What's the toughest game and position to play in sports?
The question pertains to the following conditions -- a healthy male, of playing age, of decent size, who is reasonably intelligent, and can follow instructions.
What sport and position would be the toughest to play today for an anateur with no previous experience at the sport or position?
My rankings -- from the toughest sport to the easiest:
TRACK AND FIELD: This might seem like a surprising top choice as the sport where amateurs stand absolutely no chance competing against highly-trained professionals (let's use Olympic athletes, for comparison). This is because the athletic endeavor of track and field is the purest. It has no luck factor, no teammates, no weather, nor any extenuating circumstances. Barring a serious injury, no vastly superior runner, long-jumper, javelin thrower, or pole-vaulter would ever lose to a must lesser-trained opponent who is considerably slower, weaker, and physically less gifted. Using any metric whatsoever, at any distance, there's no way an amateur could ever compete alongside an Olympic gold-medal winner, barring a serious injury to the superior athlete in the midst of the contest.
- CHANCES OF WINNING A RACE AT ANY DISTANCE: None
- CHANCES OF WINNING A LONG JUMP: None
- CHANCES OF WINNING A JAVELIN THROW: None
BOXING: No amateur athlete of any kind, under any competitive circumstances, would be able to survive inside the boxing ring with a trained professional fighter in the same weight class. End of story. End of discussion. Given the proper training, a very tough amateur boxer might be able to assume a fetal position, take several punches, and might even last a few rounds. But the physical pounding would quickly take its toll, and could even prove deadly if the charade were permitted to last too long. There's no way an amateur athlete could win even a single round, much less win a prize fight against a ranked boxer.
- CHANCES OF LANDING A PUNCH AND SCORING A POINT: 5 percent (depending on judges)
- CHANCES OF WINNING A ROUND: None
- CHANCES OF WINNING A FIGHT: None
TENNIS: What if an amateur tennis player were to step onto the court against a top pro? I suspect that if the tennis pro was determined to sweep the amateur player, he (or she) could do so easily. Returning a 120-mph serve would be challenging enough for anyone who's unaccustomed to match-like conditions. Most of the opponent's lightning-fast serves wouldn't be returned. The only way an amateur might win any points would be if the professional was having an off day, and missed a few shots. Otherwise, the pro would likely win every single point and sweep each game, effortlessly winning the set and match.
- CHANCES OF WINNING A POINT: 2 percent (1 out of every 50 shots)
- CHANCES OF WINNING A GAME: Less than 1 percent
- CHANCES OF WINNING A MATCH: None
ICE HOCKEY: Aside from boxing, an amateur player is probably most likely to be injured in a hockey game. Even assuming the amateur can skate reasonably well, he'd still be blown off the ice by the sheer speed and strength of opponents. It's highly unlikely an amateur could score a goal, unless by a deflection. In a shootout scenario, an NHL goaltender would likely stop every shot made my an amateur. If the amateur were to skate around the rink any link of time in game conditions, he'd probably be injured within the period, checked into the boards and left unconscious, even by a clean hit [I used to skate very well, and even played one period of hockey when I was 22, and I was nearly killed). The amateur would have little chance of even the slightest success in a full-strength hockey game. Note: An exception would be if the amateur were to play goaltender. A poor shooting night by the opposing team could result in a game that could be semi-competitive.
- CHANCES OF ASSISTING ON A GOAL: 5 percent (per entire game)
- CHANCES OF SCORING A GOAL: 2 percent (per entire game)
- CHANCES OF SCORING A GOAL IN A SHOOTOUT: 1 percent (chances per attempt)
FOOTBALL: Let's presume we're talking about playing quarterback. Other positions would probably be far too dangerous for any amateur athlete (and even the quarterback position would probably end in injury). Even under ideal conditions -- let's say inserting our hero into the game as the quarterback of the New England Patriots playing versus a bad team -- the inexperienced player is likely to fare miserably (recall Plimpton's experience with the Lions, losing yardage on all five plays). However, if the defense were unaware of the quarterback's arm strength weakness and therefore was forced to properly defend against the (long) pass, our hero quarterback might be able to hand-off the ball on virtually every play to a runner and somehow manage to lead the offense to a touchdown (giving the amateur some credit for the repetition of doing hand-offs and being able to call plays). This is very tricky, however, since success depends on how little we have to rely on the quarterback. Given neutral circumstances (defenses adjusting to the novice QB and blitzing on every play, for instance), here are my projections on the chances of events happening if an amateur were to play quarterback in a typical NFL game (for sake of argument, we will assume no late-game prevent defenses):
- CHANCES OF GETTING OFF AT LEAST 20 PASS ATTEMPTS (based on 60 offensive plays, and barring injury): 40 percent
- CHANCES OF COMPLETING 5 OR MORE PASSES (entire game): 30 percent
- CHANCES OF THROWING A TOUCHDOWN PASS (entire game): 10 percent
- CHANCES OF BEING SACKED ON ANY PASSING PLAY: 60 percent
- CHANCES OF BEING CARRIED OFF FIELD ON A STRETCHER: 85 percent
BASEBALL: Baseball is a complex sport to judge, given its skill set includes hitting, fielding, and throwing (and possibly pitching). Let's assume we're discussing a right fielder inserted into the starting lineup of an average major league baseball team. Much depends on how much coaching and hitting practice the amateur receives. Even given months of spring training and several games of playing experience, the amateur is unlikely to get more than a few hits during the entire season. The best course of action for any amateur would be to stand in the batters box, pretend to be interested in swinging, and take every pitch. There's a much better chance of getting on base via a walk. The next best scenario would be to bunt every time, hoping the infielder commits a throwing error. But if the amateur were to play the game normally:
- CHANCES OF COMMITTING AT LEAST 1 ERROR IN A GAME: 85 percent
- CHANCES OF STRIKING OUT (in a plate appearance): 95 percent
- CHANCES OF GETTING A BASE HIT (in a plate appearance): Less than 1 percent
BASKETBALL: Given the nature and flow of basketball, a very good team could cover up the deficiencies of a far weaker player. The superior players would simply overcompensate for the bad player who doesn't shoot well, and can't play defense. They would also have to ensure that the amateur touch the ball as little as possible, since he'd be stripped from the ball often and would surrender an obscene number of steals. However, given the Plimpton scenario (remember, he was 6' 4"), there's some argument that he might not have fared as badly as one might expect. Lining up Plimpton repeatedly in the corner, perhaps along the 3-point line, would enable him to take some shots. Given his height, he'd probably even make a few. So long as the requirements were kept simple, a reasonably-sized amateur could score a few baskets. However, he would not be able to do much more than that in terms of dribbling and passing.
- CHANCES OF SCORING A BASKET (given normal amount of touches and 25-minutes on the court): 60 percent
- CHANCES OF GETTING AN ASSIST: 80 percent
- CHANCES OF GETTING AT LEAST 1 REBOUND: 90 percent
GOLF: Golf might be the toughest sport to handicap in terms of making a professional versus amateur comparison. Most men in decent physical shape are able to perform the basic mechanics of driving, chipping, and putting. Even someone who has never picked up a golf club before could conceivably take a driver and smack a gold ball perfectly down the middle of a fairway On any given hole, even a terrible golfer could get extremely lucky on occasion and connect on a series of shots and end up parring the hole (I even got a par once). Hence, as ridiculous as it sounds, if an amateur were to tee off on one hole against The Masters champion, on very rare occasions he could (and would) win the hole. The frequency is open to debate. However, given that golf is an individual sport, let's take a typical par-4 on a PGA course and determine what chances the amateur has of being competitive:
- CHANCES OF PARRING THE HOLE (based on an 18-handicap): 15 percent
- CHANCES OF SHOOTING PAR FOR THE COURSE (9 holes): Less than 1 percent
- CHANCES OF SHOOTING PAR FOR THE COURSE (18 holes): None
SOCCER: Soccer requires considerable skill and endurance. However, the mechanics -- consisting mainly of running, blocking, and kicking -- are relatively simple enough for anyone to be able to take the field and have some chance of being competitive. For instance, an amateur playing the forward position on a world-class team might even score a goal. At the very least, an amateur wouldn't necessarily look too bad running out on a pitch, getting a few touches, taking a corner kick or two, and blocking shots defensively. This isn't to say the far superior athletes wouldn't badly outplay the amateur, just that the very nature of what's very much a team game would mask some of the inequities. Accordingly, here's my projection based on playing the position of forward for an average team during a 10-game schedule of (UEFA) Champion League games:
- CHANCES OF SCORING A GOAL DURING THE SEASON: 35 percent
- CHANCES OF SCORING A GOAL GIVEN THE CHANCE TO TAKE A PENALTY KICK: 5 percent (amateur wouldn't likely be able to generate enough velocity nor accuracy to score most of the time)
Final thoughts: Last fall, a group of us were in Pittsburgh when we went out to a football stadium to kick field goals. Trust me, even under perfect conditions (no pass rush, no pressure, perfect weather), kicking a field goal is not easy. After several tries, I did manage to make one kick from 30 yards. However, professional poker player Tom Schneider -- who is considerably older and much heavier than me -- not only made several kicks. He even booted one from 40 yards. So, from this assessment, I think we have to throw out field goal kickers as "athletes."
So, now it's your turn.
What do you think of my rankings?
Which sports would be easiest and toughest for an amateur to play?