My Perspective on Being an “Undersized” Athlete Has Changed


Tatum Herrin

Being part of the “undersized” category creates extra challenges for for athletes, but hard work can always bring positive results. Staff illustration: Tatum Herrin.

Annie Stent, Staff Writer

In sports, bigger is better — or at least that’s how it feels to me. I always thought I was tall at five-foot-nine-inches, but as a volleyball player, I’m technically undersized. I am tall, just not for volleyball. 

I am a middle blocker, so I constantly move from sideline to sideline to stop balls from crossing the net. The best middle blockers are typically around six feet tall.

Division I volleyball programs like Wisconsin University select middle blockers ranging from 6-foot-2-inches to 6-foot-9-inches. Even Division II and III programs like Lewis University and Johns Hopkins University have middles from 5-foot-10-inches to 6-foot-2-inches. 

The height requirements are also pretty visible at the high school and club level. My teammate is 6-foot-1-inch, and I go up against her every night in practice. I see her advantage: if we did everything exactly the same, she gets priority because her height intimidates other teams and gives her an edge. 

For a while, this height advantage was incredibly frustrating and angered me. However, as I got older and better understood the game, this discrepancy made sense. 

So instead of deciding that any extra work was pointless because of my height barrier, I worked. Being “undersized” now motivates me. I can’t magically grow to be the “right” height — and I’ve never been a naturally high jumper — but I can put in work to jump higher.

During the lockdown in March 2020, I started using my extra time to weight train. I’m lucky that my dad is a personal trainer and certified weight-lifting coach, so I have a lot of resources just in my garage.

Working for more strength motivated me. I felt more in control of who I was as a player, even if I was “small” I could work to be more athletic and explosive. Seeing results motivates me even more; little changes make me want to keep going, keep working. 

Despite all this extra time and work, I still see taller players — who are of course working hard — automatically having an advantage over me. Sometimes I feel that my extra hard work is not worth the time and does not make a difference, but I know it does.

There are always going to be people who are bigger, faster and stronger than me, but that just means I can play with a chip on my shoulder. A chip that drives me because I know that being “small,” I have to prove my worth in other ways, like hard work and commitment. I’ve had to put my ego aside to accept that, and I’ve learned that all I can do is work my hardest.