Athleticism and body type

Why one size doesn’t fit one sport

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In my collegiate running career, I have lost count of the number of times I’ve been approached and asked if I’m either a soccer or a field hockey player. When I inform them I’m a distance runner, I’m typically confronted with a puzzled look, a surprised “oh,” or a doubtful “really?” Cross country, track and field — and more importantly, every single sport — are not limited by a “one size fits one sport” criteria. Attributing particular body types to sports results in false boundaries of what our bodies can do or what we’ll excel at. This emphasized attention and focus to body types and body weight can also contribute to the development of eating disorders.

Certain sports are particularly associated with eating disorders. In a study referenced by the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), more than one-third of female athletes examplified attitudes and symptoms which demonstrated risk for anorexia nervosa. Notably, risk factors by NEDA include sports that emphasize aesthetics, focus on the individual, in particular endurance sports and the prevailing belief that a lower body weight can result in an improvement in performance.

Unfortunately, distance running combines every single one of the aforementioned risk factors. This season, our cross country coaches brought in a nutritionist to speak with our men’s and women’s teams during preseason. The presentation focused on how to properly fuel our bodies and how to establish positive food habits. The nutritionist warned against eliminating particular food groups or foods, and encouraged us to “listen to our bodies” and eat when hungry.

On a national stage, Lauren Fleshman, previous professional runner, NCAA champion, USA Track and Field champion, who placed seventh at the 2011 World Championships in the 5K, has openly addressed eating disorders on multiple platforms. Fleshman has written about eating disorders within the sport on her personal website, asklaurenfleshman.com, in addition to discussing eating disorders in a podcast with Dr. Melody Moore, a clinical psychologist with a focus on eating disorders. It’s encouraging to see attention and efforts to educate student athletes about eating disorders and develope positive dietary habits, especially in a sport I am personally involved with at Muhlenberg, and also on a national scale by spokespeople such as Lauren Fleshman.

The other day, watching the Yankees and Astros game, my boyfriend commented on how a particular player, José Altuve, was not expected to “make it” on the professional level; he was considered too short to excel at such an elite level. In the midst of working on this article, I immediately challenged his assertion — what did height have to do with baseball? How could height solely dictate and encompass all ability in a sport influenced by reflexes, strength, coordination and so much more? As it turns out, José Altuve is the shortest baseball player actively playing within the MLB, recording a height of 5 feet and 6 inches. In 2017, Altuve recorded a remarkable .346 batting average.

No matter the sport, comments stereotyping a particular body type to a sport can be harmful, discouraging, and limiting. Athletic ability is not determined by a number on a scale, the perceptibility of muscle, or a overall body-type. There are short volleyball and short basketball players, thin and lanky soccer players, built and muscular distance runners and everything in between.

We care about how we look; personally, our self-image matters in addition to our body image and how we appear to others. It’s important to foster acceptance of body types — short, tall, strong, thin, defined, undefined — and to focus on the ability in sport, and not necessarily the aesthetic. It’s essential to recognize the appreciation of your body to do what you love, your sport, with the people you love, your team and to refrain from attributing a particular body type to a particular sport. After all, sports are not limited by a “one size fits one sport” criteria.

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