What Is the Hardest Skill in Sport?

By Alan Dymock

It is time to have that same debate that always seems to come up in the pub whenever there’s nothing good on the TV in the corner and your mates have got in the mood for arguing.

What is the hardest skill in sport?

First, let me set some ground rules. The key word is SKILL. I’m not talking about who is the best athlete. I don’t care which sport sees the best results because the participants can jump more explosively, run faster or lift heavier. Running a route, shaking a corner and stretching out your hands at full pace to catch a ball is impressive, but that is sheer athleticism.

I’m talking about which technique in sport requires the most precision, the greatest feat of concentration and the most pinpoint practice.

The reason I ask is because I am British. We have a few world class athletes, sure, but we also have quaint traditions in our sport. Look at cricket. The players may not be the strongest, fastest or fittest, but their game takes levels of discipline, continual tactical tweaking and the honing of individual skills. No two bowlers bowl the same; no two batsmen drive in identical manner. Like golf –one of Scotland’s better notions, after Irn Bru –there is room for individuality.

For me, though, I’m not talking about cricket or golf, as spectacular as those two sports can be. No, I’m looking at something with far more…guile.

Perhaps the reason I bring this all up is because a man who was once Scotland’s Sports Personality of the Year, Stephen Hendry, retired from snooker this week. He was once the best on the planet, some say the best of all time, and he was World Champion 7 times. Whatever your specialist area, that is impressive.

 The man leaves after falling at Snooker’s most recognizable site, The Crucible. But before he left, he wowed the crowd with one last 147 break, the perfect score a player can achieve without interference from another player.  It is a feat of geometry and meditation and understandably earns those who hit them a lot of money at televised tournaments. It is really very hard.


Now, back at the pub, the debate about this always pits the 147 against another skill, from another indoor game. The 9-darter finish in darts. This means that to get from a score of 501 down to 0 in the shortest time possible 9 darts are thrown at the board.


So if these two require such accuracy, but the men are more like tradesmen than athletes, does that diminish their achievements? I say no, and I struggle to think of a skill harder. Can you think of any? Join the debate at the pub…

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