Who Feels the Most Pressure in Sports?

Patrick McClainContributor IJanuary 13, 2009

Is it the closer in the ninth inning of Game Seven of the World Series, three outs away from reaching his dreams? Or is it the kicker as he attempts a 50-yard field goal in overtime of the Super Bowl?

Perhaps it's the basketball star who needs to make two free throws to tie the game with two seconds left? Or would it be the goalie staring down the kicker in the World Cup shootout?

The most intense moment in all of sports will probably boil down to what sport you're playing. Whether you're playing for the World Series, the Super Bowl, or the World Cup, it WILL be the most intense moment of your life.

But, what about throughout a given season: Who feels the most pressure?

To answer this questions, my friends and I composed a list of why a given player feels more pressure. We focused mainly on kickers and closers.


The Case for Kickers

1) You only get one shot:  Kickers come into a game and they only have one option: perfection. Anything less and they will turn the ball over and, in the most intense situations, lose the game. Closers can make a bad pitch and not see any consequences.

2) It's 90 percent mental: Kickers in the NFL have already proven that they are physically capable of making a 50+ yard kick...But have they proven that they can do it with the game on the line? Can the kicker move on from the last time he missed a kick to lose the game for his team?

3) One loss is so much greater: Losing a football game on a kick during the regular season is more devastating than blowing a save. In 2008, the Angels' Francisco Rodriguez blew seven saves, but his team still finished with the best record in baseball.

Losing seven games as a kicker would at best put your team at (9-7) (In 2008, Arizona and San Diego were the only teams to make the playoffs with this record or worse).

4) One bad kick can ruin a career: In 2003, Mike Vanderjagt of Indianapolis had one of the best seasons a kicker has ever had: he never missed a field goal or a PAT. Two years later, he missed an important kick that ended up eliminating the Colts from the playoffs. 

After that kick, he played one more subpar season for the Cowboys but never returned to his previous form.

In the 2005 NLCS, Houston's Brad Lidge gave up a three-run home run to Albert Pujols to give the Cardinals the win. The Astros did make it to the World Series, but Lidge pitched poorly (0-2 with a 4.91 ERA). After two more poor seasons in Houston, he was traded to Philadelphia.

In 2008, he was not only a perfect 41-41 in save opportunities, but he helped the Phillies win their first World Series in almost 30 years.


The Case for Closers

1) It's a marathon vs. a sprint:
  Kickers need to come into the game and make one perfect kick. The closer, on the other hand, needs to come into the game and pitch one perfect inning, which could last anywhere from three to 30 pitches or more. Closers need to consistently stay perfect in each of their outings.

2) The closer has more to think about:  Kickers aren't the only players who have to keep their wits in check when they're on the field. But, for the closer, there are so many more things to think about: should he throw a fastball, changeup, slider, high and tight, low and away, walk this batter?

A kicker needs to know what yard line he's on and the wind speed. Closer can get much more frustrated in their situations.

3) The closer needs to rely on more than just himself: The pitcher has many more problems to run into. He needs to be confident that his defense is capable of making the play. He needs to be sure that they are ready and that their minds aren't elsewhere. He needs to have faith in his catcher to call the right pitches.

4) The closer has to face another human being: In football, it is just the kicker vs. himself (and possibly the weather). In baseball, the closer needs to outperform a batter who is paid millions of dollars to hit the ball. 

It isn't as simple as throwing a pitch that the hitter can't hit because at this level, every hitter can hit all of his pitches.  He needs to throw the batter off-balance and keep him guessing so that the hitter won't make solid contact.


The Verdict

Although it is still up for discussion, and I strongly urge people to post comments with their thoughts, my friends and I came to a conclusion:

A kicker feels more pressure when the game is on the line.

He has less breathing room than a closer. And although he doesn't have to rely on his teammates as much as a closer does, this fact actually puts MORE pressure on the kicker because it is all up to him.

What it really boils down to is when the kicker needs to make a kick, nothing less than perfection will suffice.