December 7, 2010

What are the hardest sports?

I finally dug up the old table I'd heard about from Letter from Gotham ranking dozens of sports on dozens of different "performance factors." It looks like it goes back to James Nicholas's 1975 study in the Journal of Sports Medicine.

I was going to accuse it of being subjective, but then I noticed that the least hard sport according to Nicholas, hiking, is the sport I least dodge doing.

36 comments:

Anonymous said...

surfing harder than rugby? Ha ha ha ha.

Anonymous said...

No wrestling? That invalidates the list entirely.

Wrestling is an Olympic sport. It's brutal. In any sport, has there been a physical and mental specimen like Alexander Karelin?

stari_momak said...

How can they even rank football, given the extreme specialization in positions? Even the categories are suspect. Endurance for a professional cyclist in the Tour de France means something entirely different than 'endurance' for an American football player.

Anonymous said...

The hardest sport is either baseball or golf.

Dan in DC

stari_momak said...

Tangential... but couldn't the tests used by football coaches at combines -- the 40 yard dash, vertical jump, etc. theoretically come in for 'disparate impact' treatment?

Anonymous said...

So ballet is the hardest sport? That's probably true if you consider ballet to be a sport, though I don't consider it to be one.

Justin said...

Ballet and Bullfighting equal??? Both one point behind American football??? WTF, come on. STUPID

Anonymous said...

That table contains too many completely insane rankings. In "Neuromuscular and Physical Factors" baseball and volleyball higher than badminton? WTF? Badminton is up there with ice hockey as one of the most physically tiring game sports. Cricket is rated harder than canoeing? LOL. OK, so maybe the NEUROmuscular has higher weight. But if so then billiards should not be only barely above hiking.

The list is stupid, that's all there is there.

Nanonymous said...

Steve, the list you link to is very obviously totally imbecilic. ESPN has a list that is quite reasonable:

http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/sportSkills?sort=total_rank#grid

Not that I agree with all of ESPN's rankings, but at least it, unlike "your" list, is grounded in reality.

Steve Sailer said...

"The list is stupid, that's all there is there."

Right, so my going hiking is the equivalent of being a matador, except you get to wear more comfortable clothes.

Jody said...

I like nano's list much better. Ballet is tougher than boxing? Really? Tougher than a sport where the object is to pummel your opponent unconscious?

Even using Steve's "which would I rather do" criterion - would you rather dance ballet with Mila Kunis for 45 minutes or go fifteen rounds with Mike Tyson (or pick the boxer of your choice)?

This may be horribly sexist, but as a first order approximation, if a little girls excel at it, it can't be that physically demanding of a sport.

Dahinda said...

"Badminton is up there with ice hockey as one of the most physically tiring game sports."

I read an article a long time ago that said that badminton caused more heart attacks than any other sport.

slumber_j said...

The Spanish don't consider bullfighting a sport. And they ought to know.

slumber_j said...

Is coal mining a sport? How about hot-tar roofing?

europeasant said...

What, no weightlifting (Olympic or power styles?). That list needs further input from some real sports people.

The Anti-Gnostic said...

These are difficult lists to put together. I've played rugby, football, tennis, soccer and golf and I've surfed, hiked and run track. Rugby was clearly the "hardest" in terms of pushing me to the combined limits of strength, speed, endurance and ability to think on one's feet. I'd rank tennis right up there as well. In terms of its ultimate metric--par--golf was the "hardest," but only in the sense that it's "hard" to juggle too.

Anonymous said...

Objectively the hardest sport is "Ninja Warrior".

It is also the most hilarious sport. The fact that one of it's biggest stars of recent years - Mr. Octopus - competes with an octopus on his head has blinded many to just how impossibly difficult it is.

For those who are not familiar this sport let me summarize. It is an obstacle course in five stages. It has been held annually in Japan for about a decade. It is open to all - men and women, young and old. Thousands have competed but only three Japanese men have ever completed the course. In most years no one will get beyond the third round.

It would be as if in a full season of baseball every game was a shutout and the pennant winner was the team that once got a runner to third. Or a football game in which the "cheese heads" in the stands got to take a snap on the field.

The next hardest sport is probably "World's Strongest Man".

These "made for TV" sports are hard because they have been designed to be hard (and bizarre). Traditional sports like baseball, football, and basketball were designed in the 1870s to be easy enough for typical school or town groups.

Raise the pitcher's mound a foot, add another five feet to the base paths, and put the fences at 700 feet and baseball will be so hard that there will be no hits, stolen bases or home runs. Raise the basket to fifteen feet and there won't be any more dunks, etc.

Sports are a collection of arbitrary rules. Baseball, football and basketball are have rules to make them easy. Ninja Warrior is designed to be hard.

Albertosaurus

Peter A said...

"surfing harder than rugby?"

When was the last time anyone drowned playing rugby? Or got eaten by a shark?

BamaResident said...

This list is weird. It includes hiking and swimming as sports but not running/track? Decathlons should be included too.

Dutch Boy said...

Anonymous said...

No wrestling? That invalidates the list entirely.

Wrestling is an Olympic sport. It's brutal. In any sport, has there been a physical and mental specimen like Alexander Karelin?

Amen, brother!

Anonymous said...

Bullfighting, at least for the bull.

Anonymous said...

I grew up playing football, basketball, baseball, lacrosse, rugby, swim team, tennis and golf. When I got to college I played water polo. It is BY FAR the most exhausting thing I have ever done.

Anonymous said...

Professional wrestling. (If you can call it a sport). The toll it takes on the bodies of its members is just incredible.

Anonymous said...

This comment thread reminds me of the blue curtain that used to hang in the Rice University gymnasium. When Rice was playing its home basketball games at Autry Court, the TV cameras could get a glimpse of the badminton games going on on the other side of the curtain. Two different worlds.

Justin said...

I will agree with the above commenters on the astoundingly exhausting demands of badminton. Swimming sports come in second, wrestling third, basketball behind them. Rugby and football are very distant behind those sports.

jody said...

guess it depends on what "hardest" means.

Wandrin said...

"Objectively the hardest sport is "Ninja Warrior"."


Hunting Ninja elephants is hardest.

John Craig said...

These lists are always absurd. You'll hear arguments from time to time about which sport's athletes are in the "best shape"; I overheard some idiot at my local gym expounding on how cross country skiers were the best athletes just last week. The only logical answer is that a certain sport's athletes are in the best shape -- for that sport.

Put a competitor in the World's Strongest Man Competition in the Tour de France and he wouldn't last a day. But put a Tour de France competitor in the World's Strongest Man competition and he'd look like the weakling he is.

Twenty years ago when Matt Biondi, the Olympic champion swimmer, participated in the Superstars competition. When he ran the 100 meter dash he looked like a big, ungainly stork, especially next to all the black NFL players. But most of those NFL players looked as if they were drowning when they had to swim the 50 yard freestyle.

It's a little like trying to compare the relative merits of Beethoven and Shakespeare.

I say let's drop the discussion.

Bob Mathias said...

Agreed that wrestling, water polo, and decathalon should be listed and come near or on the top.

Highly specialized team sports like football need to break out items by position. This list credits all football players with the top abilities of every position.

It's equally invalid to only count take the slowness of the OL, low intelligence of the RBs and strength of WR than the speed of WR, strength of OL and rapid intelligence of QB.

Saint Louis said...

As someone already said, it's tough to rank some sports when you have mny different positions. E.g. quarterback is probably one of the most intellectually demanding positions of any sport; place-kicking, not so much.

Also, how exactly does swimming demand more intelligence than billiards? Billiards (at least if you want to play well) requires some basic understanding of geometry and physics. Swimming definitely requires strength and skill and stamina, but not smarts.

Paul Mendez said...

Why aren't any shooting sports on the list?

Trap, skeet, sporting clays, 3-position small bore, high-power, f-class, etc., are more mentally & physically challenging than archery or billiards. And they are more widely practiced than cricket, curling or jai alai!

Typical high-power match lasts over 5 hours. Try keeping the exact same prone position at the 600 yd line for 40 minutes while baking in a heavy leather coat while trying to read wind & light conditions after you've been shooting other positions and pulling targets all day.

Anonymous said...

Ballet is tougher than boxing? Really? Tougher than a sport where the object is to pummel your opponent unconscious?


"Tougher" in this case refers to the degree of skill and effort needed to do well in the given sport, not to the degree of physical punishment you endure in it. (Although ballet is a lot more physically punishing than you seem to think.)

Joe the Danceman said...

"Tougher" in this case refers to the degree of skill and effort needed to do well in the given sport, not to the degree of physical punishment you endure in it. (Although ballet is a lot more physically punishing than you seem to think.)

Yes, ballet is exacting, demanding and you need to be an extremely exceptional physical specimen to do it well. I didn't realize any of this at all until I tried in myself after doing all the usual sports and some not so usual.

Anonymous said...

Buncha dudes felt like sissies because ballet is hard, so they came here to vent.

awesome sauceome

Anonymous said...

Does a ballerina have the strength, stamina and skill to do this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nYKMJjzkQ14

Wrestling is the world's oldest sport and one of the hardest in all areas and it's not even on this joke of a list.

J. Huston

Cassie Morgan said...

I honestly agree that ballet is the hardest sport. I'm at my classes everyday of the week 6 hours straight (yes even after school) try having ur whole body weight on just ur big toes for 6 hours and try holding ur leg next to ur ear. I'd like to trade any day of my life to be a boxer