Top 60 Sports Ranked By Degree of Difficulty

Greg Obernesser | | BrainsBrains
Boxers square off. Credit: Mirror UK

Have you ever had a debate with a friend about comparing sports and which ones might be more difficult? I recently had this type of conversation with a friend weighing the difficulties of certain sports based on particular attributes. My friend bested me in the debate and pushed me to find substantial evidence that proved that some sports I suggested were more difficult than sports that my friend suggested. While researching I found a dated (maybe circa 2002), yet interesting article that was published by ESPN that quantified sports based on certain criteria.

Freestyle skiing. Credit: Blue Mountain Resort

How was the data compiled, what categories were tested, and who judged these attributes? A panel of three Ph.D.’s that specialize in the science of muscles and movement, a Director of the Coaching and Sports Sciences Division at the United States Olympic Committee, a sports star and various other pundits voted on what makes certain sports more difficult. The committee evaluated ten categories; endurance, strength, power, speed, agility, flexibility, nerve, durability, hand-eye coordination, & analytic aptitude. How they conducted the study as follows:

We identified 10 categories, or skills, that go into athleticism, and then asked our eight panelists to assign a number from 1 to 10 to the demands each sport makes of each of those 10 skills. By totaling and averaging their responses, we arrived at a degree-of-difficulty number for each sport on a 1 to 100 scale. That number places the difficulty of performing each sport in context with the other sports we rated.

Key. Source: ESPN

In the end, boxing is the toughest and fishing is the easiest. The total results are as follows:

Source: ESPN
Source: ESPN

Some observations I made that were pretty striking are the following… You can tell the article is dated by the examples of athletes that embody certain features such as Barry Bonds for “strength” and Lance Armstrong for “endurance”, which almost makes me roll my eyes and say the study is a write-off. However, when looking at the table I did some blind comparisons of sports based on my own perceptions and they mostly lined up with the tables. In the context of skiing, and especially freestyle skiing, the dated aspect of the article might not fully express how much the sport has progressed over the last decade. Younger kids are going bigger, completing more rotations, and pushing the sport in so many different ways. Maybe there are other sports that have become more difficult since the article was first written?

Which sports do you think were unfairly judged? Or do you not see any problem with the table? 

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18 thoughts on “Top 60 Sports Ranked By Degree of Difficulty

  1. Looking at football, it requires strength, quickness, endurance and technique at lineman. Speed, quickness, jumping, hand-eye coordination at receiver. Speed, power, hand-eye, agility at running back. Arm strength, accuracy, touch at quarterback, along with being able to process visual cues to ID defenses and multiple receivers running different routes and defenders moving in different directions while scanning the field to find the short time a receiver is open. Continue this for different defensive positions and special teams. Over the course of a season, most starters are injured to some extent. Playing with injury is another factor to consider.

  2. Not as hard as it is in softball… trust me, I’ve played both sports and pitched for both and it’s way easier to hit a baseball than a softball.

  3. 1. Wrestling
    2. Swimming
    3. Boxing
    4. Gymnastics
    5. Water Polo

    Should be in the Top 4…. You should make arguments for each one being number 1.

    Football should not even be in top 10.

  4. This list has been compiled by someone that has never played Rugby.
    According to this list, Basketball requires an identical amount of durability to Rugby but much more hand/eye coordination.
    The simple fact is, Rugby is played without the ridiculous padding used in Football. Hit’s might be (slightly) less savage than in football, but they are much more regular. Tackling in Rugby is years ahead of football.
    It’s a far faster game that requires immense strength and stamina.
    As it’s often played in the crappiest of weather conditions , the level of skill required is quite remarkable.

  5. I think that wrestling should probably be above both football and baseball. Wrestling is a very physically demanding sport that I think is batted off by saying it doesn’t last very long so it’s not that bad. It also is very technical but I think baseball has more technique and certain positions in football that of wrestling.

  6. Why isn’t baseball on this list? Do you have any idea how hard it is to hit major league pitching?

  7. Football requires more overall athleticism than tennis. Football games last an hour while tennis games are often longer with less rest, so at first it seems like tennis requires greater endurance. Yet Football involves greater efforts each play, often to gain the most distance or exert the most force. That would require pure endurance to keep in the game after giving your best effort. Each play also requires great analytic aptitude, agility, power, and coordination. You’re trying to identify a play you’ve memorized based on the position of certain players and surge forward. From then on you have to stay quick on your feet and place yourself precisely where you need to be. That doesn’t account for what needs to be done when plays get unpredictable. Football is a bunch of personal efforts rolled into one play, making it the ultimate fusion between an individual and team sport.

  8. I’d love to see where rock climbing would end up on this list. It will be an Olympic sport next time out, so perhaps it merits inclusion in a future edition. I expect it would finish fairly high. Climbing requires substantial endurance, strength, power, flexibility, nerve and analysis.

    1. I agree. The difference with rock climbing is that it has increasing levels of complexity and skill. i.e., 5.5 to 5.13 ratings of the climbs. A boxing ring is just a boxing ring. I suppose I could get in a boxing ring with Mike Tyson but would get beaten up badly. However, I can still get in a boxing ring and fight against a master whereas that is not possible with rock climbing or ice climbing. a highly rated climb. It will be interesting what level of complexity will they set the climbing routes for the Olympics.

  9. I played Football for 2 years in High School and played after Tennis after Football for 2 more years and currently play Recreationally for my University, and I say Tennis should be above Football, Tennis requires lots of speed, endurance, hand-eye coordination and Analytic Aptitude because you have to decide wether to hit a drop-shot, lob, cross-court, down the line, spike, extra top spin or back spin for hand-eye coordination and Analytic Aptitude and endurance because during a match you can continuously rally for over 1 minutes and run cross court every few seconds and back again to hit a ball. Alos believe basketball should be higher than football but lower than Tennis but that is a biased opinion.

    1. How come golf is at 51! This may sound biased, but golf takes a lot to master. The fact that badminton is above golf is just wrong.

      1. Having played both sports extensively, there is absolutely no doubt that badminton is more demanding than golf. Obviously, both sports require much skill and practice to play well, but badminton tests your cardiovascular fitness, your quickness and reaction time, your stamina, your speed. Golf is nowhere near as demanding. You make a plan, and you execute a shot hitting a stationary ball. It’s hard to do well, but it doesn’t demand very much athletic ability. Look at the 10 categories the chart grades. The ratings are reasonable.

      2. I believe the reasoning might be because there is nothing physical to it while yes it is VERY technical there isn’t very many physical aspects.

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