What is the Most Challenging Ball Sport? The Least?

Dear Sports Fan,

What do you consider the most physically challenging sport that involves a ball? The least?


— — —

Okay, so bocce is not the most physically challenging... but is it a sport?

Hey Crystal,

I’m glad you said “physically challenging” rather than simply “challenging.” That makes this a much easier question for me to answer because it rules out baseball. Baseball (only nominally a sport as far as I’m concerned) is extremely technically challenging but virtually no one would say it is the most physically challenging sport. I’m glad you specified that the sport should involve a ball because that rules out hockey, ballet, and cycling. All three of those sports are incredibly physically grueling often to the point of seriously damaging the people who play them.

The most physically challenging ball sport has to be water polo. I know I’ve mentioned water polo before so attentive readers may be thinking that I just have a thing for water polo. But seriously — imagine swimming and treading water for 32 minutes.[1] That’s exhausting enough! Now add playing a sport which involves a lot of time treading water without your hands and arms and tons of times when you drive yourself up out of the water to catch, throw, and block the ball. To that add violence. Tons of violence. Here is an article from the Washington Post written during the 2004 olympics that describes this pretty well:

Water polo players launch themselves out of the water to shoot.

Through the murk of the water, you see elbows swung into guts, knees slammed into groins, hands yanking bathing suits into painful wedgies, guys simply swimming on top of an opponent and holding him under water until he fights his way, punching and kicking, to the surface. Technically, none of this stuff is legal, but the refs working the poolside allow a certain amount of leeway.

The least physically challenging sport is actually a harder question because being physically challenging is one of the elements that usually helps distinguish between a game and a sport. For instance, though many of you might think I was going to argue for golf as the least challenging sport, I would say that if you count golf as a sport, you should count bocce! And bocce is much less physically challenging than golf.[2] No need to limber up to hit a ball hundreds of feet in bocce. No “walking the course” for 72 holes over four days. Bocce consists of throwing not that heavy balls not that far towards an even smaller, lighter ball.

One of the best five baseball players in the world.

If you exclude bocce, golf, pool, darts, and try to find a true sport sport which is pretty easy to play, then I think it’s probably got to be cricket. I don’t know that much about cricket but I do know that test cricket is played over up to five days. During each day “there are usually three two-hour sessions, with a forty minute break for ‘lunch’ and a twenty minute break for ‘tea’.” I am sure cricket takes an enormous amount of skill and it’s hard to argue that baseball (a sport where one of it’s best players looks like this) is more physically demanding… but…. well, what do you think?

Great question!
Ezra Fischer

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. There are four eight-minute quarters in water polo although because the clock stops on fouls and when the ball goes out of bounds, most quarters actually last around 12 minutes. Players will continue to tread water even when the clock has stopped. We hope.
  2. Excluding cross-country bocce, of course!

Getting Old in Sports

Here’s an article from Chris Ballard that was published on Sports Illustrated recently. It’s an exploration of how age works in an industry where 37 is “ancient.” I enjoyed it for his insight into professional sports, but more for how he connected his own experiences of aging while playing in recreational games with what professional athletes go through.

What is it about this age and sports? Thirty-seven is when Reggie Miller turned into a role player, when Joe Montana became human, when Muhammad Ali retired for the first—and what should have been the last—time. Thirty-seven is where expectations go to die. Fans don’t expect fortysomethings to be All-Stars; if a 41-year-old is even playing, we glorify him. Look at that lovable codger; he’s still going! But at 37 the athlete still carries a whiff of greatness. When he doesn’t perform, we are disappointed. He is not yet lovable. He is letting us down.

Why do Sports Have Seasons?

Dear Sports Fan,

Why are sports played during certain seasons?



Dear Jill,

That’s an interesting question. Oddly enough I could find barely any answer for your question online. So… I’ll just have to make up an answer.

Sports seasons once made sense because the weather fit the sport. Football was played in the fall because it’s best played on cool, crisp autumn days. Playing football in the summer would be tortuous and dangerous for players running around in what basically amounted to heavy leather armor. Baseball cannot be played in the winter and because the season is so long and games have to be canceled on even the hint of rain, it’s important to get started as soon as spring begins to spring. Hockey is played on ice so… winter seems like a natural time for it especially in the days before super-powerful air-conditioners made it feasible to play hockey in South Florida and Texas. Since real Americans don’t play hockey, they needed something else to play in the winter. Enter Basketball, a sport that could be played in the summer but could be played in the winter!

Everything made some sort of intuitive sense until serious money got injected into sports leagues. With few exceptions, the more games a league scheduled, the longer the season, the more teams made the playoffs and the longer the playoffs were, the more money owners and players and television stations could make. This is where things started getting mushy. In 1960, when the NFL began it had a 12 game regular season. The next year they expanded to 14 games which lasted until 1978 when they added another 2 games. It’s been that way since then although they are now discussing moving to an 18 game season as part of the lockout negotiations. The first Super Bowl was held on Jan 15, 1967. This year’s Super Bowl was on February 6! Similar transformations have happened in the NBA and the NHL. The first NBA championship was on April 22, 1947. The Philadelphia Warriors beat the Chicago Stags. This year’s NBA championship ended on Sunday June 12! The NHL is not far behind. Actually it’s ahead. This year the NHL Finals ended on June 15. That’s not hockey weather!! The first NHL championship was back in 1893 and I can’t figure out the date, but the first modern championship ended on April 19. As for Baseball — the World Series has shifted from October 13 in 1903 to November 1.

Everything used to be better. Now nothing makes any sense. Or so says the grumpy old man…

Thanks for the question,
Ezra Fischer


What is More Scary — a Panther or a Tiger?

Dear Sports Fan,

What is more scary —  a panther or a tiger?



Dear Raule,

Technically there doesn’t seem to be a single animal called a panther. Panthera is a genus[1] of cats which includes lions, leopards, jaguars, and tigers. In North America we also use the word panther to refer to the couger or mountain lion so I am going to assume that’s what you mean by panther. The panther is the second largest cat in North America (after the Jaguar, the South American form of Panthera) but it is more genetically akin to house cats than to lions. This shows in the sounds it makes. It cannot roar, but instead “hisses, growls, and purrs, as well as chirps and whistles.” It does not frequently attack humans although when it does it can be a serious problem. Full grown males can be up to 8 feet long and 220 pounds. By comparison, the largest tigers can be up to 11 feet long and weigh in at 660 pounds! They are the solitary animals and unusual for cats, they are strong swimmers that enjoy the water. According to wikipedia, “Although humans are not regular prey for tigers, they have killed more people than any other cat, particularly in areas where population growth, logging, and farming have put pressure on tiger habitats. Most man-eating tigers are old and missing teeth, acquiring a taste for humans because of their inability to capture preferred prey.” This really makes me feel good about our species…

Now in terms of sport, I can only assume that you are referring to the Carolina Panthers (NFL) and the Detroit Tigers (MLB.) The Detroit Tigers are having a pretty good season, having won 47 and lost 42 games so far. If the season ended today they would be half a game[2] out of a playoff spot. The Carolina Panthers on the other hand are spending the summer locked out by their owner. Last season they were by far the worst team in the league, only able to win 2 games out of 16.

A fun game to play is trying to categorize all of the team names in a sport. Take the NFL. You may think there are a lot of cat names, and there are: Bengals, Jaguars, Panthers, and Lions — but there are more birds: Cardinals, Seahawks, Falcons, Ravens, and Eagles. The largest category that I can come up with is wild west: 49ers, Redskins, Cowboys, Broncos, Chiefs, Colts, and Bills. Another category I enjoy is the mythical creature: Titans, Giants, Saints… How about industry? This category has a few teams: Steelers, Packers, 49ers (again,) Cowboys (again,) Raiders, and Jets (maybe.) Fun for the whole family!

Thanks for the[3] question,
Ezra Fischer

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Remember “King Phillip Came Over For Great Sex” — Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species.
  2. A game behind in wins, but having played one fewer game than the team they are behind.
  3.  Admittedly weird

The Nationals are above .500? Who cares?

Dear Sports Fan,
What does it mean that the Nationals hit .500? Everyone seems pretty excited about it. And, who cares anyway? They all play a bizillion games and then the Yankees win the World Series 8 times outta 10.

Dear Kat,
There are two things to understand about baseball in regard to your question. First, baseball is a long season and things can change for a team over the weeks and months that can give a fan hope where there wasn’t before. And the second is that it’s all relative. Qualitatively, baseball has teams that usually don’t have much of a chance to win the World Series and teams that usually do have a chance to win. For example (sticking to the past decade for reference), in the usually-a-chance category are teams like the New York Yankees, the Boston Red Sox, and the Philadelphia Phillies. In the usually-no-chance category are teams like the Kansas City Royals, the Baltimore Orioles, and the Washington Nationals. Going into the season, fans of these teams all want to believe their team will be good and might win, however, fans of the former can reasonably expect a winning record and to have a shot at making the playoffs while fans of the latter know that deep down they will eventually reach the point of “there is always next year.”
The Nationals have an interesting history, as they were the Montreal Expos before moving to Washington in 2005 and becoming the Nationals. For a timeline of important events check out the link below. Their history, in a nutshell, is that the  Montreal/Washington franchise, while having occasional success over the years, has not traditionally been a consistently winning team. Focusing on recent history, over the past five years the Nationals have finished below .500 every year and at times been considered the worst team in baseball. The significance of .500 is not really any different than any other sport – the team either has a winning record or a losing record and .500 is the marker in between. For struggling teams, the .500 mark is encouraging because it represents the point at which a losing team can, with one more win, cross over to become a winning team. Obviously, being one game over .500 does not mean great things for a team in itself, but for fans, the mentality shifts a bit as your team is showing signs of hope and a chance for a positive season. In the case of the Nationals, because the team has had so many seasons below .500 (and well below, I might add), fans are excited to watch a team with a winning record. It may also be the case that the Nationals are showing signs of improvement.

In summary, we have a traditionally low expectation team in the Nationals, playing well, relatively speaking, and giving their fans something to cheer about. They probably won’t win their division, make the playoffs, or win the World Series. But over the long summer, Nationals fans can enjoy being a winning team, at least for now, and hang on to the notion of “what if” for a little longer.

Thanks for the question,