In recent times, AFL recruiters seem to be ignoring the performances of small players at junior level and overlooking them in the draft. But is there still a spot for the little man in the modern game?
Heightism is defined as a prejudice or discrimination against someone based on their height. Therefore, I pose the question – are the majority of AFL recruiters heightists? It is obvious that they adhere to the belief that a good big man will always beat a good small man but do the vertically challenged get a fair opportunity to prove whether or not they are good enough to make it at the top level. Recruiters at AFL clubs seem to have an unhealthy fixation with drafting tall players, especially in recent years. As a result, star junior football prodigies that stand less than six feet tall are often overlooked in the process. Some eventually find themselves on AFL lists through sheer persistence, often being selected as rookies. Unsurprisingly, it is these players that once slipped under the radar that often have a bigger and more immediate impact than their taller counterparts. Some of the not-so-lucky ones form terrific careers in top state leagues but unfortunately a lot of others lose the passion and determination to play AFL and fall completely through the cracks despite bucket-loads of potential. Perhaps if these players were given a chance to show their wares, they could have made a name for themselves.
Some of the all-time greats of the game as well as many current starts are of short stature. Brent Harvey may only be knee-high to a grasshopper but he has no problems taking a game by the scruff of the neck and turning it on its head. In fact, the champion Kangaroo has been doing it for well over 300 games across 17 years and is still executing his silky skills and blistering runs down the field today. He is just one of many short players that have had, and continue to have, a big impact in the AFL. Even Gary Ablett Jr, commonly referred to as the best player in the league, is only 182cm.
Furthermore, tall players, especially those selected in the earlier rounds of the draft, often get a lot more time on a list to prove whether or not they will make it in the game. Smaller players are often not afforded this luxury and there is much more pressure on them to perform early in their careers. It reminds me of the quote from former Australian basketball player and coach Lindsay Gaze when he stated “if you are short, you have two years to prove you are a player. If you are tall, you have 10 years to prove that you aren’t a player”. While height is undoubtedly more important in the sport of basketball, the quote seems to reflect the attitude of those at AFL clubs.
However, there may be hope yet for smaller AFL hopefuls coming through the ranks. There appears to be a re-emergence of shorter players in the game, which was reflected in the number that were selected in last year’s national draft. Ten players under the six foot mark were selected in the first round of the 2011 National Draft. Perhaps this will be a recurring trend in future drafts with the way the game is evolving. With less interchanges and intricate game plans, it is all about a player’s aerobic capacity, speed and skills. Therefore, there will always be room for the pocket-rockets with elite endurance, blinding pace and silky-smooth skills.
After all, they say footy is the game for all shapes and sizes.
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