What Is the Toughest Sport in the World?

Chris Siddell@@siddellcCorrespondent IIISeptember 14, 2011

What Is the Toughest Sport in the World?

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    What is the toughest sport in the world?  It is a question that has been asked for a long time, and with the new NFL season starting and the Rugby World Cup underway, the age-old debate about which sport is the toughest in the world once again rages.

    But football and rugby are not the only tough sports out there.

    We take at look at the most brutal and unforgiving sports around, counting down to the toughest sport in the world.  Forget about wild fan claims; it's time to get scientific.

    After careful consideration we have come up with six different categories that make a sport tough: speed, endurance, strength, agility, skill level and physicality.

    Forget about the "my sport is tougher because we get hit harder" argument; this slideshow looks at sports that really are the toughest in the world.  Toughest to play, toughest to compete, toughest on the body. 

    Each sport is given a rating out of 10 for all six attributes, and then the six scores are added together to give a final "toughness rating" out of 60 for each sport.  The higher the rating, the tougher the sport.

    Using this method we can finally answer the much-asked question, "Which sport is the toughest in the world?"

    What you are about to see is real toughness.  

Honourable Mention

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    A lot of sports could be on this list, but as far as the rankings go here are those that did not make it into the top 10 toughest sports in the world but still deserve an honourable mention.

     

    Ironman Triathlon - 26pts 

    The name itself suggests this should be one of the toughest sports in the world.  The ironman scored tops in terms of endurance but missed out on the top 10 due to some low scores in other areas.  

    An ironman triathlon consists of a 3.8km swim and 180km of cycling before finishing with a marathon (42km).  Ironman gets a mention to represent all endurance events.

    Endurance-10, Speed-3, Strength-4, Agility-3, Skill-3, Physicality-3

     

    Soccer - 32pts

    Soccer is one of a few surprises that came up on the list.  Factors include that the game is played over two 45-minute periods without stoppage, while physical contact, speed, agility and some skill are required.  Although not a high scorer in any one area, a steady score across the board sees soccer get a mention.

    Endurance-6, Speed-7, Strength-4, Agility-5, Skill-5, Physicality-5

     

    Tennis - 32pts

    Another seemingly innocuous sport that has made it a long way up the charts, tennis has some solid numbers without ever being a top scorer.  You'll only have to ask John Isner or Nicolas Mahut about how tough it can be!

    Endurance-7, Speed-7, Strength-6, Agility-6, Skill-6, Physicality-0

     

     

    *It should also be noted that boxing was the only "fighting" sport to be considered in the list, and rugby is considered as a cross-code sport rather than splitting Rugby League and Rugby Union. 

10. Gaelic Football: 32 Points

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    Part of the Gaelic Games in Ireland, Gaelic football is still strictly an amateur sport.  Something of a hybrid between soccer and rugby, players can use either their feet or hands to pass the ball.

    Moving around a large rectangular field significantly larger than a soccer field, players are permitted to slap the ball from the hands of an opponent, tussle shoulder to shoulder and tackle an opponent using one hand.

    Lasting 70 minutes, the game provides little respite for the players as they maneuver around the field in an effort to score points by getting the ball into a soccer-style goal (three points) or through a set of rugby/football posts (one point).

    No pads, no helmets and an amateur code that means all those who play are playing for pride makes this one tough sport.  They don't call them the fighting Irish for nothing.

    Scoring

    Attribute Rating
    Endurance
    Speed
    Strength
    Agility
    Skill
    Physicality

    Total Score - 32

9. Gymnastics: 33 Points

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    What?  Gymnastics!  Are you for real?

    Well, yes, I am, and the big surprise is that gymnastics didn't make it further up the list.

    There may not be big hits and hard tackles, but these guys and girls put their bodies through a lot more than that in search of perfection.  Just one day of training with this lot would break most people, and they do it every day.

    Parallel bars, beams, floor routines, vault and a whole lot more mean these athletes are incredibly skilled, have unbelievable agility and have the strength to match. 

    Losing marks in physicality due to the solo nature cost gymnastics, but I'm sure anyone who has ever competed will agree it belongs in the top 10.

    Next time you get a chance, watch some gymnastics on TV and try telling me that it isn't tough.

    Scoring

    Attribute Rating
    Endurance
    Speed
    Strength
    Agility 10 
    Skill
    Physicality

    Total Score - 33

8. Basketball: 35 Points

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    For me this was the surprise entry.  Without an intensely accurate and complex algorithm like the one that has been used, basketball would have been overlooked, but here it is, in at No. 8.

    But then when you stop to think about it, basketball is pretty tough.  

    Moving up and down the court, even with rolling substitutes, keeps endurance scores at a reasonably high level, whilst the speed and agility required to move around push the score up even further.

    Where basketball really gains on other team games is with its skill rating.  Basketball involves dribbling and shooting the ball with such delicacy, added to the bursts of power used when jumping to dunk, block and rebound.   

    Even with a low physicality rating on account of the "no-contact" aspect, basketball finds itself comfortably in the top 10...now imagine contact b'ball...that would be fun!

    Scoring

    Attribute Rating
    Endurance
    Speed
    Strength
    Agility
    Skill
    Physicality

    Total Score - 35

7. Hurling: 37 Points

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    They really are a tough bunch over in Ireland.

    Hurling is the second entry to the top 10 from the Gaelic Games.  Again the sport is completely amateur, despite drawing crowds upwards of 80,000 at Croke Park in Dublin.

    Hurling is similar to Gaelic football in a lot of ways, except this game is played with a ball similar to a baseball and big sticks!

    Scoring similarly to Gaelic football in most areas, the added speed of the game and the skill needed to catch and strike the ball put hurling further up the list.  

    I know from experience how tough it can be, and I'm not in a hurry to get back on a field with 15 men wielding sticks trying to get a ball from me!

    Scoring

    Attribute Rating
    Endurance
    Speed
    Strength
    Agility
    Skill
    Physicality

    Total Score - 37

6. Football: 38 Points

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    Sitting just outside the top five is one of the favourites, and certainly one of the top picks of any American sports enthusiast, football.

    Picking up top marks in physicality, and almost top in strength meant football was always going to be a challenger for the top five, but although some positions require specific attributes it is let-down slightly in other areas.

    Football lost a couple of downs when it came to skill levels compared to some other contenders, but the decisive sack came from endurance.

    No matter how hard the hitting or fast the play is, football is always going to fall behind other sports when it comes to endurance.  This isn't to say football players are not fit, or that they lack endurance, but when compared to a continuous game, even football enthusiasts will admit they have it easy.

    If only the entire game were played like a team five points down with no timeouts remaining in the final minute, then maybe football would climb further up the list.

    Scoring

    Attribute Rating
    Endurance 3
    Speed
    Strength
    Agility
    Skill
    Physicality 10 

    Total Score - 38

5. Ice Hockey: 39 Points

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    Hockey is in fifth place on merit alone; forget the fighting, that isn't even considered here.

    Sixty minutes racing around the ice chasing a tiny puck with big sticks, even with the substitutions, is a lot of hard work.  And yet endurance was the lowest score for ice hockey.

    The physicality is freely evident in the seemingly-endless YouTube clips of big hits, as are the strength and agility used as players tussle with each other on the ice, weaving around and changing direction quickly and frequently.

    And these guys are fast, even for skaters.

    But with the whole game taken into account, it is the skill levels that brought top marks for hockey players.  As a field hockey player will know, it's tough enough to dribble with a ball and stick on foot, but to do it at speed and on skates is incredible.

    Ice hockey really is one of the toughest sports around.

    Scoring

    Attribute Rating
    Endurance
    Speed
    Strength
    Agility
    Skill
    Physicality

    Total Score - 39

4. Rugby: 40 Points

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    One phrase often used to describe rugby is "a thug's game played by gentlemen"—well, it does seem a bit of a thug's game.

    Imagine playing football, without pads, but instead of stopping the game at every tackle, the teams pile in to a "ruck" and wrestle for the ball.

    No forward passing means if you want to score, you have to go through the defence, not over it.

    This is one of the few sports in the world that has no flashy superstars; it can't...if you act flashy off the field, someone will certainly bring you back down to earth on it.

    Hit after hit, play after play (known as phases in rugby) these guys keep going, no breaks in play, no change of teams, even the kicker (fly-half) has to play the whole game and get involved with the tackling.

    If you have never watched rugby, give it a try—the Rugby World Cup is on right now in New Zealand.  Watch a game, then try to disagree with fourth place.

    Scoring

    Attribute Rating
    Endurance
    Speed
    Strength
    Agility
    Skill
    Physicality 10 

    Total Score - 40

3. Boxing: 40 Points

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    I don't think there is a lot that needs to be said here.

    Boxing makes it in at No. 3 and acts as a representative of fighting sports.  Going into a ring and trying to hit another guy so hard he falls to the floor is pretty tough stuff.

    Scoring solidly throughout, it is no surprise that boxing's top marks came from physicality, closely followed by strength.  Let down a little by skill, boxing still scores high enough to earn a place in the top three toughest sports in the world, scraping ahead of rugby (which also scored 40 points) because it was felt the mentality of going into a sport knowing you were about to be punched and hit deserved to win the tie. 

    Scoring

    Attribute Rating
    Endurance
    Speed
    Strength
    Agility
    Skill
    Physicality 10 

    Total Score - 40

2. Aussie Rules: 41 Points

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    Virtually unknown outside of Australia, "footy" as it is affectionately known to natives, is hugely popular, particularly in the Melbourne area.

    Played on a huge oval field, footy is played with a large football-shaped ball, with teams scoring points by getting the ball through a set of posts set up at two opposing ends of the oval.

    Skill levels are high, with players needing to bounce the ball when running, and passing is restricted to kicking or punching the ball, throwing is not allowed.  Some of the catches, or "marks" as they are known, would make even the best NFL receivers gasp in shock.

    Contact is almost encouraged when a catch is contested, with pass interference almost unheard of!

    It would also be difficult to watch an entire match without cringing at the tackling, as the men not only play without pads but with incredibly short shorts and no sleeves, portraying the ultimate image of Australian manliness.

    Having spent some time in Australia, I was ultimately tempted to try it, giving the "how hard can it be" talk before my first game.  Well, damn hard, I tell you!  The size of the playing area alone is enough to put on the majority.

    Scoring

    Attribute Rating
    Endurance
    Speed
    Strength
    Agility
    Skill
    Physicality

    Total Score - 41

1. Water Polo: 44 Points

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    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.

    With a lot of kicking and grabbing going on under the surface, and all sorts of sly blows in the water, polo is highly ranked in physicality.  Like ice hockey did for the fact it was on ice, polo receives a boost to skill level, as the game itself is supplemented by the need to not drown during it.

    Often overlooked are the speed and strength needed by players as they move through the water, and more importantly the fact that players are not permitted to touch the floor.  

    Try going to your local pool and treading water for more than 30 minutes, then imagine playing an intense contact sport in that time, and you will realize why water polo scored so well for endurance.

    Often seen as a minority sport, it is hugely popular in eastern Europe, and truly is the toughest sport in the world.

    Scoring

    Attribute Rating
    Endurance
    Speed
    Strength
    Agility
    Skill
    Physicality

    Total Score - 44