• Pat Opperman

Why Lacrosse is the Toughest Team Sport

Tongue-in-cheek article written for a US-based sports magazine. It is not reproducible.


Anyone who has ever played Lacrosse knows it is one of the toughest sports in the world. It involves swinging sticks, hitting and checking, constant running, and a projectile whizzing around the field at close to 100 miles-per-hour.


Why then does Lacrosse get little respect when it comes to naming the toughest sports?


Definition of Toughness

Recently, we searched the internet for a worldly view on what the toughest sport was.

“Sports” like swimming, road races (in cars!), and tennis regularly appeared in top-ten lists.


We were shocked. It was obvious that the criteria for toughness varied from region to region.


For us, toughness is gauged in the post-game locker room. If there is no bleeding, bruising, and limping around, there is no toughness.


Blame ESPN


Way back in 2004, ESPN did a well-publicized study to decide the most demanding sport.


They included parameters like agility, flexibility, hand-eye coordination, and something called “analytic aptitude”.


Eight panelists rated sports on each parameter. What made them experts on every sport? And how do agility and smarts make a sport tough?


ESPN listed Lacrosse at number 14 behind sports like baseball and basketball. The science was flawed, but their parameters set the tone for future studies.


A True Assessment of Tough


We decided to do our own study to find the toughest team sport. By eliminating individual sports like gymnastics, fencing, and rodeo steer wrestling, we made the comparisons more reliable.


Moreover, none of us ever did that stuff growing up, so our expertise would be lacking.


In fact, I should probably mention that we do not have the budget of a conglomerate like ESPN, so our expert panel is smaller than theirs was.


“We” includes this writer and four folks who met the strict eligibility requirement of having ever seen a lacrosse game.


Setting the Parameters


For this study, we define tough as a combination of endurance, strength, physicality, nerve and coordination. We scored each item on a 0-2 point scale.


Soccer, basketball, football, rugby, water polo, and hockey regularly make it into others’ top ten lists. We looked at how these sports match up against lacrosse on our toughness scale.

Lacrosse is Way, Way Tougher Than Soccer


Soccer scored high in most studies based solely on endurance. The pitch is large and the players are supposed to be running for 90 minutes in all manners of weather. We gave two points for that, even though we consistently see guys slacking off out there.


Coordination is limited to kicking the ball to each other and into a goal. It is rare that someone makes a truly spectacular, needle-threading kick, so we cannot give a full point there.


Let’s face it. Kicking a ball is a skill we all learned as kids.


There were no points for physicality. While we appreciate that shin-to-shin kicks hurt, there are too many flops and not enough real collisions to give points. Strength and nerve were not observed in soccer.


Soccer: 2 points for endurance, a half-point for coordination. 2.5 total toughness points.

Lacrosse is Much Tougher Than Basketball

Basketball tends to score high in endurance, physicality, strength and coordination. We are not so sure those points are warranted.


Fighting through a bunch of large bodies to grab a rebound or make a layup is tough. We awarded top scores for strength based on that vital part of the game.


Endurance would max out were it not for those players we see standing around during plays. Coaches also call time outs when their players appear winded.


Physicality can be there, but referees blow whistles for ticky-tac fouls and generally don’t allow serious contact throughout the game. Coordination gets a point for dribbling through traffic and putting a ball into a relatively small hoop.

Basketball: 2 points for strength, 1 point each for coordination and endurance. 4 total toughness points.


Lacrosse is Tougher Than NFL Football


Americans watch highlight films of football games and think, “These guys must be the toughest athletes in sports.” Granted, we don’t want to pick a fight with them, but is the game of football so tough?


It is hard to argue about the physicality. Football injuries are among the most brutal in sports.


However, improved helmets and a plethora of pads and protectors will cost the masters of the gridiron a point.


Endurance loses all points for the constant stoppage of play; regular delivery of water and sports drinks, and because no one plays the whole game. Coordination is limited to the skill players.


Strength is undisputed and we awarded the first nerve point just because players go out there against the strongest men in sports.


Football: 2 points for strength; one point each for nerve, coordination and physicality. 5 total toughness points.


Lacrosse is Also Tougher Than Water Polo


Water polo is fun! Every one of our panel played some form of it, mostly in our neighbor’s swimming pools.


We agreed that water polo requires great endurance. Just keep swimming…or drown, right?


We debated the level of strength, physicality and coordination that went into pushing Cousin Timmy’s head under the water while leaping up and throwing the ball at the ladder.


Ultimately, we gave a point for each of those parameters and eliminated nerve since professional water polo players do not generally have to worry about their brother peeing in the pool.


Water Polo: 2 points for endurance; one each for coordination, strength, and physicality. 5 total toughness points.


Lacrosse is Even Tougher Than Rugby


Rugby guys have to be tough to get away with wearing those cute little shorts and knee socks. Lacrosse, however, has it all over rugby as far as tough games go.


Strength of course, is the calling card of rugby players. Push the pile, grab the ball, run around until there’s another pile to push.


We’re not sure why, except that leaning into a pile might give some players a chance to rest.


We gave rugby points for endurance, physicality, and nerve as there is enough blood to wonder what really goes on in those moving masses of manhood.


Rugby: 2 points for strength and physicality; 1 point each for endurance, and nerve. 6 total toughness points


Lacrosse is a Little Bit Tougher Than Hockey


Stitches, black eyes and missing teeth are badges of honor for hockey players. It is hard to argue how tough they are; but is hockey tougher than lacrosse?


Skating on ice for 60 minutes takes endurance. Shooting and passing a puck while skating takes coordination. Knowing a puck can smash into your face from any angle if you take your eye off it requires nerve.


Hockey lost a point for physicality because of the players’ coordination. We agreed that if we played ice hockey, there would be a lot more smashing of bodies into walls and each other; but the pros generally miss each other.


The sport lost a partial point because their goalies wear too much protection compared to lacrosse.


Ice Hockey: 2 points each for endurance and coordination. 1.75 points for nerve; 1 point for physicality. 6.75 total toughness points


Lacrosse IS the Toughest Team Sport Ever!


Lacrosse players hit the field for each game ready to put their life on the line for glory. Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration, but they are tough!


Lacrosse players run up and down the field for sixty minutes in a solid display of endurance.


They catch, pass, and shoot the ball from a net at the end of a stick. Coordination and quick reflexes are very necessary.


Loose balls result in a smashing of sticks and bodies. Other than some light shoulder pads, most players have no protection from the sticks poking and slashing at them.


Lacrosse goalies stand in front of a target at which opponents with sticks will blast a small, painful ball at upwards of 100 miles per hour every couple of minutes.


Goalies wear nothing but a face-masked helmet and the light shoulder pads.


The game is largely played behind the goal, meaning a goalie has to follow the ball for 360 degrees before someone whips it towards the net or into his chest, forearm, thigh or other vital parts.


Lacrosse goalies are the toughest men and women on any sports team. This is what pushes lacrosse ahead of hockey as the toughest team sport in America.


Lacrosse: 2 points each for endurance, coordination, and nerve. 1 point for physicality. 7 total toughness points.


What Could Be Clearer?


We admit our little study is not totally scientific. Perhaps there are even some points we could open for debate.


However, this is the end of our article, so for now you have to accept that lacrosse is definitely the toughest team sport played in America today.


If you have any comments or concerns, please send them directly to ESPN. After all, they started it.

Pat Opperman, freelance writer, and BABY KNOWS ... are registered
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