What Is the Hardest Sport? What the Numbers Prove Is #1 (2023)

Every sport is hard if you’re not good at it.

But some are especially difficult.

They take a different breed of athlete – even a slightly crazy one.

I’ve covered the sports that attract these kinds of crazies before (What is the most dangerous sport?).

This time, I want to cover the sports that are hardest to play.

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The 7 Hardest Sports to Play

It turns out that there is almost no objective way to grade which sports are the hardest.

Nonetheless, in the next section, I’ll use statistics to “prove” which ones are the toughest if you want to make it pro.

Of course, that doesn’t mean they’re the hardest.

For a sport to make this initial list, I used two criteria.

First, the sport either has to be shown on television at least once a year or is played in the Olympics.

So, yes, extreme ironing looks difficult, but it doesn’t qualify.


Second, it has to be something I have tried before (thus, I’m an expert) or something I would never try because it seems so f’ing difficult (a judgement I’m making as an expert).

Alright, without further ado, here are the toughest sports to play (or never even bother trying).

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Wrestling is one of the oldest sports in the world.

Originally a fight to the death, wrestling's origins go back to 3000 BCE in Babylonia and Egypt.

While you no longer have to kill your opponent to claim victory, it may sometimes feel like you’re killing yourself in order to train as a wrestler.

Similar to gymnastics (which may or may not make an appearance on this list, so keep reading), wrestling requires an insane combination of speed, endurance, strength, and, perhaps most importantly, discipline.

Even though a college wrestling match may have periods that last only two or three minutes, competitors will more than likely compete against several opponents back-to-back in a single competition.

A short recovery time means wrestlers need to have incredible cardiovascular endurance, so training cannot focus on being bigger and badder alone. Instead, wrestlers must also train their bodies for stamina.

Wrestlers also have to contend with the risks of injuries, mainly to their shoulders and knees. Rashes and staph infections are common, too.

If you think you may want to give wrestling a shot, just remember what wrestling legend Dan Gable said after his 1972 Olympics performance:

“The point of wrestling is that it hurts and you overcome that. It never occurred to me that it wasn’t supposed to hurt.”

See you on the mat?

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6. Figure Skating

From afar, figure skating is an elegant spectacle of bedazzled costumes, graceful leg movements, and serene performances synchronized to the perfect song.
However, up close, this sport is anything but an easy lap around the rink.
It can be brutal, physically daunting, and even potentially dangerous.
Balancing on tiny metal edges, skaters must jump, spin, and fling their bodies into the air.

Risking dislocated shoulders or bruised tailbones, elbows, shoulders, knees is the price skaters pay to pursue their passions. In the pursuit of higher scores, most skaters will suffer numerous injuries. Ice isn’t exactly soft to land on.

And while I’m too much of a coward busy to pursue skating, this video of skaters succumbing to gravity has convinced me it’s probably for the best.

American Olympic gold medalist skater Peggy Fleming began training at the age of 9. She described how she committed to training for 6 to 7 hours per day, 6 days a week, and 11 months out of the year.

As she puts it, skating “takes a lot out of everything: out of your whole family, out of your coaches, and out of you.”

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5. Golf

Golf is a game of precision.

And patience.

A lot of patience.

With a four-foot metal rod, your task is to somehow knock a ball that is a mere 1 inch in diameter into a hole that is hundreds of yards away.

Power be damned here.

Proper technique and precision rule the green and fairway.

Despite the pitter patter of a golf clap, the drives and putts that professional golf players pull off are worthy of roaring standing ovations.

But any true fan of the sport knows that part of respecting the game is controlling the noise level. Mental preparation and stamina are key for professional golfers who have thousands of eyes watching their every move.

One errant gasp or shriek could totally disrupt a golfer’s swing, sending the ball into a sandtrap of doom or a lake of despair.

Practice (and patience) make perfect in golf, making it a challenging game for someone ill-equipped to handle that sort of pressure.

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4.Water Polo

In simplest terms, water polo is basically soccer, except the field is replaced by a pool and “no hands” is replaced by “what else are you going to use?”

But simple definitely does not mean easy.

First off, players are not allowed to touch the bottom of the pool, so they may have to tread water for the duration of an entire quarter, which usually lasts about 12 minutes!

(Yes, there are subs, but still)

They call their variation of treading water “an eggbeater” because it’s supposed to be more efficient than the version most of us do for about 10 seconds before getting tired and swimming to the side of the pool.

From the moment the referee starts play and releases the ball in the middle of the pool, players scratch and claw to gain possession of it.

Technically, they can’t actually scratch anymore. Officials check to make sure players’ nails are filed down before each match. Otherwise, participants will end matches covered in scratches, welts, and bruises — with some even leaving in tattered swimwear.

And even though punching is prohibited, players use the water to its full advantage, kicking or hitting beneath the surface to gain an advantage.

Basically, it has nothing whatsoever in common with actual polo, which seems downright relaxing by comparison. Water polo is an insanely brutal sport that only top athletes can play.

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2016 U.S. Olympic team member Jake Dalton said that gymnastics “is about being as strong and flexible and as light as possible.”

Being any one of those things can be hard enough. Having to be all three is required just to compete in gymnastics.

That’s why gymnasts at the top of their game have to train at least 40 hours per week.

That’s basically a 9-5 desk job (except that it’s good for your physique).

Even beginners can expect to train close to 15 hours per week, so there’s not exactly an “easy level” for this sport.

Gymnastics requires a special set of skills in balance, strength, speed, and hand-eye coordination.

And modern gymnasts must be able to tap into each skill to compete in a variety of events.

If gymnasts want a higher potential score, they must include up to 6 or 7 strength elements. And as rules change and potential scores fluctuate, gymnasts must be on top of the latest strength and diet trends to keep up.

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Gymnasts are so adamant about pushing the limits of the sports that some even create their own moves to earn more points in a competition. If a gymnast pulls off their new move and has pre-scoring approval from the Fédération Internationale de Gymnastique, they can cement their legacies almost instantly.

Whether gymnasts are circling on the pommel horse, suspending their entire bodies on rings, or springing off the vault, they always run the risk of a near-miss or a freak injury from one small mistake.

Sticking a perfect landing in gymnastics or earning a perfect 10 is probably one of the most challenging feats in all of sports.

Despite all the grace and strength gymnasts need to excel, though, they have nothing on our top two hardest sports to play.

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2. Strongman

If you need someone to open a pickle jar, I’m your guy.

If you’re looking for someone to flip tires that weigh half a ton, I’m your guy...for telling you that you’ll need to talk to a professional strongman.

Coming in at number two on my list, Strongman is a sport with a pretty basic task: pick up some extremely heavy objects and move them around.

A couple of my favorite challenges are the Atlas Stone and Farmer’s Walk.

The Atlas Stone is named after the mythological titan who held up the sky.

Strongmen don’t have it quite as bad. They only have to pick up five humongous concrete balls that increase in weight and place them on a platform.

And then there’s the Farmer’s Walk.

Contestants take a bar in each hand with weights piled at either end and walk as fast as they can to the finish line.

While conventional workouts in a gym are beneficial, Strongman participants must also have access to things like logs, massive tires, and even cars. Yeah. They move those, too.

That’s not all.

In what is literally the only part of this sport I can even remotely relate to, top athletes must consume almost 10,000 calories a day!

...I feel like I’ve maybe done that before actually.

Being a Strongman takes a big frame, a huge appetite, and massive competitive spirit. If you want to get strong enough to do Strongman, it needs to become your obsession.

But there’s still one more sport that arguably pushes the human body further than all the others on this list.

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Coming in at number one on my list of the hardest sports to play is Ironman.

No, not that one.

Or that one.

I’m talking about the insane athletes who push their bodies to their limits by participating in Ironman triathlons.

At the annual Ironman European Championships, participants swim for 2.4 miles, cycle for 112 miles, and run for 26.2.

I’m tired just talking about it.

Add that all up and you get a really excruciating toll on the body.

The biggest risks competitors face are cardiac arrests and, in some cases, death.

In fact, the majority of triathlon deaths actually occur during the swim portion of the competition, meaning those athletes never even made it past the first leg.

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It’s no surprise that to train for and participate in such a grueling contest, players must keep their bodies in tiptop shape, maintain a well-balanced diet, and hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.

At the same time, Ironman competitors need to be careful they don’t run the risk of drinking too much water (called “hyponatremia”), which can be life-threatening in the most severe cases.

Too much water in the system can cause low blood sodium levels.

After all those physical demands on the body, who would have thought that too much water could be a bad thing?

Masters of both land and sea (and rivers and bays), Ironman athletes sometimes make the hardest sport look like a walk in the park. But I tip my hat to anyone who thinks that running a full marathon isn’t impressive enough on its own.

And after making this list, I think a walk in the park is exactly what I need.

The 5 Hardest Sports to Make it to the Pros In (Statistically)

Alright, now let’s look at the hardest sports based solely on the likelihood you’d be able to make a living playing them.

There are over 8 million high school athletes in the United States alone, but only 6% of those competitors will continue on to play at the collegiate level. And an even smaller number go on to play professionally or at the Olympic level.

So whether you shoot a basketball, toss a pigskin, or swing for the fences, playing professionally before a global crowd of adoring fans is no easy mountain to climb.

And the odds of turning pro might be a lot lower than you think.

Here are the top 5 hardest sports to make it pro in (statistically).

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5. Ice Hockey

If you enjoy the majesty of gliding over the ice and the thrill of smashing into other adults, you might want to pursue a career in hockey.

But with a 1 in 598 (0.17%) shot at glory in the NHL, it’s an uphill skate to stardom.

Hockey is one of the most dangerous professional sports. Players have a combination of nimble athleticism and a ravenous hunger to inflict pain on anyone wearing a different jersey.

Out of over 35,000 high school hockey players, only 11% go on to compete in college. And only about 270 of those fortunate few make it to the professional level.

4. Baseball

Baseball is one of the most popular sports for children to play and fans to watch.

And here’s an interesting fact: if you attend a professional baseball game, you actually have a better chance of being drafted by your favorite team to play professionally (1 in 659 or 0.15%) than you do of catching a foul ball (1 in 835 or 0.12%).

So, there’s always a chance.

Even if you’ve made it to the collegiate level and are eligible to be drafted to the MLB, only 28% of those skilled athletes are selected to play at the next level.

So, start perfecting that swing, learn to field grounders, and maybe learn a couple trick plays while you’re at it.

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3. Football

The gridiron is no place for the weak or cowardly.

In the fast-paced, hard-hitting game of football, players know to expect pain.

Needless to say, it’s not for everyone.

But even if you do think you’d fancy playing in the NFL, your odds aren’t great.

Statistically, you have a better chance of a meteorite hitting you in the head (1 in 3,200) when you’re sitting on the couch watching football than you do of actually playing professional football (1 in 4,233 or just 0.02%).

Honestly, I’m not sure which would be more painful. Have you seen some of these hard hits the pros put on each other?

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No thanks.

Still, over a million high school players sign up for football every year despite the punishment it entails..

But those fortunate enough to play college ball and become eligible for the pros have no guarantees to making the professional leap.

In 2019, only 3.8% of draft-eligible players were chosen to play in the NFL.

While the road from Pop Warner football to college ball is narrow, entry to the world of professional football is close to impossible.

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2. Soccer

Soccer is the most watched sport in the world.

In 2018, 3.6 billion people (over half of the entire global population aged four and over) tuned in and watched the FIFA World Cup.

It’s also one of the most-played sports on the planet. In 2019, FIFA reported 128,983 total global soccer players.

But how challenging is it to play professionally?

With only a 1 in 5,768 (0.017%) chance of making it pro, soccer sits at number 2 on my list as one of the most challenging sports to play on the professional level.

(Incidentally, it sits at number 1 on my list as of the sports that make me the most tired just watching)

Players must train vigorously their entire lives if they want a chance to kick around a ball for more than just fun.

Of course, if they do make it to the big stage, they have the chance to be rewarded handsomely. In fact, 3 out of the top 5 highest paid athletes in the world are from the world of soccer.

Despite this, soccer is no match for my next and final sport ranked #1 not only as the most difficult sport (statistically) to play professionally but also as the sport that makes the most money.

Think you have a good guess?

I’ll give you a hint.

It’s a long shot.

What Is the Hardest Sport? What the Numbers Prove Is #1 (12)

1. Basketball

Okay, okay. That was an easy layup. Two points for you.

But there is nothing simple about entering the world of professional basketball.

Close to one million high school students play basketball (around 541,000 men and 433,000 women).

Less than 4% of them will go on to play college basketball.

Overall, basketball players have a 1 in 12,363 (0.008%) chance of dribbling their way into the pros.

Statistically speaking, both men and women stand a practically identical chance of playing professional basketball, though it’s slightly more difficult for women:

  • 1 in 11,711 (0.009%) for men
  • 1 in 13,015 (0.008%) for women

If you are lucky enough to make it to the professional level, you get an open invite to the sport that makes the most money.

Can You Think of Any Sports That Are Even Harder?

So, what did you think?

Do you agree with my list of the toughest sports? Do you think some from the first list are overshadowed by those highly-paid pros in the second?

Let me know in the comments section.

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And if you’re someone who wishes they had pushed themselves a bit more in high school so they’d be a professional athlete today, hopefully, you now see that it’s basically impossible.

Hope that helps!


What is the number 1 hardest sport? ›

Degree of Difficulty: Sport Rankings
Ice Hockey7.252
33 more rows

What is proven to be the hardest sport? ›

1. Water Polo: 44 Points. Often overlooked in discussions, this Olympic sport is officially the toughest sport in the world. Similar to the land-based handball that was not too far from the list itself, water polo is played, well, in water.

What is the number 1 sport in? ›


250 million people play the sport in 200 different countries, and there are around 3.5 billion fans worldwide.

What is the hardest sport for a girl? ›

1 Gymnastics Gymnastics is a sport involving the performance of exercises requiring strength, flexibility, balance and control.

Which sport is the easiest? ›

The 7 Easiest Sports to Play
  • Volleyball. Volleyball is a team game that's super fun to learn and play, made easy to attend through Javelin! ...
  • Table Tennis/Ping Pong. Table tennis is a game that can be played with two or four people. ...
  • Running. ...
  • Spikeball. ...
  • Badminton. ...
  • Cycling. ...
  • Bowling.

What sport is harder baseball or golf? ›

No, golf is harder than baseball. Baseball's a team sport. Golfers are on their own. Baseball players play both sides of the ball, offense and defense.

Why is wrestling the hardest sport? ›

In order to succeed at the highest levels of wrestling, it requires a combination of physical power, speed, technical skill, and a level of mental toughness that makes it one of the toughest sports to partake in.

Why is hockey the hardest sport? ›

Hockey is often considered one of the hardest sports in the world due to a number of factors. One of the most significant is the speed and physicality of the game. Players skate at high speeds and are constantly in motion, making it difficult to maintain control of the puck and navigate the ice.

Is soccer the #1 sport? ›


While it may not be apparent in the United States, association football—also known as soccer—is the most popular sport in the world by a vast margin. Soccer is king in virtually all of Europe, South America, Africa, the Middle East, Central America, and Asia.

What is the 2 most popular sport? ›

Cricket is the second most popular sport in the world.

There are numerous reasons why this sport has gained popularity across the globe, particularly in South Asia. First, people of all ages play and watch this sport, Pakistan is a great example.

What is the number 1 sports in USA? ›

1. American football. American football, also known as gridiron, is the most played sport in America.

What sport is mainly for girls? ›

The five most frequently offered college sports for women in America are, in order: (1) basketball, 98.8% of schools have a team, (2) volleyball, 95.7%, (3) soccer, 92.0%, (4) cross country, 90.8%, and (5) softball, 89.2%.

What sport do girls love the most? ›

There are sports that are popular among women and we've listed some of them here:
  • Volleyball. There are two teams that play against each other in a volleyball match. ...
  • Tennis. If you want a sport played by yourself, then tennis is a great one to get into. ...
  • Swimming. ...
  • Soccer. ...
  • Basketball. ...
  • Softball. ...
  • Field Hockey. ...
  • Lacrosse.
Mar 4, 2022

What sport do you get hurt the least? ›

Swimming is the safest sport to take part in. Its easy on the joints and can be an aid in recovery after an injury so making it the safest sport in America. A study by researchers at The University of Colorado Denver lead by PhD.

What sport runs the least? ›

In general, baseball is one of the sports that requires the least amount of running. Most experts estimate that the average baseball player runs about 0.0375 miles per game, which is just under 200 feet.

How many sports should a kid play? ›

Children Should Play More Than One Sport, Pediatricians Recommend. The American Academy of Pediatrics issues a report that says children are getting injured as well as burned out from specializing in a single sport.

Is hitting the hardest thing in sports? ›

But in baseball, if you get a hit 30 percent of the time you step up to the plate, you might be headed to the Hall of Fame—and that's because it's perhaps the most difficult thing to do in any major sport.

Which sport is harder baseball or soft? ›

Although these sports are very similar, they are very different. Soft- ball is definitely harder than baseball due to differences in hitting, pitching, and the distance of the field.

Is hitting a baseball the hardest thing? ›

In baseball, if you get three hits out of every ten at-bats, that means a . 300 average and you'll be one of the best hitters in the game. And for this very reason alone, Popular Science says that hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do in sports. First of all, the average speed of a fastball is 90 mph.

What is the top 10 hardest sport in the world? ›

According to Sports Virsa, the top 10 hardest sports in the world to play in 2022 are as follows: Boxing (hardest), American football, mixed martial arts, ice hockey, gymnastics, basketball, soccer, wrestling, rugby, and water polo.

What's the hardest high school sport? ›

Gymnastics is the hardest sport known. This requires more strength than a football player. More endurance than a track person, and more skill and balance than dance. This sport is all three cardio, strength, and endurance in one.

Why am I so tired after wrestling? ›

Wrestling is a grueling sport that requires you to use all the muscles in your body for an extended period of time. During a match you will often be so exhausted that you are relying purely on muscle memory.

What sport has the strongest players? ›

Top Ranked Strength and Power Sports
3Water Polo82.5
6 more rows

Which sport has fittest athletes? ›

#1 Wrestling/MMA

Wrestling and Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) are two of the most physically demanding sports out there. They require a high level of strength, endurance, and agility. Wrestlers need to be incredibly strong in order to perform all of the various takedowns, throws, and other moves.

Are NFL or NHL hits harder? ›

Hockey hits are, on average, 17% harder than football hits even though hockey players are 20% smaller than football players? Interesting.

Why is hockey unpopular sport? ›

Many families simply cannot afford to have a child to play hockey. Some people don't have easy access to a hockey rink. Ice time can be pricey, and there may be select hours to practice. Markoulis also said the marketability of the NHL's top prospects is lagging when compared with basketball, baseball and football.

Why is hockey so aggressive? ›

There are a number of theories behind the integration of fighting into the game; the most common is that the relative lack of rules in the early history of hockey encouraged physical intimidation and control. Other theories include the poverty and high crime rates of local Canada in the 19th century.

What is the world's sport? ›

Soccer is clearly the most popular sport in terms of fans.

Why are sports so popular? ›

But why are sports so popular? One reason is that sports provide a sense of community. For example, sports bring people from all walks of life together to cheer and support their local teams, and some people like betting on sports together with friends as a form of fun and socialization.

What is America's 2nd most popular sport? ›


Known as “America's pastime,” baseball is the second most popular sport in the United States and is the 7th most popular sport in the world. Professional baseball in the United States is played by the teams that make up the Major League Baseball (MLB).

What are America Top 4 sports? ›

MLB, NBA, NFL, and NHL are commonly referred to as the "Big Four". Each of these is the wealthiest professional club competition in its sport worldwide, and along with the English Premier League they make up the top five sports leagues by revenue in the world.

What's the biggest sport in Japan? ›

The most popular professional sports in Japan are baseball, sumo wrestling, association football (soccer), tennis, and golf. Note that most practitioners in the martial arts are not professional, but amateurs.

What is America's national sport? ›

The national game of the USA is Baseball.

It is a game that has two opposing teams. Each team gets its turns in batting. Every country has its own national games. Other spectator sports that have a long history of popularity include golf, tennis, and NCAA basketball.

What is the top 3 hardest sport? ›

According to Sports Virsa, the top 10 hardest sports in the world to play in 2022 are as follows: Boxing (hardest), American football, mixed martial arts, ice hockey, gymnastics, basketball, soccer, wrestling, rugby, and water polo.

Which sport is most athletic? ›

#1 Basketball

Unlike most sports, basketball requires an immense amount of athleticism due to its fast pace and constant running up and down the court. The game relies heavily on speed and agility and if you aren't in tip-top shape as a basketball player, you typically get left behind by the competition.

Is dance a sport yes or no? ›

Both teams and individuals can compete in dance competitions for their own entertainment and the entertainment of spectators. Yes, dance fits within the sports category.

Why is soccer the hardest sport? ›

Professional soccer, or what you see on TV being played at the World Cup, is actually a very complex game. It requires stamina since soccer players run 7-10 miles per game, as well as, precise tactical skills and an understanding of complex scenarios like off-sides and reading the defense.

What is the oldest sport? ›

Wrestling, mankind's oldest and most basic form of recreational combat, traces its origins back to the dawn of civilization. Carvings and drawings estimated to be between 15,000 and 20,000 years old, found in caves in southern Europe, illustrate wrestlers in hold and leverage positions.

How tiring is football? ›

It's the wear and tear on the body following intense actions. A football match is a duration of 90 physically and mentally draining minutes where players are involved in many high-intensity actions including short and long sprinting, jumping, dribbling, tackling, shooting, quick turning and passing.

Which sport makes the best body? ›

Top Ranked Sports in which body composition is important
1Horse Jockey77.3
6 more rows

Which sport uses the most muscles? ›

Weightlifting and gymnastics were the two highest rated sports for strength and power.


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