Top 60 Hardest Athletic Sports ranked by difficulty: Research-Backed

peak performance

Several years ago, a panel of experts sought to answer the controversial question of which sport is the most difficult. The experts used 10 categories to try and figure out which sport requires the most athleticism. The panel included sports scientists on the Olympic Committee, researchers who study human muscle and movement, an athlete who competed successfully at both baseball and football (Brian Jordan), and sports journalists who spend their lives documenting the rise and fall of the best athletes.

To try to objectively rank the 60 sports in contention, the panelists broke each sport down to 10 separate components, as follows:

ENDURANCE: The ability to continue to perform a skill or action for an extended period of time. Example: cyclists or distance runners

STRENGTH: The ability to produce force (force=mass*acceleration). Example: NFL defensive linemen or weight-lifters

POWER: The ability to produce strength in the shortest possible time. Example: baseball sluggers

SPEED: The ability to move your body quickly. Example: Sprinters, speed skaters, or NFL wide receivers

AGILITY: The ability to change direction quickly. Example: Baseball shortstops or basketball players

FLEXIBILITY: The ability to stretch the joints across a large range of motion. Example: Gymnasts, divers, or figure skaters

NERVE: The ability to overcome fear and control your body’s stress response. Example: boxers and race car drivers.

DURABILITY: The ability to withstand physical punishment over an extended period. Example: Boxers or football players (especially running backs)

HAND-EYE COORDINATION: The ability to react quickly to sensory perception. Example: A baseball player reacting to a knuckleball

ANALYTIC APTITUDE: The ability to evaluate, reevaluated, and react appropriately to strategic situations. Example: Russell Wilson breaking down the defense before hiking the ball.

Using the 10 categories, the panelists gave each sport a score under each category, with a maximum of 10 points per category. Then, the points are added to a total of 100 points maximum. Note that there aren’t any sports that totaled up to 100 points, but that is the absolute maximum one sport can get.
After all was said and done, here are the results of how the panelists ranked the 60 sports according to which one takes the most athleticism to succeed. Remember, it is not which sport takes the most time to learn to play leisurely, the ranking is according to which sport takes the most athleticism to be good at.

top 30 hardest sports

30 to 60 toughest sports (2)

As you can see boxing ends up being the sport which required the most athleticism. Boxing needs a great deal of endurance, strength, power, nerve (control), durability, and hand-eye coordination—it scored 7 or over in all of these categories.  It also needed a fair amount of speed, agility, and analytic aptitude—scoring in the 6 range in all these categories. The only category which fell below a 6 is flexibility, which scored a 4.38. This is probably due to the fact that boxing doesn’t quite rely on the joints as much as the actual muscles itself.

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Again, here is the rank of the 60 sports according to the panel of experts, represented in text:

1. Boxing

2. Ice Hockey

3. (American) Football

4. Basketball

5. Wrestling

6. Martial Arts

7. Tennis

8. Gymnastics

9. Baseball/Softball

10. Soccer

11. Alpine Skiing

11. Water Polo

13. Rugby

14. Lacrosse

15. Steer Wrestling (Rodeo)

16. Pole Vault

17. Field Hockey

17. Speed Skating

19. Figure Skating

20. Distance Cycling

20. Volleyball

22. Racquetball/Squash

23. Surfing

24. Fencing

25. Freestyle Skiing

26. Team Handball

27. Sprint Cycling

28. Bobsledding/Luge

29. Ski Jumping

30. Badminton

31. Nordic Skiing

32. Auto Racing

33. High Jump (Track & Field)

34. Long/Triple Jumps (Track & Field)

35. Diving

36. Distance Swimming

37. Skateboarding

38. Sprinting (Track & Field)

39. Rowing

40. Calf Roping (Rodeo)

40. Distance Running (Track & Field)

42. Bull/Bareback/Bronc Riding (Rodeo)

43. Middle Distance Running (Track & Field)

44. Weight-Lifting

45. Sprint Swimming

46. Water Skiing

47. Table Tennis

48. Weights (Track * Field)

49. Canoe/Kayaking

50. Horse Racing

51. Golf

52. Cheerleading

53. Roller Skating

54. Equestrian

55. Archery

56. Curling

57. Bowling

58. Shooting

59. Billiards

60. Fishing

So why are the sports ranked the way they are?  Well here is a wonderful display of the skills required to play each sport and how much of that each skill is required:

graphical diagram of sport requiring the most athleticism (1)


I am actually surprised by how high and low some of these sports ranked. For instance, I thought rugby should have ranked higher. Also, I was surprised to see ice hockey ranked above football. Additionally, martial arts is a very broad term. Some martial arts are extremely demanding and require a lot of athleticism to compete whereas some other martial arts do not require as much.

So what do you think of the rankings? Do you largely agree with it or largely disagree with it? Do you agree that boxing should have been ranked first? Let us know below.

If you want to try your hands at the toughest sport on the list, go join a boxing gym and grab yourself some Everlast boxing gloves.  They are great for people who are just starting out with boxing.

Video Version

If you would like to watch the video version, which is about 1 minute and 15 seconds, then you can watch it below:

Last update on 2022-05-26 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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