Physical Training Dec 2009
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A Comparative Study for Flexibility and Jumping Ability Between Young Basketball and Soccer Players

Theoharopoulos A., Garefis A., Galazoulas Ch., Tsitskaris G.
Aristotle University of Thessaloniki
Department of Physical Education & Sports Sciences
Thessaloniki, 57001Greece.
Corresponding author:
Christos Galazoulas Phd
Department of Physical Education and Sports Science,
Aristotle University of Thessaloniki,
Thessaloniki, Greece.
Tel. +302310 9922481


Objective: The purpose of this study was to compare soccer and basketball players’ physical condition at the ages of 13 until 16 years old.

Flexibility (sit & reach test) and jumping ability tests (squat jump, counter movement jump, counter movement jump with arm swing using the force platform by Bosco) were made in a total sample of 327 athletes (179 soccer players and 148 basketball players). Comparisons between these two sports took place, in each of the groups based on age (13, 14, 15, 16, years old).

Statistical analysis showed significant differences between soccer and basketball athletes at flexibility and jumping ability, mostly at the age of 15. In all tests, mean values were in favor of soccer players.

The present study supports the conclusion that at the ages of 13 to 16, soccer players seem to have much better physical condition compared to basketball players at parameters such as flexibility and lower limb muscle strength. Further research should be made taking into consideration the type and load of training, as well as the level of growth of the athletes at these ages.

Key words: soccer, basketball, flexibility, jumping ability, age.


There is a great number of athletes that play basketball and soccer today, which leads to the assumption that these two sports are among the most popular in the world. 

Basketball and soccer are dynamic sports that demand an intensive load of training to satisfy the high demands placed.

The training program of these two sports theoretically is different, based on the fact that during action, basketball and soccer appear different. Additionally, some somatomorphic characteristics that affect performance are evident in each sport, such us for example height, or hand-eye coordination in basketball (Berg & Latin, 1995).

It must also be emphasized that besides the differences, these two sports present some important similarities in their kinetic characteristics, such as starting, jumping, feinting or sprinting for small distances (Zakas, Mandroykas, Vamvakoudis, Christoulas, Agelopou-lou, 1995). Furthermore, athletic abilities such as coordination, agility, flexibility and power are very important in both sports (Berg & Latin, 1995). Those kinetic characteristics, demand highly developed muscle power of the lower limbs, as well as flexibility for better movement and injury prevention.  

The lower limbs’ muscle power is known as one the most important factors that determine an athlete’s physical condition and as a result successful performance (Housh, Thorland, Tharp, Johnson, Cisar, 1984). 

In past research, vertical jumping ability was considered to be a vital parameter for athletes’ physical condition (Bisschop, Darot, & Ferry, 1998, Woodfork, 1998, Piastra, Capanna, Cipolloni, Lazzini, & Bondi, 1998, Tamer, Ugras, Buyukyazi, Ozkara, & Kutay, 1997, Sidhu & Badhot, 1981, Raven, Gettman, Pollock, 1976, Thomas & Reily, 1979), since it describes the level of lower limb muscle strength, especially in those sports that require performing a movement at maximum speed, as is basketball and soccer.  

It must be stressed that jumping ability controls only the power-speed ability, because for achieving peak strength in high velocities such as jumping, landing or defensive movement, better coordination is needed as well as the use of high contraction kinetic units type II (Theorstensson & Karlsson, 1976, Coyle et al, 1981).

The most valid way of measuring and evaluating lower limb power is a maximum vertical jump performed in two different ways. First from the squat static position and secondly from the standing position with a counter movement (Asley & Weiss, 1994, Bosco, 1979, Kraemer & Newton, 1994, Mayhew, Bemben, Rohrs & Bemben, 1994). 

Another important factor that describes an athlete’s physical condition is also flexibility. Besides the fact that flexibility is very important for athletic performance, it is also highly correlated to athletes jumping ability and as a result with lower limbs strength (Lee, Etnyre, Poindexter, Sokol, &Toon, 1989) and therefore the reason that flexibility is a factor concluded in most research studies that describe physical condition (Naughton, & Carlson, 1991, Nig & Maitland, 2001, Tamer et al., 1997, Roesch, et al., 2000, Stone, & Steingard, 1993, Bisschop, et al., 1998 ). 

Gilliam and colleagues (1979), concluded that each sport has specific demands in each of the physical condition variables, and thus, provided a logical basis on why these variables differ from one sport to another. In the past studies concluded that the values of physical condition parameters are highly correlated with the type of sport, age, sex as well as with the division that athletes compete producing different measures for muscle strength and flexibility (Kellis et al., 1999, Zakas et al., 1995, Bisschop et al., 1998, Piastra et al., 1998,)

Surprisingly very few studies were concerned with the physical condition level of athletes that participate in soccer and basketball, even though these sports are enormously popular throughout the world. Most studies in the past were simply descriptive, using small samples of athletes (Ārnold, Brown, & Micheli, 1980, Clarke, Wrenn, & Vaccaro, 1979, McDavid, 1977, Parr, Wilmore, Hoover, Bachman, & Kerlan, 1978, Vaccaro, Wrenn, & Clarke 1980, Wickhiser, & Kelly, 1975).

Additionally, these samples consisted mainly by adults, or professional, and National level athletes (Zakas et al., 1993, Berg, & Latin, 1995, Bisschop, et al., 1998, Sidhu, et al., 1981). 

The effects of training in muscle strength and flexibility variables, for soccer and basketball athletes during adolescence, are still a research topic that has not been thoroughly studied yet.

The purposes of this study were to measure flexibility and lower limb muscle strength in soccer and basketball players and compare the different age groups between the ages of thirteen and sixteen.


Sample: The sample of this study consisted of 327 soccer and basketball athletes, members of very well organized and highly competitive teams of Thessaloniki, Greece, from the ages of 13 until 16 years old. From these athletes, 179 were soccer players (13 years old: 41 athletes, 14 years old: 63 athletes, 15 years old: 43 athletes and finally 16 years old: 32 athletes), and 148 basketball athletes (13 years old: 30 athletes, 14 years old: 50 athletes, 15 years old: 45 athletes and 16 years old: 23 athletes)

Selection: The sample was stratified to achieve better homogeneity of physical characteristics, and technical ability level. It is noticeable that these athletes were also under an intensive load of training during their daily practice. 

Measurement: The tests performed, measured two of the most important parameters that define physical condition: a) flexibility and b) lower limb muscle strength.

The sit and reach test which measures range of motion (Liemohn, et al., 1994, Jackson, & Baker, 1986) was used to test athletes’ flexibility. For lower limb muscle strength (power-speed), three different jumping ability tests took place using the electronic device of the force platform by Bosco (Bosco, Luhtanen & Komi, 1983).

These tests were: 1.squat jump, 2. counter movement jump, and c. counter movement jump with arm swing. Only one trial was accepted in which athletes gave the best of their effort. 

Counter movement jump
Picture.1 Counter movement jump.


Comparisons of the flexibility and jumping ability test values was conducted, between soccer and basketball athletes in each of the groups based on age (13,14,15, and 16 years old). For data analysis, t-test for independent samples was used with a significance level of p<.05.

The main assumption of this study was that the values of flexibility and jumping ability between soccer and basketball players present no statistically significant difference. As a result, training styles as well as the demands of its sport, are not responsible for variation and differences in these age groups in the level of flexibility and lower limbs power-speed ability. 


The results of this study showed that differences existed between soccer and basketball players in flexibility and lower limbs power-speed values.

Statistical analysis for flexibility showed significant differences between soccer and basketball players in the ages of 16 (sig=.530, p<.004), 15 (sig=.318, p<.002), 14 (sig=.219, p<.000) and 13 years old (sig=.828, p<.001). In all cases, mean values were in favor of soccer players.

Regarding the lower limbs power-speed ability level based on the force platform of Bosco, statistical analysis illustrated that significant differences existed for: a. The squat jump in the age of 15 (sig=.029, p<.003), b. The counter movement jump in the ages of 15 (sig=.034, p<.001) and 14 (sig=.168, p<.010) and finally c. the counter movement jump with arm swing in the age of 15 (sig=.467, p<.001). Again in all cases the mean values were in favor of soccer players.

Table.1. Mean values for flexibility and jumping ability tests at both sports and all ages.
Squat jumpCounter movement jumpCounter movement jump
with arm swing
Sit and reach
Football 13old26.27




Basketball 13old
Football 14old32.85




Basketball 14old
Football 15old32.79*




Basketball 15old
Football 16old34.29




Basketball 16old
* Significant difference (p<.05)

Furthermore, it appeared that in all cases and at all ages the values registered, presented to be higher for soccer players, especially in the age of 15 years old, where the differences appeared to be higher. This phenomenon was even more evident for flexibility (figures1,2,3,4).

Fig 1
Figure.1 Squat jump test mean values
Fig 2
Counter movement jump mean values
Fig 3
Figure.3 Counter movement jump with arm
swing mean values
Fig 4
Sit and reach test mean values



Despite the fact that basketball and soccer seem to have several similarities during competition in parameters such as jumping, starting, sprinting for small distances and conditioning, demands in athletic abilities such as speed, power, agility and coordination, present differences in training. Until now it could not have been said that this difference could affect the level of athletes’ physical condition in those sports, especially in the ages that this study is concerned with.

For flexibility alone, the greatest differences that were observed in the present study between soccer and basketball players, may lead to the conclusion that little concern is given for flexibility improvement through practice in young basketball players. Even though the test values present some improvement as the athletes become older (Docherty & Beel, 1985), the mean values for basketball players performing the sit and reach test are considered to be generally low.

A low flexibility level of basketball players was recorded in previous studies testing professional athletes and/or adults in other sports (Nig, & Maitland, 2001, Dopsaj, 1993, Bisschop, et al., 1998). Naughton & Carlson (1991) also, demonstrated that basketball players showed the smallest improvement from any other athlete after a program with emphasis on flexibility. 
A factor that should not be overlooked is that the somatomoprhic characteristics of the athletes play an important role in flexibility. Height is of greatest importance in this case, since basketball players probably present the highest mean values compared to most sports.

It is also known that height plays a suppressive role in the improvement of flexibility in basketball. This phenomenon is more immense during adolescence, which is the focus of this study. Growth factors in the age of 15 present rapid changes, something that influences muscles’ strength and flexibility. (O’ Neil & Micheli, 1988). Especially in basketball this phenomenon seems to play a greater role, as it appears from the results of the present study. 

It was stated earlier that flexibility has a positive correlation with athletes’ jumping ability (Lee et al, 1989). The results of this study seem to agree with aforementioned statement, since significant differences appeared also for jumping ability values between basketball and soccer athletes, mainly at the age group of 15 year olds.

It has been proved in the past with the use of isokinetic tests at slow velocities testing lower limb strength, that basketball players were more powerful than any other athlete (Imwold, et al., 1983, Zakas, et al., 1995, Zakas, et al., 1993). Based on their somatomorphic characteristics that seem to be quite logical (big athletes).

On the contrary, in some other studies, basketball and soccer athletes presented lower values in lower limbs’ strength compared to other sports (Bisschop, et al., 1998, Berg, & Latin, 1995, Kinrkendall, 1986). In those studies the sample population was adults and not children. 

In the present study, it is evident that training may affect lower limb muscle strength in these two sports, especially, in the ages of 14 and 15, where the values of the jumping ability were in favor of soccer players.

Soccer players appeared to be stronger also in a study by Sidhu & Badhot (1991), except that in this case the sample consisted of professional athletes.  

Jumping ability describes power-speed ability and not relative strength. Based on Zaka, (1993), it appears that this ability can not be affected dramatically by the training practices. As a conclusion the results of this study may not become because of training exclusively

It is possible that the inhibiting factor that affects these results is no other than the “rapid growth” of basketball players at those ages. Growth combined with low flexibility levels leads to low values of power-speed ability especially when compared to soccer players. 


A conclusion supported by the evidence of the present study is that at the ages of 13 to 16, soccer players seem to have a much better physical condition compared to basketball players at parameters such as flexibility and lower limb muscle strength.

The influence of training practice in the present study measurements cannot be described accurately in both sports. Different conclusions could be presented, only if an examination of the type and load of training practice in both sports is recorded. Furthermore, it should be stressed that an examination of the somatomophic characteristic changes on the subjects during these ages could also affect the results. Hence, only if these variables that significantly affect flexibility and lower limb strength are thoroughly examined the results would be more meticulous.  


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