Secular Trend: Morphology and Performance

J Sports Sci. 2014;32(12):1146-54. doi: 10.1080/02640414.2014.889841. Epub 2014 Feb 28.


In a context of morphological expansion of the general population, how do athletes follow such a pattern of anthropometric growth? Is there any relation to performance? Biometric data including mass, height, body mass index (BMI) and age were collected for 50,376 American athletes representing 249,336 annual performers playing in professional baseball, football, ice hockey and basketball. Distributions by mass in National Football League (NFL) players are described by periods. Field goals have been studied in relation to players' height in the National Basketball Association (NBA). Between 1871 and 2011, athletes from the four sports have increased significantly in mass, height and BMI, following a multi-exponential function series. Consequently, biometric differences between athletes and the general population are increasing gradually. Changes in the mass distribution within the NFL show the emergence of a biometrical specificity in relation to the field position. At the professional level, performance remains structured around precise biometric values. In the NBA, a height-attractor at 201.3 ± 6.3 cm for the best scorers is invariant, regardless of the level of play. These results suggest that laws of growth and biometrics drive high-level sport and organise performance around the specific constraint of each field position. Discrepancies between some mass and height developments question the (disproportionate) large mass increase (relative to the height increase) during the 1980s and 1990s.

MeSH terms

  • Athletic Performance / physiology*
  • Athletic Performance / trends*
  • Baseball / physiology
  • Baseball / trends
  • Basketball / physiology
  • Basketball / trends
  • Biometry
  • Body Height*
  • Body Mass Index*
  • Football / physiology
  • Football / trends
  • Hockey / physiology
  • Hockey / trends
  • Humans
  • Sports / physiology*
  • Sports / trends*
  • United States