Is Being Tall a Prerequisite for Being a Good Volleyball Player?

“The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses- behind the lines, in the gym and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.”

~Muhammad Ali


The simple answer is no.

From the day I started experiencing success in volleyball, there were murmurs that it was because of my height. It’s fair to say that being a 6’5” woman makes me unique, especially when I was a young girl playing club volleyball in Ontario. As I’ve progressed through the different stages of the sport, however, the average height of the players has increased with the level, so now it’s not unusual for me to play with and against girls who are my size or bigger on a regular basis. I still hear those murmurs, though. Comments like, “It’s unfair for you to be playing! Look how much bigger you are!” or “Of course she’s got that block. She’s the tallest player!” are way too common. I just wanted to set the record straight, for both tall and small players who have made a mark in the volleyball world.

There are many different skills involved in volleyball. Some require being able to reach high or far over the net. Others require being able to move low to the ground or have a quick reaction time. See what I’m getting at? There are skills that are easier for a tall person to execute, and there are some that are easier for a small person to execute, simply based on the specific nature of the skill. Being an all-around talented volleyball player requires athleticism and being able to perform a varied repertoire of skills- not just the ones conducive to one’s body structure. For example, my height may help me when I am attacking or blocking (if I’m doing it properly and reaching over the net), but it can be a barrier at other times, like when I am playing defense or moving low in the sand. Vice versa for smaller athletes. At the end of the day, skill is skill. Knowledgable spectators should be equally impressed watching a tall player make some great defensive plays as they are seeing a small player skilfully attack off the block. Period.

When I hear the types of comments that I mentioned above, I take offense because they imply that my success is due to my height, and they discredit the years of work and dedication I have put into my craft. They make it seem that my success was a gift, handed to me in the form of height, instead of something that I worked my ass off for every single day. Anyone who has ever seen me play has only seen the end product; they see the tournament play, or the Olympic Games. No one sees the blood, sweat, and (sometimes) tears that occur far away from witnesses’ eyes.

When I was a young club volleyball player, I often went into the gym and practiced alone. I played for a couple different age levels and had several practices per week, and I played high school sports, but at least once per week I went into the gym alone with my dad. I did it to fine-tune my passing skills, or to work on hitting the sharp angle from the left side, or to consistently hit an effective short serve. I never told anyone I was doing it; I just wanted to be the best, and I wanted to do whatever it took to make it happen. Even now, I do the same thing. If I’m not feeling great about a particular skill or movement, I get my coach out on the sand for extra individual practice, whether that means going out for a second practice that same day, or going out early at a tournament before anyone else is using the courts.

It is much easier for people to attribute another person’s success to luck than it is to look in the mirror and be honest with themselves about why they aren’t in the same position. As I’ve gotten older, I have learned that unsuccessful people believe in the power of luck much more than successful people do, because the ones who go far have put the work in to get there. They have done what it takes to get to the next level, and know that hard work and dedication are the answers. If you have goals and dreams you are striving for, don’t ever let someone set limitations on what you can accomplish. By the same token, if you are experiencing success, don’t let anyone try to bring you down and explain away your hard work and perseverance. In both cases, those are just their own insecurities talking.

Am I a good volleyball player because I’m tall? Absolutely not. I have had success in the sport because I work when everyone else is resting. I set goals for every single thing I do. I visualize myself executing skills and winning. I take care of my body. I never skip a workout. I hold myself accountable at all times. These are reasons why I am a good volleyball player, and not one of them has anything to do with my height. They are reasons why you can be a good volleyball player too. Be you, and work hard.

xo, Sarah



  • Ivan February 26, 2017 at 1:09 pm

    You may not be good because you’re just tall, but you were definitely afforded more opportunities over your shorter counterparts. And let’s be serious, being tall is a prerequisite for success for volleyball Canada.

    • Sarah Pavan February 26, 2017 at 1:41 pm

      I never denied that my height helped me get opportunities to pursue the absolute highest levels of the sport, but that is not the scope of the post. I am saying that being a “good” volleyball player, and pursuing a university or college career, and even further, does not necessarily require someone to be tall. For that matter, some very good Team Canada athletes have been considered short. Dustin Schneider, who set for our men’s team for many years, is only 5’10”, which is considered very small for a men’s player. Dan Lewis is considered short as well. Internationally, there are many short athletes who are considered to be some of the best in the world. Some places may over-emphasize height, but it is definitely not required to be a good volleyball player.

      • Joe March 22, 2017 at 10:18 am

        No worries… all the short players under 6.2′ can play setter or libero in University+ lol.

  • Cynthia September 7, 2017 at 4:20 pm

    Unfortunately, too many people only see the big hit or big block while overlooking the outstanding dig that started the play. Additionally, shorter players generally have less opportunities at the college level because they go unnoticed when compared with the taller players. Short or tall, effort and dedication are necessary components of success. We all only have 24 hours in a day, and how we use those hours matters, but it seems like some people are given the time of day because of their physical attributes.

  • Anonymous October 4, 2017 at 8:05 pm

    You don’t need to be tall to play Volleyball. I know a 16-year-old boy in High School who plays Middle Blocker and gives even 6′ 5″ people a hard time. This proves that height isn’t needed. It’s definitely a strength and a bonus, but it’s not a requirement. All you need is the skill and passion for Volleyball, and that will drive you to win.


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