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Toughest high school sports: fall season

8/13/2009

This week, as some schools are back in session and others are just a few weeks away from the first bell of the school year, ESPNRISE.com is ranking the toughest high school sports. On Monday we look at fall sports.

We ranked each sport based on five aspects of toughness:
How physically demanding the sport is
Athletic ability required
Training required
How much endurance is needed
How much strategy goes into the sport

The rankings are on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the easiest and 5 being the toughest, and we are taking varsity-level play into account.

Football: 5
No fall sport is more physical in every minute of competition than football. There is player-to-player contact on every play. Mentally, even though coaches are making most of the play calls, offensive players must react to what is happening on the field and be able to react and adapt and the defense is trying to read the plays, cover the receivers and stop the drive. For training, teams have two-a-days and players hit the weight room to increase their strength and build muscle.

Cheerleading: 4.5
Cheerleading is more than pumping up the crowd during sporting events and pep rallies, it's tumbling, dance and stunting. This requires the athletes to be in top physical condition. Imagine holding another person in the air and then having to catch them on the way down as they are spinning. Cheerleaders are expected to know the sports they cheer for and they have to remember the choreography to hundreds of cheers, chants and dances. Read more about cheerleading.

Gymnastics: 4
Try combining tumbling and dance into graceful moves all while standing on a 4-inch wide balance beam and see how you do. The balance beam is just one of four events -- beam, floor exercise, uneven parallel bars and vault -- in high school gymnastics. This sport requires a lot of athletic ability and a lot of training, since basic skills like handstands and somersaults won't help you make a team.

Cross country: 3.5
This sport demands endurance and mental toughness. Most teams have two-a-days to beat the summer heat and get in the most miles possible each day. And they're not running on flat surfaces like a track, they're running up some of the steepest hills in town. Weather also plays a factor, whether it is raining and the ground is wet and slippery or if it is scorching hot, runners have to continue on with their runs. Cross country is a very mental sport, as runners have to think about their split times and when to surge to the finish line. Some runners also have to work to stay focused on the race and to stay motivated and not give up -- we've seen runners collapse from exhaustion and drag themselves over the finish line.

Soccer: 3
For 90 minutes, soccer players run up and down the field. And sometimes being in the correct position away from the ball is just as important as moving with the ball. Soccer players have to be in top shape to keep their stamina up for a full game, and their training has to include both endurance training and quick sprints because being one step faster or being able to explode to the ball at the right time could win the game.

Tennis: 2.5
Tennis is a lifetime sport, so there is not a lot of athletic ability needed to start playing. At the varsity level, the balls are hit hard and there is a lot of in-game decision-making as for where and how to hit the ball. Being able to get the ball to go where you want it to takes hours of practice.

Volleyball: 2
The basics of this sport don't require players to be athletic, but as players move up to the varsity level so must their skills. Players must stay agile on defense, and sometimes they even dive on the gym floor after the ball, which means being aggressive and sacrificing their bodies to save the point. Volleyball is truly a team sport and players must work together as a team to plan out the bump, set and spike and where to hit the ball.

What do you think? Blog about which sport you think is the toughest.