Monday, July 16, 2012



         What is the most difficult skill to master in all sports?
         To be really good at any sports demands a high degree of skill from the players. But some skills are more difficult to master than others, and therefore more impressive. Every sport, furthermore, has its limits of achievement, a “possibility range, “ if you will, that no human being can exceed.
         Athletes are constantly striving to push the limits, to run faster, to jump higher, to lift more, to throw farther, to break whatever the existing record may be. To break any long-standing record in any sport is always a huge challenge and extremely difficult.
         But that’s not the kind of feat I have in mind. What I am asking is, of the routine skills demanded of the players in any sport, what is the most difficult to do well? Granted achieving excellence in any sport is extremely demanding, what skill in which sport is the most difficult to master?
         It takes a great deal of skill to play golf well, but many professional and amateur players do. The winners of tournaments break par consistently. Polo is a difficult sport. Having to hit a ball while astride a galloping steed is a daunting prospect, but skilled polo players manage it remarkably well. Wrestling, swimming, rowing, running, weightlifting are all physically demanding, but not inaccessible to the average person who is willing to train and be taught the basics.
         There are many sports that almost anyone can play, like tennis, bowling, volley ball, croquet, ping pong, badminton, touch football, and bocci ball, but not everyone plays them well. In every sport people’s skill levels vary immensely, but the physical demands are not prohibitive for the average person to perform at some level.

         Team sports and especially contact sports require a greater variety of physical skills, some more than others, and certain positions are more difficult than others to play. I don’t know how hockey goalies can stop a puck being shot at them from close range, or lacrosse goalies a ball being fired at them by players who can whip the ball at the net with lightning speed from any angel. Soccer goalies have a larger net to defend but a much larger ball to stop. But good goalies in each of these sports manage to stop a high percentage of shots, and in a typical game there are far more saves than scores

         Given these realities, what then is the most difficult skill in any sport? I raised this question with my son Andy and grandson Seth, both rabid sports fans, over lunch recently and without hesitation Woody replied “Hitting a baseball!”
         That precipitated a lively discussion, at the conclusion of which Seth and I concurred with Woody that hitting a well pitched baseball is surely one of the most if not the most difficult feat in all sports. A batter has a fraction of a second to react to a ball coming at him from sixty feet six inches away with unpredictable trajectories and at varying speeds of up to 100 miles an hour. Even if he connects successfully, there are nine opposing players whose mission is to see that he doesn’t reach first base safely.
         That is certainly impressive, but here is the most convincing argument in support of our conclusion. At what other skill in any other sport is an athlete considered exceptionally proficient when he or she is successful only 30% of the time? The three of us could not think of one, but in baseball a player with a .300 batting average is considered a good hitter!
          That was our unanimous conclusion. What are your thoughts on the subject?

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