The debate that will never go away. What is the toughest sport? Highly debatable across the board and tough to decipher, it is a fun discussion to have. Possibly tougher than the sport itself is which is the hardest to be great in. What takes the most skill in becoming a pro? You have to account for so many variables like speed, power, hand eye coordination, mental toughness and physicality.
Debating which of those skills is tougher to obtain is a debate in and of itself.
Then you have to factor in the competition and how you are competing against someone. Is the objective to knock their head off? Is the objective to move them from point A to point B? Is the objective to hit a small object traveling 95 mph at you? Then you have determine which objective weighs more heavy than the other.
For my personal list, I am sticking to more mainstream sports in the US because that is ultimately where I reside and what I feel comfortable enough talking about. Just as a point of reference, I was talking to my buddy about this exact topic several months back. His wife coaches Alpine Skiing and we were talking about the difficulty of that. It probably would rank near the top for me in terms of difficulty. There are a handful of sports like that, which is why I am saying now that I am keeping it relatively mainstream.
Favorite Team: US Women’s National Team
Favorite Athlete: Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Top 3 Athletes: Pele, Maradona, Messi
Starting the list at 10 is futbol because only assholes call it soccer (Rafi bomb). Just because this comes in at number 10 does not make this easy at all. Sports in general are hard, but this is a ranking. Physically speaking, the sport takes endurance and stamina like no other. The only time you get much of a break is when someone goes down. Even when the ball rolls out of bounds, you are moving from one side of the field to the other in anticipation of the team who has possession. It is essentially non stop movement for 45 minutes at a time. That should not be understated here. In addition to needing stamina and endurance, you also need a high level of fast twitch muscles to react should the ball come near you. Constant movement and anticipation plays a large role.
I also find that soccer is one of the most unnatural team sports in terms of the skill set. Not being able to use your upper body or arms to advance the ball is just weird to me. I played a little growing up and it never felt natural for me to use my feet to control a ball, which is why I was usually playing goalie.
Favorite Team: Let’s Dance (My Rec League)
Favorite Athlete: LeBron
Top 3 Athletes: Jordan, LeBron, Billy Hoyle
I think the debate between soccer and basketball is relatively close. I think developing the fundamentals for both sports is incredibly tough. I mentioned soccer being my second favorite and basketball is my favorite by a mile. I love playing. I love watching. Part of my love for the game came in college because of how bad I used to be at it. Couldn’t hit a 3. Couldn’t dribble. The only thing I could do was defend because I would hustle. So I worked on it daily until I was decent and could hang with the people I played against.
As you build to each level, you have to consistently tweak and fine tool your game. I’ll use LeBron as an example here. When he came into the league out of high school, he was a flashy dunker who powered his way to the goal. He quickly learned he needed to develop more. He eventually became one of the best mid range shooters in the league. In the twilight of his career, he lead the league in assists. Constantly fine tweaking.
One of the underrated elements of basketball (as well as soccer) is knowing where to be off the ball and how to create for others. Intelligence and awareness can turn the average into above average. Prior to Kevin Durant, that is what made the Warriors so fun and intriguing to watch. As a team, they move well. Steph Curry is a damn rabbit on the court. He doesn’t stop moving his feet. It’s pass and go. Unfortunately, it’s a lost art for many players.
There are very few guys in the league who can master every element of the game. Lastly, one of the elements that needs to be mentioned with basketball is needing a certain amount of size.
Favorite Athlete: The Fierce Five
Top 3 Athletes: Simone Biles, Nadia Comaneci, Nastia Liukin
I am not going to pretend to know a whole lot about gymnastics. I can tell you this, put some average joe on a balance beam or rings and good luck. From a brute strength and balance standpoint, there is not a sport in the world that can touch it, period. Watching those athletes tumble, flip, twirl and do all these things the body shouldn’t be able to do is not only a sport, it’s a fucking art. To throw your body around with that kind of grace and control is remarkable.
Favorite Team: New York Yankees
Favorite Athlete: Derek Jeter
Top 3 Athletes: Barry Bonds, Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron
Scientifically speaking, hitting a baseball traveling a certain speed should be impossible. Yet, here are humans crushing bombs. I asked my followers the 3 hardest and this commonly was in that top 3. I won’t say pitching is by any stretch easy. However, if hitting is that difficult (which it is) ipso facto, pitching becomes that much less difficult. That being said, you still have to master multiple pitches to be effective at the pro level. It is said you need 3-4 dominant pitches to mix it up. Then you have to be able to spot those pitches.
Much like developing every skill in basketball, I think becoming a five tool player in baseball is difficult. Definitely more difficult than basketball. There are very few who mastered the art of speed, fielding, arm strength, hitting for average and hitting for power.
One of the arguments is it is an individual sport within a team game so to speak. I find baseball is simple in terms of outside factors that can hinder you from achieving your goal. I don’t find base-running or fielding to be extremely complex. Again, it’s not me saying it is easy. But in the confines of the conversation of difficulty among other sports, most of it holds less water.
Because hitting is the primary part of the game, that holds a ton of weight giving it the nod for 7th. After all, it is one of the hardest things to do in sports.
Favorite Team: New Orleans Saints
Favorite Athlete: Tom Brady
Top 3 Athletes: Jerry Rice, Tom Brady, Lawrence Taylor
I mentioned hitting a baseball being one of the hardest things. Arguably the hardest position in all of team sports is Quarterback. Let’s start there. Having to worry about the pre-snap reads to the pass rush to where your receivers are to whether you can make a throw to that receiver all in a matter of 2.5-3 seconds takes a ton of instinct, muscle memory and decision making.
I love the intricacies that come with football. It is the ultimate team game. Each position requires different intangibles and skills. There are so many moving parts to the game that each play is different from the next. Whether we are talking about offensive line, linebackers or secondary, what your opponent does often dictates how you have to react. One misstep leads to a touchdown or QB or RB getting knocked on their ass.
Then of course with it being a heavy contact sport, the toll it takes on your body is a bitch in and of itself. I read a column written by Richard Sherman for the Player’s Tribune 2-3 years ago. He talked about how he never feels 90-100% until the next gameday. Depending on the week, it sometimes isn’t even that.
Then the mental prep of learning playbooks, learning opponents call sheets and the fact that another human is trying to physically impose their will on you can make it hard to maintain self control.
Favorite Athlete: Waluigi in Mario Tennis
Top 3 Athletes: Federer, Nadal, Serena
On average strokes, a tennis ball travels between 70-85 mph. On serves, it travels between 95-130 mph. I mentioned how hitting should be impossible. Same thing can apply to Tennis serves. In order to reach the speed and clear the net, they have to get top spin which basically enacts Newton’s Third Law of Motion. Just a cool little factoid to start it off.
On top of that, tennis players need speed, agility, hand eye coordination, anticipation, endurance and precision on every swing. It’s a fast paced sport where you have to be able to hit a ball from multiple angles. Players have to learn different swings and how to use those swings effectively. Unlike a sport like baseball, you have a small playing surface to get that ball inside of.
While the racket head is bigger than the barrel of a baseball bat, players aren’t standing still hitting a tennis ball. It takes a lot of fast twitch muscle fibers and muscle memory to be consistently good.
Favorite Athlete: Conor McGregor
Top 3 Athletes: Georges St. Pierre, Anderson Silva, Jon Jones
Stepping into a literal cage with someone who wants to try and knock you out or make you quit is a daunting task in and of itself. I had a buddy of mine on my podcast a few months back and we talked about this. I don’t how people can maintain composure after catching a swift kick to the shin or a hook to the jaw. One of the biggest cliches in fighting is don’t fight mad. The reason being that emotional fighters will often lose for being emotional.
One of the great and toughest parts of MMA is the numerous different fighting styles you see. From the standing position, clinch or the ground, there are multiple ways to attack your opponent from those 3 basic positions. Each position has multiple variations of how to attack. That’s what makes it so damn difficult is being able to adjust. If a fighter has a glaring hole in their arsenal, it can become easier to exploit. Becoming an all-around fighter is a tall order to say the least.
Favorite Athlete: Tiger Woods
Top 3 Athletes: Shooter McGavin, Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus
Despite not having any physicality, unless Happy Gilmore is involved, this is one of the toughest sports to master mentally. One stroke can turn a great day into an awful day. It is an easy sport to get inside your own head and completely melt away any reminisce of a decent game you had.
The idea of hitting a 1 inch ball in diameter into a small hole hundreds of yards away with weather being a big factor is a bitch to say the least. Then let’s say you do get a good shot and you’re now putting. Now, you have to read the green and hit from the right angle with just the right amount of touch behind your putt.
Technically speaking, it is one of the hardest sports to master and it is certainly one of the most frustrating.
Side story, I played a round with my dad maybe 3-4 years ago. I quit by the 8th hole after losing about 10-12 balls. So I just started drinking and watching enjoying the company with the old fart.
Favorite Athlete: Gordon Bombay
Top 3 Athletes: Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Gunner Stahl
Hockey is fucking brutal, period. Let’s put this into dumbed down terms. Players are skating around on sharpened knives pushing a puck as hard as a rock while getting leveled by the opponents who sometimes skate higher than 20 mph.
ESPN Sports Science did a study that concluded that hockey players are hit 17% harder than football. Not only are they hit harder, they get hit more frequently. There is of course the stereotype that hockey players don’t have teeth. I remember in NHL 2k5, you literally got to pick which teeth you wanted removed in the create a player section.
The idea of moving that fast on a sheet of ice, maintaining control of yourself and handling a puck is pretty insane. Now throw in your opponents wanting to send you flying into another dimension and onto the ice.
Favorite Athlete: Muhammad Ali
Top 3 Athletes: Muhammad Ali, Rocky Balboa, Sugar Ray Robinson
Speed, power, durability, endurance and strength. Boxing is a bitch. The long debate is boxing or MMA. Personally, I don’t think it is particularly close.
While MMA fighters get hurt more frequently, boxers’ sustain more serious injuries more frequently. They are more likely to lose conciseness during a bout as well.
Being able to withstand someone trying to take your head off for 12 rounds is exhausting. The stamina boxers need is possibly tougher than any other sports because you have to account for the fact they are also absorbing body shots. The side of boxing that makes it harder than a similar sport like MMA to me is the frustration of not landing punches on someone. As much as I loathe him, Floyd Mayweather is one of the best to ever grace a ring because you couldn’t touch the guy. His defense is remarkable. That leads to frustration or having to go for the knockout late in the fight because you can’t win on points.
That leads to another discussion, changing up the game-plan. You’re limited in how you can approach boxing versus MMA. Essentially you are talking about two guys who are trained in the same arena of thought, punching. If you are a bigger fighter, you’re not going to try and go inside with Manny Pacquiao. If you’re Manny Pacquiao, you’re not fighting outside in versus Oscar De La Hoya. No, he beat him going inside out.
There isn’t the room for standing back further and kicking your opponent nor taking them the ground, there is only punch or be punched.
One of the glaring omissions that I know a select few will probably give me shit for is wrestling. I am not denying the difficulty of it. I think the training that goes into the sport is probably more difficult than the actual sport. The injury factor is a bitch. Some of the more gruesome injuries I have seen come from wrestling. At the high school level, I believe wrestling easily walks away with the title for most difficult. Asking a teen to train as rigorously and maintain a certain weight, fuck that.
This list can obviously have many forms and is completely open for debate, which is why it is ultimately one of the most fun topics of discussion. This isn’t a simple discussion. Feel free to comment your reasons on why something should be higher or lower or give your own list.