Commentary

Toughest high school sports: winter season

Toughest high school sports: winter season

Updated: August 12, 2009, 12:22 AM ET
By ESPNRISE.com

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

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ESPN RISEWrestling is a mental game as well as a physical one, and it ranks as the toughest winter sport on the ESPNRISE.com toughest sports rankings.

We ranked each sport based on five aspects of toughness:
How physically demanding the sport is
The 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 the toughest, and we are taking varsity-level play into account.

Wrestling: 5
Saying wrestling is football without pads doesn't do the sport justice. It's body-to-body contact with the goal being to overpower opponents and pin their shoulders to the mat. Wrestling is a mental game as well as physical. During a match, a wrestler constantly evaluates his opponent and tries to predict his next move. The wrestler is also thinking about his own positioning and what makes him vulnerable to his opponent. He is also strategizing how and when to attack and go for either a takedown or a pin, and that opportunity sometimes happens for a split second and then the chance is gone. Wrestlers compete in weight classes so they face similar-sized opponents, and in addition to training and conditioning they have to maintain a specific weight. Sometimes wrestlers move up or down in weight classes, which requires either gaining or losing weight, sometimes in a short period of time. Read more about wrestling.

Basketball: 4
For 32 minutes, participants play fast-paced offense and aggressive defense. On offense, players have to battle through defensive players who are physically imposing, and that's even when they don't have the ball. Mentally, the offense has to be confident in their abilities and try to outwit defenders to get open or to take a shot. Defense's main goal is to stop the other team, whether it means going for a steal, forcing a turnover, blocking a shot or rebounding. The constant shift from offense to defense and back again means players have to keep their heads in the game for every play.

Ice hockey: 4
Although ice hockey isn't in every school, athletes across the country can appreciate what it takes to play the sport. It's a combination of physicality and speed, and don't forget it's all played on a thin blade. Hockey players have to stay in top condition because this sport takes a lot of endurance. The quickness of ice hockey means players don't really get a rest when they aren't near the puck. They have to stay aware of what's going on around them and also what's happening with the puck and make adjustments to their games accordingly.

Swimming: 3.5
Swimming is a total-body sport. Your arms and legs have to work together to power you through the water, and you use muscles you might not even have known you had. It doesn't get more individual than swimming, since you're in the water and can't even hear the crowd cheering, so swimmers have to stay focused and motivated, whether at a practice or in a meet. Butterfly, breaststroke, backstroke and freestyle are the four strokes raced in swimming. And the sport can be grueling. Here's a comparison: Running a mile might take six or seven minutes for a top athlete, but swimming that distance takes more than 15 minutes for top swimmers.

Diving: 3
While diving isn't as physically exhausting as some other sports, it is for extremely skilled athletes. Combining flips, twists and a springboard into a graceful dive takes practice and precision. And some nerve. Trying a new and higher difficulty of dives takes some daring and confidence. Not hitting a dive can result in injury from hitting the diving board or smacking into the water, which can sting for days.

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