The fact is that most Americans will never attempt to play actual hockey. Some might take a date to a local ice skating rink, get a pair of rental figure skates, and spend an hour trying not to fall. Others might put a couple quarters in an air hockey machine at an arcade and slap a plastic puck around. My assumption is that this is as close as most will come.
The simple reason for this is that hockey is just more complicated to actually go out and play- you can't just grab a football or soccer ball and find an open spot of grass. You actually have to get a stick, skates, a puck, and live somewhere that's cold enough to have frozen ponds. That's just the bare minimum.
I actually started playing in California- yup, Southern California even. In-line skates, thankfully, have lessened the need for ice. Some kids in my neighborhood played in a cul-de-sac and it looked like fun, so I saved up for skates but would still borrow a stick for a while.
This phenomenon has been increasing not only in California, but also throughout the country, and now many high schools and colleges have legitimate Roller Hockey teams, that play at a very high competitive level, check out 'www.ncrha.org'. The percentage of hockey playing Americans may actually be rising, but certainly not dramatically.
Football still dominates the country, with baseball not far behind. Even basketball still far exceeds hockey's popularity. This is why I'm sure I'll be in the minority when I say that hockey is the hardest sport to play. Here are my reasons.
Contrary to what some may think, there are many designed plays in hockey. Namely, coaches draw up countless power play designs on how to force opposing defenses out of position and catch them off guard. Players spend hours practicing breaking out of their own defensive zones in order to get past opposing fore-checks. This preparation is endless and crucial to any teams' success.
However, no hockey player has ever relied solely on set plays. These only work when every thing is in place, in specific situations, which only may occur a handful of times in a game. Every player has to think for his own on every shift, with or without the puck. He must anticipate where his teammates will be when he needs to make a pass and where to wait and see the goalie flinch in order to shoot it past him.
He must guess what the opposing puck carrier will do with the puck, where to find that open ice to receive a pass or just to make the goalie have to think a little harder. These thoughts all occur on each 30-second shift for every single player. This is all while skating at top speed knowing you could be crushed each time you touch the puck or skate near the opponent's goalie.
With the exception of playing quarterback, football is not exceptionally mentally demanding. Of course, each player has to memorize what to do on every play, and that does require a great deal of studying and practicing. But that's just it- each player has to do just one thing on each set play, and in fact if they fail to do so, the play does not succeed. What this means is that if a player decides to think for himself during a play then he only hurts the team. Of course there are exceptions and this does not by any means imply that football players are stupid- there are some brilliant minds in the NFL. I'm simply saying that most positions in the sport do not demand a high degree of mental toughness, in comparison to hockey.
Physical toughness pertaining to football, however, is quite the opposite. Football players might be the only athletes that are actually tougher than hockey players. My only potential problem with this issue is that there are only 16 regular season games in an NFL season. This does not include preseason or playoffs, so let's say a team that makes it to the Super Bowl will play 25 games, including pre and post seasons. Within each game, each player is involved in no more than 1/2 of the game- no players play both offense and defense. In fact, some times none of these players on the field when the special teams are involved. An NFL game is comprised of four fifteen-minute quarters.
Therefore, it can be reasonably deduced that a football player that makes it to the Super Bowl plays no greater than 12.5 hours of actual football. (25 games / .5 hours per game)
NHL teams play 82 regular season games. The average player plays about fifteen minutes in a one-hour game, if I low-ball it, due to the changing of lines (many may average more but we'll stick with 15). Counting only the regular season, the average NHLer player plays 20.5 hours of actual hockey. If you include post-season games played by this year's Stanley Cup Champions the Detroit Red Wings, all 22 of them, that increases to 26 hours, over twice the amount played by NFL players in a season.
Let's keep in mind that the physical toll taken on the bodies of these athletes cannot truly be compared sport to sport; it's just not possible. Ask any former NFL running back why they retired at age 32. Being hit by multiple 300 bruisers 20-30 times a game is no walk in the park.
However, not every NFL player is a running back or a quarter back; in fact, most are not. Half of those guys play defense and rarely get tackled- but doing the tackling is not picking daisies either. In fact many would say that playing on the defensive side of the ball is tougher and requires being in even better physical shape than the offensive side- it is tougher when you wait for the other guy to make a move and then have to catch up, rather than knowing where to run.
The only other point to make in comparing these two sports is that with the exception of turnovers, no players play both offense and defense. In hockey, ALL skaters play both offense and defense on every shift.
The only position potentially more physically demanding than any other sport is that player on the ice that is only concerned about one thing: defense. That is the last line of defense, the goalie. I've played hockey for over a decade and the one time that I actually strapped on the oversize pads and attempted (poorly) net minding is easily the most physically demanding stunt I've ever performed.
Think about bending over to pick something up 30 times. Now think about not just bending over but dropping as fast as you can to your knees. Then imagine having to kick your feet outwards when you do it as well. Keep in mind, you don't just have to pick something up but also move side to side as well as be prepared to stand back up quickly in order to move if the puck changes directions. Also remember- goalies don't get line changes. Honestly, it's not even fun; every goalie I've ever played with has been a little off and for good reason.
The argument could be made for MLB players having to play 162 games each season, but the amount each player is actually involved in each of these games is not even worth trying to add up the minutes. The exceptions to this are of course the pitchers and catchers. Catching is indeed a tough position, in fact in the same sense that goal tending is tough; catchers have to drop to their knees perhaps even more than goalies do in a game, but they don't ever half to move from side to side as fast. Once a pitch is thrown, that's it; there are no rebounds, no sticks being swung at you. They do, however, have to worry about the occasional freight train coming in from third base on the sac-fly tag up, but goalies certainly have the same problem.
Pitching a game is very demanding, which is why starters only throw every four or five games, and relievers only pitch one or two innings a game. That's the only way to survive a 162 game season. That is all I can say about baseball- if I write any more I'll go off about how every time a baseball player falls down he is injured for about two weeks- see I told you.
Basketball and soccer are both mentally and physically demanding in the same ways that hockey is, just not as much- the games are not nearly as fast as hockey. This is simply because the players are running, not skating. The speed of hockey requires quicker hands and quicker brains.
In addition, slamming into someone at full speed is completely legal, and does not usually result in a stretcher being brought onto the field. I'm sure any basketball or soccer player could outrun any hockey player in any length foot race- but neither of them would make it through an NHLer's warm up skate without collapsing.
I will be the first to admit that I have never been a part of a competitive football team. I know that football players prepare and train perhaps more than any other athletes. I have played competitive basketball, soccer, and as impressive as this sounds, little league baseball. I watch these sports regularly for a living. I am not an expert, but it is my opinion that no sport is harder to play than hockey and no trophy is harder to win than the Stanley Cup. Please withhold your arguments unless you have actually acquired skates and a stick played in a hockey game. If this article has inspired you to do so, the outcome of our debate will be irrelevant to my victory.