It happens all the time. You sit down to the TV, flick on a sports channel, and think to yourself, “What is this guy doing? I could do better than that.” Whether it’s the Olympics, the World Cup, or the World Series, sometimes it seems like even professional athletes struggle to get the job done.
This is the beauty of sports. They’re maddeningly difficult. So much so that entire leagues and franchises are built around watching experts compete to do them the best. And when professional athletes still struggle to complete the most basic of plays, you have to ask yourself, what makes this so hard? Is it the intense competition or the difficulty of the goal?
Well today, we’re going to take that question one step further to answer an even bigger one: What makes some sports so much harder than others? So we’re setting out to do the impossible — figuring out which sport is the most difficult to master.
There are infinite criteria we could judge this list on, and everything from weather to personal injury risk levels could play a role in what makes a sport difficult. For the purposes of this countdown, we’re looking at two major factors:
These factors are endlessly debatable so remember this is just one blog’s humble opinion.
Let’s get to it. These are the top five most difficult sports to play, based on our estimation of endurance and skill.
We’re starting with a hot take because that’s how we like to do things around here. Okay, we will grant that golfers are not necessarily the pinnacle of the athletic body. But what they lack in physicality, they more than make up for in skill.
Let’s consider what’s being asked of a golfer every time they step up to the tee. They have to put a small ball in a hole hundreds of yards away using only their forearm strength and best-guessed estimations of how to get it there. That any golfer can do it in less than four strokes is astounding. What’s more, they have to do it over 18 holes and several rounds of play, making it a game of mental endurance that few can master.
Sorry not sorry: Golf is our number five pick.
On the complete opposite end of the spectrum is rugby, our choice for the fourth hardest sport to play. Football requires its players to pad up with equipment to protect their heads, legs, and internal organs from injury. Rugby just kind of shrugs, throws a mouthguard and a cap at its athletes, and says, “go.”
Without any protection, the players are still required to push all of their body weight against the other team to secure the ball. Furthermore, rugby has no timeouts or even natural breaks in gameplay. The sport requires all-out endurance, physical strength, and outright fortitude, as the only way to push the ball towards the try zone is to pass it backward.
Rugby is an extremely difficult sport to play but is so much fun to watch. If you’re looking to get into a European mainstay sport, you may just want to stick to soccer.
If you even think about @ing us over gymnastics not being a sport, see yourself out. Gymnastics is one of the most-watched Olympic competitions because it’s unthinkably strenuous on its athletes.
Let’s set aside, for a moment, the flexibility, strength, precision, adaptability, balance, and coordination required of gymnasts and just focus on the mental toughness. Gymnasts ostensibly get one shot at winning their meets. After hours and hours of practice, proving yourself as a podium-worthy gymnast ultimately comes down to whether you can withstand the pressure. To us, that makes it one of the most demanding sports ever played.
Sure, you can point to the definition of gymnasts’ muscles to prove just how hard they work, but for us, it’s all in the eyes — laser focus.
Many sports ask their players to complete one simple task: Put the ball in the net. Now imagine the ball is small. Like three inches small. Imagine the goal is small too, just 72 inches across and guarded by a heavily padded Russian. Imagine the only tool you can use to get the ball into the net is a wooden stick. Oh, and did we mention you’re on ice?
Welcome to hockey. When you think about it like that, it’s a miracle that anyone makes a goal in this sport, but it happens, and at speeds the mind can’t even fathom.
In addition to being difficult and dangerous, professional hockey is also incredibly competitive, with only 11% of the roughly 35,000 high school players in America going on to play hockey in college and 6.8% reaching the NHL.
Love hockey? Check out our defunct hockey teams t-shirt collections to pay tribute to the legends of the ice.
Hockey players have to manage skating while trying to make their goals. Water polo players have to manage treading water. Our number one selection for the most difficult sport to play is water polo.
This game is the perfect match-up of endurance and skill. The sheer amount of core strength it takes to propel yourself out of the water and accurately throw a ball into a guarded goal is one thing. All-out swimming for 32 minutes is another.
Water polo players have to regularly sprint from one side of the pool to the other, block other players in a surprisingly physical manner, and do their best not to swallow too much water. It’s wildly impressive to watch and by far the most difficult sport to master.
We couldn’t push send on this blog post without mentioning football. While the endurance levels required of most football players keep the sport out of contention here, we have to point out the skill and stamina at play in America’s biggest game.
Football players have to endure brute force like few other sports out there, slamming their bodies into each other with frightening strength. Quarterbacks must act as quick-thinking mathematicians, throwing the pigskin with precision and facing the threat of an imminent sack. In short, football is hard. Just not the hardest.
Our collection of defunct football team merchandise is full of deep cuts for diehard local fans. Scroll through and see which teams you remember.
The truth is you could make an argument for nearly every sport to appear on this list. Table tennis, boxing, and lacrosse all probably deserve a spot.
With so many prospective athletes rising through the ranks of college play to professional franchises, the gameplay is only becoming more and more rigorous. And as our shot at professional sports probably went out the window around high school, we’re just happy to watch everyone level up from the bleachers.
If you’re with us, browse through our selection of t-shirts and merchandise, proudly dedicated to rooting for the home team.