What's the Toughest Sport?

If you ever want to liven up a slow night at the sports bar, stand up and in a loud, clear voice say, "Tennis and gymnastics have got to be two of the toughest sports to play."

After the laughter dies down and no more popcorn is being thrown at you, back up your claim by describing the high degree of hand-eye coordination and agility of tennis , not to mention the flexibility and nerve that gymnasts require. In fact, according to a recent survey of experts by ESPN, tennis and gymnastics ranked as the No. 7 and No. 8 most difficult sports, respectively.

The survey creators, in order to avoid endless, vague arguments about the toughest sport to play, identified 10 skills to measure. These include traits such as speed, power and strength, and also cognitive categories, such as nerve, hand-eye coordination and analytic aptitude . Throw in flexibility, agility, endurance and durability, and you have a complete cross-section of what makes a great athlete.

Next, a list of 60 sports, including everything from baseball to curling to badminton, was evaluated by a team of sports science experts to determine how important each skill is for each sport. A ranking of 1 to 10 was assigned for each skill, then the skills for each sport were totaled and averaged. The sport with the highest average was named the toughest sport to play by the experts.

For example, while a sport like weight-lifting requires enormous strength and power , it requires little else, giving it a low overall score. Auto racing needs analytical smarts and great hand-eye coordination, yet power, speed and agility are required only of the car, not the driver.

Enough already, what is the No. 1 toughest sport to play? Let's start with the top five and work our way up.

Wrestling just barely beats out martial arts as the No. 5 toughest sport. Then, basketball and football take the No. 4 and No. 3 spots, respectively. At No. 2, while hockey players may be missing teeth and suffer from a few concussions, their athletic skill is undeniable, as speed and strength are combined with durability and eye-hand coordination.

Finally, the toughest sport to participate in is... boxing .

It may be a surprise at first, but as each skill set is considered, the conclusion makes sense. Boxing ranks in the top five in five skill categories, and in the top 20 in four others. So, the most interesting debate at the bar may be between the tennis fan and the boxing fan. My money is on the sweet science.

Dan Peterson writes about sports science at Sports Are 80 Percent Mental.

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