4 Reasons Why Swimming Isn't One of the Hardest Sports

It's consistent, relatively pain-free, and attracts fewer natural athletes

In 2004, ESPN the Magazine wrote a post ranking the most difficult sports. Distance swimming ranked No. 36, and sprint swimming was No. 45. A new list of the relative difficulty of sports released in 2017 placed swimming at No. 2. This massive discrepancy raises the question: Is swimming a hard sport?

Every sport is hard, with its own unique challenges, but swimming isn't the hardest. Here are four reasons why swimming is not one of the most difficult sports:

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People swimming in large pool
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Swimming is extremely consistent. You can travel across the globe and find a very similar pool to the one you train in. Air quality or water temperature might be different, but overall, pools are standardized. This is great for determining the best swimmers and comparing times from different competitions, but the lack of variety makes the sport easier. In water polo, for example, many plays are dependent on other people. You could take your best shot but the goalie could guess the direction and block it. In swimming, no one can get in the way of your best swim. Someone could have a better start, but yours wouldn't have been interrupted by another's action.

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Minimal Pain

Swimming has low physical pain, so is it the hardest sport?

Swimmers rarely have to swim through pain. This doesn’t mean swimmers don't have pain, but it is typically from exercise. In harder sports such as football and rugby, people hit or tackle you, and in boxing and mixed martial arts, people punch or kick you. This pain creates another level of difficulty for the body and mind to overcome aside from the pain associated with high effort. These sports also require you to inflict pain, which creates a new level of stress for participants to overcome.

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Set Distance and Speed

Swimming Open Turn
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Most swimming races are performed at a relatively constant speed and a set distance. For example, a 50-meter race is performed at near maximum constant effort, while a mile is done at moderate pace. Other sports, such as soccer, use variable speeds, from sprints to jogs. This change in speeds is much less dramatic in swimming, requiring a narrower skill set. Also, harder sports such as soccer and football don't have a distance set beforehand. A soccer player could run two to 10 miles during a game, while swimming (except for some open water races) has a predetermined distance. 

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Less Athletic Individuals

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Fewer adolescents participate in swimming than in many other sports. According to ESPN the Magazine, swimming ranks seventh among boys sports with 9 percent participation, compared with 40 percent each for football and basketball. For girls, swimming ranks sixth, with 12 percent participating compared with 25 percent for basketball and 23 percent for volleyball. Because fewer kids are involved in swimming, the pool of athletes is smaller. A sport is harder when the bar is set higher by greater numbers of athletically gifted people. Swimming also is less potentially lucrative than sports such as football and basketball, based on college scholarships as well as potential professional earnings and endorsements.