-100lb advantage.

Ice skating seems to favor shorter people... some of the spins and turns and whatnot favor a lower center of gravity. You don't see a lot of tall female skaters at the highest level. Short-track speed skaters, too, have to make extreme turns and tend to be shorter.

Same goes for running backs in the NFL. Barry Sanders, anyone? Hide behind a lineman, turn on a dime with a low center of gravity.

Er... competitive limbo dancing? =) There's definitely more out there.
posted by empyrean at 4:42 AM on June 15, 2006

Flying. Lightweight glider pilots and hang-gliders would have an advantage, surely?
posted by normy at 4:45 AM on June 15, 2006

Another vote for soccer. Diego Maradona is also 5 ft 5. I'm not sure how strong the advantage is as there are certainly some taller top players, e.g. Thierry Henry is 6 ft 2 but smaller players are able to hold their own. I would say that the distribution of heights in soccer more or less reflects the general population, although there are few players from the extremes.

I think there are some lifts where shorter limbs gives a mechanical advantage. Franco Columbu held a number of lifting-related world records, and he is 5 ft 5.
posted by teleskiving at 4:50 AM on June 15, 2006

Seconding the hooker for rugby, one of ours is around 5'5-5'6' I think.
posted by Loto at 5:19 AM on June 15, 2006

Cheerleading, at least for female practitioners.
posted by box at 5:21 AM on June 15, 2006

A curling sweeper?
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:51 AM on June 15, 2006

Lacrosse can also be a sport that the smaller framed can excel at. Counter-intuitively, it is a cross between basketball and hockey, and the smaller framed player who is fast on their feet is defintively at an advantage of being harder to check.
posted by fox_terrier_guy at 6:00 AM on June 15, 2006

Hookers may be short but would you really describe them as "small framed"? The few guys I've met are as wide across the shoulders as they are tall.
posted by jamesonandwater at 6:02 AM on June 15, 2006

Maybe not small-framed, but the question did include "or just plain short."
posted by empyrean at 6:04 AM on June 15, 2006

I know a small guy who is a (small time) table tennis champ and he says his short arms help because the nerve impulse has to go a shorter distance making his reaction time shorter. He also says he knows of no table tennis champions who are known for their long reach.
posted by bukvich at 6:34 AM on June 15, 2006

Some distance runners are really short. I think there are a few (male) Kenyans barely over 5 feet.
posted by callmejay at 6:39 AM on June 15, 2006

With flying, especially during aerobatics, smaller people are said to be at an advantage as they are capable of handling greater g-force. This is due to distance blood has to travel to the brain whilst being acted on by gravity. There are gravity suits and special tensing exercises one can perform, but at rest the smaller person is at a direct advantage.

This is well documented, but my google-fu isn't strong this afternoon and I can't find anything to help you with this!
posted by triv at 6:39 AM on June 15, 2006

(Um, obviously I mean a few male Kenyans who are also elite marathoners, not just random male Kenyans.)
posted by callmejay at 6:39 AM on June 15, 2006

normy said: The best hill climbers in cycling aren't usually very big.

That used to be the case, but seems to have changed in recent years. Lance Armstrong is 5'10" and both Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso are 6 feet exactly. Last years King of the Mountains in the Tour de France, Michael Rasmussen, is 5'9".
posted by afx237vi at 6:42 AM on June 15, 2006

Many winter sports, like downhill, slalom and freestyle skiing, skeleton/luge, bobsled, snowboarding and snowboard cross would seem to favor anyone who is small and fast, and can either tuck their body into a small ball with less wind resistance or twist and turn quickly in the air like a gymnast.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:48 AM on June 15, 2006

Anything that involves rotation: BMX street, vert, and dirt, kiteboarding, freestyle motocross, skateboarding street and vert, freestyle and aerial skiing, skiboarding/snowblading/skiblading/whatever, snowkiting, wakeboarding, (and of course the already mentioned gymnastics, figure skating, cheerleading, competitive dance, competitive aerobics, etc.)

Anything wherein weighing less would be an express advantage not offset by a need for stregnth or leverage: auto racing of almost any kind, sailing, flying of almost any kind (including hanggliding, etc.), dog sledding, jockeying (camels, horses; racing, jumping), (and again everything else that's already been said).

Those are probably the most obvious. After that, you get into areas where being small generally does help, but isn't an express and automatic advantage. Many weight-classed sports fall into this category. Almost all world-class wrestlers are small and compact. This makes their bodies harder to bend to their opponents' wills. Lanky wrestlers can find success in styles that emphasize the stand-up, however.

Then there are sports where being small or lean provides some advantage, though being strong or long provides others. Boxing is a classic case. As is lacrosse or soccer or field hockey or any sport that involves on the one hand running ALOT and on the other the delivery of short bursts of force.

Generally I think you'll find that the simpler a sport is, the more likely it is to have an "ideal" type. There is such a thing as, for instnace, the "perfect" sprinter's body. The more complicated and rules-based and team-focused a sport is, the less like this is to be true. There is, for instance, no such thing as the "perfect" baseball body; people excell in all shapes in sizes at different aspects of the game.

Re: the ping-pong suggestion, while I don't particularly buy the "my nerves are shorter" assertion, it does make sense that being shorter would help because you would have a shorter distance to move your arm to make a shot, which would therefore require less time. Racket sports in general wherein power isn't a decisive advantage may favor the short. Badminton, for instance.

Along these lines - bowling?
posted by ChasFile at 7:12 AM on June 15, 2006

Many winter sports, like downhill, slalom and freestyle skiing, skeleton/luge, bobsled, snowboarding and snowboard cross would seem to favor anyone who is small and fast, and can either tuck their body into a small ball with less wind resistance or twist and turn quickly in the air like a gymnast.

There are two problems with this:
1) The heavier something is, the faster it slides down a hill. Hence there is an upper limit on sled weight, not a lower one. There are no small world-class sledders or sliders. This is one of those sports that falls into the "perfect body" category.
2) Racing sports like skiing and snowboarding (and, for that matter, rowing, kayaking, canoeing, short-distance running, etc.) the advantage that less wind resistance and simply having less mass to for your muscles to move is to a very large degree offset by the fact that large increases in muscle translate to only incremental increases in profile size while translating into much better performance. So, for instance, if I quadruple the size of my arms, I only double their profile. That's simplified, but it seems to me that the advantage gained from being strong in a sport like, say, skiing, provides better returns in performance than the losses due to increased resistance and inertia.
3) Further, sports like skiing and snowboarding are complicated by the fact that being taller allows you to exert more leverage and force upon the skiis, allowing you to hold tighter turns at higher speeds.
posted by ChasFile at 7:21 AM on June 15, 2006

For the same reason as 3 above, motocross and other motorcycle events that involve alot of turns are something of a complicated case. Lighter is better from an acceleration perspective; shorter is better from a top speed perspective, while taller is better form a turning perspective.
posted by ChasFile at 7:25 AM on June 15, 2006

In road cycling, it seems there's no real advantage to being tall. Miguel Indurain was a bit of an exception, being over 6' (actually, he was quite an exception in many ways). Both Greg Lemond and Bernard Hinault (both multiple TdF winners) are little guys, 5'6" or so. Tony Rominger (who briefly held the hour record) and Marco Pantani (another TdF winner) are/were even smaller.

Track cycling tends to favor bigger guys with more muscle mass. Not sure about mountain biking.
posted by adamrice at 7:37 AM on June 15, 2006

The heavier something is, the faster it slides down a hill. Hence there is an upper limit on sled weight, not a lower one.

Since the poster is interested in height, not weight, I can't see how the weight of the sled/team makes a difference in this example. Trying to fold a tall frame into a bobsled is a disadvantage, whether that frame is broad and muscular or narrow and lean.

You do make some good points though.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 8:13 AM on June 15, 2006

Snowboarding: Smaller feet = less heel and toe overhang = better performance without an insanely wide board. Also, lightweight = float on powder better.
posted by JekPorkins at 9:15 AM on June 15, 2006

Actually, although reach is an element in rock climbing, many great climbers have been quite small (Lynn Hill springs to mind). Reach can be overcome by the ability to use 'intermediate' holds (those that cannot be used by someone taller/larger/bigger-footed), and by a fearless approach (aka "dynamic" - leaping) to the climb.
Rock climbing uses your whole body and your head in ways that no other sport I know of. Climb on!
posted by dbmcd at 9:29 AM on June 15, 2006

martial arts: its something that actually improves your body over time, rather than wrecking it slowly. while martial arts can be great for anybody, many of the more traditional styles just work more gracefully for shorter/smaller people -- this because they were invented by folk who were shorter/smaller than your average euro/american person is today.
posted by cubby at 9:35 AM on June 15, 2006 [1 favorite]

Many winter sports, like downhill, slalom and freestyle skiing, skeleton/luge, bobsled, snowboarding and snowboard cross would seem to favor anyone who is small and fast

In Alpine skiing, the speed events are more about generating the forces needed to turn very stiff skis at high speeds than offering less of a profile of wind resitance. Speed is generated as a result of strength more than agility. So there is a definite advantage to being larger and stronger. For example, at 5'9", 180 lbs, Daron Rahlves is small for a top downhill racer. Bode Miller is 6'2", 210 lbs. Hermann Maier 5'11", 200 lbs and Michael Walchofer 6'3", 209 lbs.
posted by andrewraff at 9:54 AM on June 15, 2006

I second dbmcd on the rock climbing...having a low center of gravity and using your legs versus your arms to scale a rock face create a tremendous advantage for women in this sport. Reach is highly subjective anyway, depending upon the route and the skills of the climber.
posted by jeanmari at 10:43 AM on June 15, 2006

Ballet dancing (which is about the most athletic activity there is.

Trapeze flying.


Escape artist, since a small person can wriggle out of handcuffs and strait-jackets more easily.

Non-athletic competition where being small leads adversaries to underestimate you -- e.g., poker.

Competitive eating, where fat takes up space the stomach would otherwise have to expand. See this Wikipedia link.
posted by KRS at 12:11 PM on June 15, 2006

Oh yes, dodgeball.
posted by KRS at 12:14 PM on June 15, 2006

Rock-climbing: Reach can be an advantage, but it's certainly not the end-all. The real advantages are strength-to-weight ratio, flexibility and balance. An additional advantage for small people with small hands is that a hold that might be one finger for a bigger person is suddenly two fingers for you, which gives you a leverage advantage. Rock-climbing is the perfect sport for teeny, tiny monkey people.

Basketball: Yes, seriously, basketball. Learn to play the horizontal game -- passing, movement, defense -- and you'll run circles around taller people. See Muggsy Bogues, Spud Webb, John Stockton, Dawn Staley, etc.

Football: Yes, again, seriously, football. You'd be surprised how small some NFL tailbacks are. It's all about speed and hitting the holes.

In short (no pun intended), it's all about how you use your frame to its best advantage. You can play basketball. You're just not dunking on people. You're stealing the ball and shooting three-pointers.
posted by frogan at 12:50 PM on June 15, 2006

I've found that Aikido seems to be easier for me than most (I'm 5'4"), thanks to my lower center of gravity.
posted by Orrorin at 6:33 PM on June 15, 2006

Thanks for all the answers, kids.
posted by bunglin jones at 8:59 PM on June 15, 2006

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