The Toughest Position in Sports?

I was watching the Eagles-Giants football game the other day and it struck me how incredibly difficult the quarterback’s job is. There are only 32 NFL starting quarterbacks in the world, giving you a sense of the rarefied position they hold.

Here are some of the challenges associated with the position:

  • The quarterback has to have the playbook memorized. According to Sam Farmer, a reporter for the L.A. Times, Jon Gruden had a playbook thicker than the Los Angeles Yellow Pages. Gruden said that while there are hundreds of plays in a typical playbook, most teams select between 75 and 100 pass plays for a game, and 15-20 running plays when assembling a game plan for a given week.
  • It seems as if the quarterback is responsible for not only knowing what he has to do on each of those plays, but what every offensive player needs to be doing on those plays.
  • The quarterback has to be able to read defenses and make split-second decisions based on those reads. This requires hours and hours of watching and studying film.
  • He has to have the skills to be able to throw the ball in a variety of situations and positions.
  • He has to be able to withstand the pressure of several large, strong, and athletic men charging at him with the intent of bringing him to the ground.
  • The quarterback has to gain the respect of his teammates so that he can be the leader of the team.
  • He has to be willing to withstand the scrutiny he will undoubtedly receive from fans and reporters after each of his games.
  • It also seems to help if the quarterback is good looking.

So then I started thinking if being a quarterback was THE toughest position in sports.

I posed the question to my research assistant, Google, and lo and behold I came across an article that addressed this very issue, but not in a scientific sort of way.

WatchMojo.com has a countdown of its picks for the Top 10 Hardest Positions in Sports. For this list, they focused on the positions from a variety of sports that are toughest to play from both a physical and technical standpoint.

  • 10: Center (Basketball)
  • 9: Wicket-Keeper (Cricket)
  • 8: Catcher (Baseball)
  • 7: All Positions (Water Polo)
  • 6: Goalie (Lacrosse)
  • 5: Scrum-Half (Rugby)
  • 4: Pitcher (Baseball)
  • 3: Quarterback (American Football)
  • 2: Goalie (Hockey)
  • 1: Goalkeeper (Football)

It’s a great list; it covers a wide range of sports and certainly has an international flair to it. But I still think the quarterback is the toughest position.

There’s no doubt that being a goalie is a tough job, as evidenced by three different goalie positions making the top 10 list. It’s a pressure-packed job that certainly requires lightning-quick reflexes and knowledge of angles and the other team’s tendencies. And each shot on goal can be the difference between winning and losing. But I think it pales in comparison to the number of decisions that a quarterback is faced with and the amount of prep time that is required of such a player.

Here’s another countdown, from Odyssey, which seems to be more focused on U.S. sports:

  • 5: Point Guard (Basketball)
  • 4: Linebacker (American Football)
  • 3: Catcher (Baseball)
  • 2: Goalkeeper (Hockey and soccer)
  • 1: Quarterback (football)

There are many other outlets out there offering their opinion as to the most difficult position in sports, but for the most part, they boil down to a discussion of quarterbacks vs. goalies/goalkeepers.

I’ll finish with this opening paragraph from a 2015 USA Today article that claimed being a good quarterback is the hardest job in the world, not just in sports. If you’ve got a couple of minutes, it makes for an interesting read.

By the way, if you’d like to see the top 10 list from above set to video of the different sports with a voice-over narration which offers a bit more detail about each position, here you go:

//services.brid.tv/player/build/brid.min.js

$bp(“myDiv”, {“id”:”18480″,”width”:”1277″,”height”:”718″,”video”:{ “src”: “https://d1w0hpjgs8j5kt.cloudfront.net/863cf9c90eae22a213fc7de879a84eb9.mp4”, “name”: “Top 10 Hardest Positions in Sports”, “image”: “/uploads/thumbs720/Sp-Top10-Hardest-Positions-In-Sports-720p30.jpg”},”autoplay”:0,”shared”:true});

*image from Canada Olympics page

16 thoughts on “The Toughest Position in Sports?

  1. I would definitely agree on number two being the hockey goalie. They have a tremendous amount of pressure on them and if they screw up, you better believe everyone takes notice and no one cuts them any slack. They also get replaced by a back-up goalie which doesn’t feel too good either. I think they’re akin to baseball pitchers as well. Both jobs are very unforgiving of failure and are filled with pressure. But I love your breakdown of the quarterback. I learned a few things and I can see how they are so respected and well, why they also get paid so much. Ha. This is one terrific post!

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    1. I’d certainly agree that a hockey goalie seems like a tougher job than a soccer goalkeeper, but they both seem like pretty stressful positions. But the quarterback just has so many things they have to be thinking about, and my assumption is that QBs put in more prep time than any other athlete.

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  2. One could argue that 6 – 10 on the first list are all goalies in a manner of speaking. I agree that Quarterback is the hardest position not only because of what the quarterback must do but also because football requires having 11 people doing the right thing on every play for the quarterback to look good. IMO football (soccer) goalies should be out of the top 10 because their chances are so few.

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    1. I understand your point about soccer goalies not having to deal with too many shots on goal, but I guess that just makes each one that much more important. But I’m with you the QB having the tougher job.

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  3. I like Odyssey’s list—it’s hard to argue with any of those five choices. The quarterback is certainly one of the most scrutinized positions in sports. Quarterbacks tend to get too much credit or blame based on the overall success of the team. You know the most popular player on the team according to sports’ fans is the backup quarterback. As soon as the number one guy has a temporary rough go of it, the fans call for the backup.

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    1. QBs are certainly scrutinized and take much of the blame and praise. The Philadelphia Eagles are a great example of the popularity of the backup. When Carson Wentz was injured, Nick Foles came in – and won a Super Bowl for the Eagles. He will forever be a fan favorite!

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  4. What a thought provoking question, Jim! I will agree that a football quarterback not only has to be physically talented, but he must also have the intellect and leadership skills to make it all work together. I love hockey and think hockey players are often under-rated in the recognition of their athletic talents, but they are not making the decisions that a quarterback has to make. At least with the multi-million dollar contracts, they cannot say their talents are not highly rewarded. Great post to ‘kick-off’ the New Year!

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    1. I don’t know much about hockey, but it seems as if the goalie have to have incredible reflexes. And I don’t think anyone would ever question the toughness of a hockey player. And yes, qb’s are well compensated for their work. Like the kick-off pun!

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  5. I love watching footballl. I never knew my favorite quarterback Aaron Rodgers has to remember so many plays, that’s why he always has a stoic face..this post gives me a clear understanding.. Thanks Jim

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  6. I think a Pitcher depends on what TYPE of pitcher. If you’re a closer, you have an insane amount of pressure but only have to pitch one inning. A starter has to throw ~5-7 frames but the team can win with talented bats.

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