What Are the Most Difficult Sports to Play?

A group of ice hockey players fighting over the puck

What Are the Most Difficult Sports to Play?

Playing any sport, whether it’s a sport at the Olympic games or a backyard game at your neighbor’s barbeque next weekend (and hey, no pressure, but could you get us an invite to that?) requires varying levels of different traits, including endurance, strength, speed, agility, and both physical and technical proficiency.

It follows that the most difficult sports to play would be the ones that require their athletes to utilize all these traits throughout the game, perfectly tuned to perform at maximum ability and display maximum effort.

Everyone has their favorite sports—we sure do and we know you do too—and a large part of that is watching athletes break past the limits of what was supposed to be possible. Seeing this sort of preternatural physical prowess can inspire a sense of hope and wonder, the movements looking intuitive and obvious, yet altogether impossible.

Okay, we know what you’re thinking: Why do we get to decide which sports are the most difficult sports to play?

Hey, we get it!

We’re experts in Cornhole, but we’re merely super-fans of all other sports. We understand your skepticism, and we agree: we’re not possibly qualified to judge! But we’re committed to overcoming our limitations, so we surveyed all of the athletes we know, reviewed mountains worth of data (by which we mean interviews in sports magazines), and even ventured to the depths of the internet to find out which sports are the most difficult to play!


Yes, gymnastics! Seriously!

The graceful, effortlessly performed choreography and (we’re assuming here, but we’re pretty sure we’re right) antigravity magic displayed by skilled gymnasts may make it look easy, but any gymnast knows making it look easy is the whole point, and that’s why gymnastics is the most difficult sport to play (according to 100% of the gymnasts we surveyed)!

To truly appreciate gymnastics, it’s worth the time to learn about what it takes to perform the moves and how dangerous some of them truly can be if not performed exactly right.

Every specialty in gymnastics—vault, beams, parallel bars, uneven bars, floor routines, rings, pommel horse—requires strength, agility, and most of all, the tenacity to keep up with the punishing daily practices that gymnasts who aspire to master their sport engage in. When gymnasts compete, they’re scored based on the artistry and execution of their routine with deductions for errors.


Everyone we lost by starting with gymnastics can come back now!

Talk to people who play football, and they’ll tell you football is the most difficult sport to play. Demanding peak physicality and lots of strength, football is one of America’s favorite sports. It requires less endurance than other sports, relying instead on bursts of speed and power to get the ball to where it needs to go.

This might be surprising to think about since American football games routinely last over three hours, but a regulation football game is only 60 minutes (unless it goes into overtime).

Timeouts, injuries, the halftime show, replay reviews, and penalties all pause the game clock, which is part of why strength is more important than endurance. With an equivalent of two minutes off for every one minute of play, training to build the same amount of endurance as athletes who play continuous sports is time better spent building more strength or refining agility and focusing on technical skills.


If this wasn’t one of the sports you expected to see on this list, you must not talk to a lot of basketball players because basketball players say basketball is the most difficult sport to play. 

Rather than focusing on pure strength and power like football, basketball players tend to focus more on agility training. The game involves a high degree of technicality—with dribbling and shooting the ball often appearing to happen in slow motion—while jumping, dunking, blocking, and rebounding demonstrate explosions of power and speed.

While basketball is played in four quarters of 12 minutes each for a total game time of 48 minutes, the clock is frequently paused due to fouls, injuries, and free throws—plus there are up to seven timeouts per game (with four of them being mandatory to take—one per quarter). Despite this, professional team basketball games still show extreme restraint compared to football, with games typically running about two hours long.


A poll of wrestlers determined that wrestling is the most difficult sport to play, with wrestling taking 99% of the votes.

Olympic wrestling is played in a square ring ranging from 14 to 20 feet on each side, and the matches are lightning fast, with two three-minute periods and a 30-second rest break in between.

The objective is to pin the opponent’s shoulders to the mat, resulting in an instant victory. If the wrestlers are unable to pin each other by the end of the match, the winner is determined based on points. Points are awarded throughout the match for successfully performing legal holds, throws, takedowns, and reversals.

Professional wrestling involves much of the same but also requires showmanship, screen presence, the ability to act and memorize lines, and a mastery of stunt choreography so that fights can appear brutally intense without causing excessive harm to performers.

What we’re trying to say is that professional wrestling is the most difficult sport to play, according to professional wrestlers.


Any boxer will tell you that boxing is the most difficult sport to play. While it may appear disarmingly simple to anyone who hasn’t attempted it—you just get into the ring and hit the other guy until he falls down, right?—boxing takes a lot of training. Boxers put monumental effort into building strength, endurance, stamina, and the mental fortitude to know that you are going into a situation where you could be seriously injured.

Professional boxing is played in a square ring ranging from 16 to 24 feet on each side. Matches are decided in twelve 3-minute rounds with a 1-minute rest break between rounds. The only accepted method of attack is punching with a fist; boxers are not allowed to hit below the belt, in the kidneys, or the back of their opponent’s head or neck. Ropes cannot be used for leverage.


A traditional Irish sport that’s exclusively amateur league, hurling is the most difficult sport to play, according to hurlers.

Hurling is played on a hurling field with H-shaped goalposts. Each of 15 players per team wields equipment called “the stick,” “the hurley” or the “camán” (that’s Irish for “hurling stick”), which is curved at the end to provide a surface to strike the ball, or “sliotar” (that’s Irish for “hurling ball”).

The ball can be struck on the ground or in the air; it may be caught or picked up with the hurley into the hand and carried for up to four steps. After four steps, the ball can be bounced on the hurley and back into the hand, but this can only be done twice. If the ball is balanced or bounced on the hurley, there are no movement limits.

Players can attempt to take the ball from their opponent with their own hurley or by shoulder charging. Striking the ball over the crossbar of the goal scores one point, landing it under the crossbar and into the net is good for three points. If this sounds confusing, try watching a game or two, and you’ll figure it out.

Gaelic Football

Another traditional Irish sport that’s exclusively amateur league, Gaelic football is the most difficult sport to play, according to Gaelic football players (that’s players of Gaelic football, not players of other styles of football who happen to be Gaelic—their opinions will differ depending on what style of football they play).

To the uninitiated, Gaelic football can best be described as a combination of soccer and rugby (don’t worry, rugby fans, we’ll get to you soon!), with players able to pass the ball with their hands or feet.

Gaelic football is played on a rectangular field that’s about 20 yards longer and 10 yards wider than a regulation soccer field. The rules allow players to tussle shoulder to shoulder, slap the ball out of the hands of an opponent, and tackle an opponent using one hand.

The game is 70 minutes of players maneuvering around the field, trying to score three-point goals into the soccer-style goal or one-point goals through a set of rugby posts. There are no pads or helmets and no trophies or titles up for grabs—the amateur code means everyone is playing for pride and love of the game.


People who play rugby at any level will tell you that rugby is the most difficult sport to play, and it can get pretty intense too—rugby is described across the pond as “a thug’s game played by gentlemen.”

Anyone who watched TV in 2001 may have some vague, hazy memories of ads for XFL, the Xtreme Football League (that is how they spelled it). The idea was kind of like football but with fewer rules and rougher play. At the time, a lot of us sarcastically asked “Did they just reinvent rugby?”

Rugby is like football but with minimal protective equipment—you get a helmet, you get a uniform, you get cleats. That’s it. And to be fair, the cleats are more useful for offense than for defense.

When someone is tackled, the game doesn’t stop—instead everyone from both teams pile on and wrestle for control of the ball. Rugby doesn’t allow forward passing, so there’s no going over the defense. You have to go through it if you want to score. Truly an endurance sport, rugby has no breaks in play and no change of players on teams. Everyone is expected to play the entire game.

Ice Hockey

If you’ve been to an ice hockey game, you’ll understand why ice hockey players say ice hockey is the most difficult sport to play! If you haven’t been to an ice hockey game, all you need to know is that it’s about sixty minutes of six players from each team on the ice at once (although each team can have up to 20 players, including two goalies) chasing a puck and trying to hit it with big sticks.

The physicality of the sport is obvious from videos of big hits—even ones filmed on shaky phone cameras from possibly the worst seats at the rink. Player conflicts on the ice are well known, with jokes about how often fights break out.

Part of this is down to people who are new to the sport misinterpreting players tussling on the ice to gain control of the puck, and part of it is because ice hockey players skate fast, weaving and changing direction without warning. Just figuring out how to maneuver a puck while skating seems plenty difficult to us!


Heck no!

Talk to anyone who plays cornhole, either casually or professionally, and they’ll tell you that cornhole is most definitely not a difficult sport to play. On the contrary, Cornhole is one of the easiest sports to play! 

Everybody—from children to elders—including people of every shape, size, and ability level—can find fun and challenge in the game of cornhole. Next time you’re participating in this difficult-to-pass-up sport, do it with your own custom cornhole board from Cornhole Worldwide! All you need to do is submit a request, and one of our digital artists will bring your design to life. We also have hundreds of themed sets if you aren’t interested in designing your own.

Now that you know some of the most difficult sports to play, consider learning to play one of them for yourself! Continuing to learn new things over your lifetime has significant mental health benefits, including helping to keep your brain working better for longer—and if you choose to learn one of the most difficult sports to play, that means you’ll be learning even more, which we’re pretty sure will basically make you immortal!

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