The Definitive Athleticism Index: Ranking Your Favorite Sports

Athlete Bodies

What’s the most athletic sport? The answer is certain to ruffle feathers.

It’s an ego thing.

People want the sports they’ve played to receive sufficient respect.  Because having dominated a “more athletic” sport makes you “more athletic,” right?

And some sports just hate each other.

Baseball vs. Lacrosse gets members of both parties riled up.  In many high schools, these sports are played in the same season: spring.  It frustrates a baseball player when the guy who would start as the Varsity Short Stop decides to play lacrosse.  It eats away at a lacrosse player that baseball is more popular to the national media, thus rendering subjective lacrosse’s image as the “coolest spring sport.”

Soccer vs. Football is another feisty one.  Again, high schools play these sports in the same season: fall.  Football players are big and strong and use hands.  Soccer players have endurance and use feet. This rivalry boils down to America vs. the World. Soccer is the world’s most popular sport. Football is America’s top darling and played nowhere else.

Female Athlete Bodies

One reason this pride-fueled banter gets so heated is that there will never be a definitive Athleticism Index that proves arguments wrong and forces begrudging admissions of defeat.  Any methodology would leave holes for prodding. There are too many arbitrary assumptions.  How do you compare the importance of strength, speed, and coordination when defining “athleticism”?  What’s the “more athletic” type of speed, sprinting ability or endurance?

Despite all that’s arbitrary, using scores for concrete metrics to assess sports’ athleticism provides a baseline. The Sopher Index is intended to start conversations, not end them.

Without further ado, the Sopher Index’s “Most Athletic Sport” goes to…


… It’s a tie!

Ice hockey and rugby both notch 146 points (out of a possible 230 points).

Athleticism Index - Total

The bronze medalist is boxing (138).  American football[1] (132.33), basketball (127), soccer (127), mixed martial arts (125), tennis (119), lacrosse (117), and water polo (117) round out the top ten.

The bottom five sports – out of 38 total – are bowling (48 points), equestrian (41), curling (38), Nascar (28), and archery (22).

Male Athlete Bodies

The Sopher Index measures athleticism using 27 variables belonging to the following five categories: Coordination (70 possible points); Speed (50); Strength (40); Mental Fortitude (35); and Miscellaneous (35).  Variables are listed below by category, with the amount of possible points in parentheses:

1.)  Coordination (70): Balance & Body Control (15); Hand-Eye Coordination (10); Footwork/Foot-Eye Coordination (10); Mastery of Technique (10); Flexibility (10); Involves a Ball, Puck, etc. (5); Hitting Targets (5); and Not Conducted on Solid Ground (5).

Athleticism Index - Coordination

The most controversial part of this exercise is justifying how variables are weighted relative to one another.  “Balance & Body Control” carries the most weight because it’s the most universal type of coordination. One needs a certain level of balance and body control to crawl and walk. While surfing and smashing a full-extension top-spin forehand are completely different activities, balance and body control is a uniter. Foot-eye and hand-eye coordination are weighted equally; sports heavy on footwork and those that involve throwing and catching neutralize each other. “Mastery of Technique” measures the importance of refined mechanics.  Technique is essential for serving a tennis ball, driving a golf ball, and performing a pirouette, but less vital when racing a car. “Flexibility” is self-explanatory, and relatively more important in sports, such as gymnastics and ballet, with intense body gyration.  “Involves a Ball” and “Not Conducted on Solid Ground” are proxies for the requirement to learn an instrument through your sport.  In hockey, these instruments include your stick, skates, and the puck.  “Hitting Targets” is the most popular type of finesse coordination, but it only counts for 5 points because it’s also folded into hand-eye coordination and whether a sport has a ball.  In fact, there is overlap among all the variables. For example, balance and body control folds into the other five.

2.)  Speed (50): Sprint (15); Endurance (15); Quick Reactions and Reflexes (10); Types of Movement (5); and Ability to Change Directions (5).

Athleticism Index - Speed

This category’s variables are weighted higher the more general the skill.  Sprinting speed and endurance are the two rawest forms of fast, whereas quickness and types of movement are more refined versions.  While all require athleticism, the refined types of speed require a foundation in the general types, so the refined types are relatively less important in this index.

3.)  Strength (40): Max Core Strength (5); Core Muscle Endurance (5); Max Arm Strength (5); Arm Muscle Endurance (5); Max Leg Strength (5); Leg Muscle Endurance (5); Ability to Give a Hit (5); and Ability to Take a Hit (5).

Athleticism Index - Strength

There are two major types of strength – maximum capability and muscle endurance – and three regions of the body to be strong – core, legs, and arms. Each type of strength and region receives an equal weight in this analysis.  In addition, sports with hitting involve a different, disorienting type of strength – mental, technique-based, and heightened pain threshold.  So the abilities to take and give a hit receive equal weights to all the other variables in this category.

4.)  Mental Fortitude (35): Role of Strategy (10); Intensity of in-Game Mental Engagement (10); Teamwork (10); and Morale (5).

Athleticism Index - Mental

The brain is an often underrated athletic organ. Out-thinking the opponent is essential to many sports, and labor-intensive and exhausting.  For this index, “Role of Strategy” is a proxy for preparation – the importance of watching film, developing a game plan, eating and sleeping properly, etc. “Intensity of In-Game Focus” measures the consistency, duration, and extent to which the participant must be alert at game time.  In boxing and MMA, a momentary lapse of concentration equates to a devastating blow to the chin.  Whereas in American football, plays last 5-10 seconds, there are 30 second breaks between plays, frequency of substitutions means many players don’t play every down, and the offense/defense is only on the field half the game.  In baseball, you might be in left field for 2 hours and only see two fly balls. “Teamwork” measures how team-oriented a sport is.  Sports that involve more teamwork are tougher mentally because they involve harnessing egos and uniting multiple minds around strategies and goals. Lastly, in some sports, such as golf and baseball, “Morale” is disproportionately important. For this analysis, “Role of Strategy,” “Intensity of in-Game Focus,” and “Teamwork” are weighted equally, while “Morale” receives half the weight because, while important, it’s folded into the other three.

5.)  Miscellaneous (35): Global Popularity of the Sport (25); and Physical Barriers to Entry (10).

Athleticism Index - Misc.

A sport’s global popularity is the most heavily weighted variable in this index, and it is a proxy for the filtration of a sport’s talent pool.  It’s more difficult to become the best at a sport played by more people. When competition is stronger, the game evolves to a more refined state requiring more impressive athleticism.  More people in the world play soccer than any other sport, so its score is 25. Basketball is second place with 23.  While global popularity is this category’s driver, scores for NFL quarterback (21), running back (20), and defensive end (19) are inflated by about 4 points each. Why? Because I’ve read NFL combine scores.  These guys are freaks. Even if NFL football doesn’t have bowling’s global popularity, the NFL talent pool is more filtered.

Sports with high barriers to entry are those that cater to specific body types.  For example, volleyball, rowing, and basketball cater to tall people.  Football and hockey cater to big people.  For this analysis, having a high barrier to entry helps the sport’s score.  If a sport has a high concentration of people with bodies that are suited for that game, it does not mean these athletes are less suited for other games.  It just means these athletes are better suited for one more game than the typical person and, thus, more athletic in a way. Strong counter-logic does exist, however: If a game caters to a specific body type, the population that could get good at the game shrinks, so the talent pool is less filtered.

Kiwi’s and Canadians better make good lawyers.  As they’re the big winners, I expect they’ll be the ones defending the Sopher Index!

[1] American football is tricky to measure because the positions on the field require differing skill sets. For this analysis, American football’s score is the weighted average of running backs, quarterbacks, and defensive ends.  These are three of the most athletic positions on the field, so I fear football’s score may be a generous. Other sports that are comprised of weighted averages are skiing and running.  Skiing’s score averages downhill skiing and cross country skiing.  Running’s score average the 100 meter dash, the mile, and a marathon.


Delusion as it Relates to Sex Tourism in South East Asia


On my recent trip to the Philippines and Hong Kong I was confronted with delicacies such as “Chicken Neck” and “Fried Pig Blood”. At the end of a day I would take a shower and the floor would be covered in black soot, the layer of air pollution that had accumulated having presumably washed off my body. The most repulsive deviations from Western sensibility, however, were the gray-haired white men walking around with South East Asian teenagers, the young girls smiling wide and ordering expensive drinks while the old men pet them in ways that would be inappropriate at a frat-house.

This scene is more revolting in-person than can be illustrated in prose because it isn’t just the smarmy buck-toothed grin of Mr. Grayhair while he rubs her inner thigh and ducks metronomically in for a kiss every minute or two. It isn’t just the 6-inch platform heels and plastic smile on the little girl as she rubs his potbelly. It’s that, when this guy planned a vacation and asked himself what was the closest he could come to living a fantasy, this was as far as his imagination went.

People have vibrant fantasy lives. And fantasies are necessary for orientation. We see ourselves, we see where we’d like to be, and we form strategies for getting there. Some of us imagine running major corporations. Others imagine winning an Oscar, discovering a cure for cancer, or running for President. Still others have more lifestyle-driven ideals. I’d like to split time between some combination of NY/DC/SF and Paris/London/Barcelona while doing inspiring work that generates an income at which I’d be able to enjoy luxuries and never feel financially stressed. I’d like to have a girlfriend/wife who is smart, pretty, confident, and fun and kids who are the smartest, best-looking, and most athletic in the class. In your twenties and early thirties, it seems, the major challenge is to build a world in which the fewest concessions from ideal circumstance are made.

We’re told to dream big, and we do. What we aren’t told is to lose proactively.  We are less likely praise a poker player who folded a winning hand because logic suggested his opponent’s cards were better. We are less likely to look at minor concessions and reassessments as necessary for preserving a long-term goal.

Everyone who has ever wanted something badly has reached the point at which it’s obvious a goal will not be met. When this happens, even though retreat is logical, most of us flail. When that smart, pretty, fun, and confident girlfriend/wife prospect hasn’t responded to your last 4 calls, who among us hasn’t made a 5th? For some reason Blackberry keeps releasing new models even though it’s been years since Apple and Samsung rendered it irrelevant. At this point, when it’s clear you’ve lost, what more is there to lose? It seems more appealing to ride that sinking ship as far out to sea as it’ll go than to swim back to the coast and build a new one.

Delusion, according to Webster’s Dictionary, is “A false belief that is resistant to confrontation with actual facts.” ‘Deluded’ is different from ‘Misguided’ because the element of naiveté has been removed. Ms. Guided goes to Hollywood with dreams of glamour and stardom. D. Luded, after 3 years of nothing but commercial auditions, decides the solution is a nose job or implants. Delusion in others is both obvious and unattractive. Its adjective form, “Deluded,” carries none but pejorative connotations. Not because having grand fantasies is a bad thing but because remaining delusional is lazy.  It’s fixing a hole in the boat with bubble gum or replacing a broken tent leg with a tree branch. It’s too easy, a temporary fix that delays reality’s onset and thusly renders that onset even more severe.

aristotleAristotle is famous for his contention that virtue is the mean between excess and deficiency. For example, with respect to ‘pleasantness and social amusement’, deficiency is ‘boorishness’, excess is ‘buffoonery’, and the happy medium is ‘wit and charm’. Or with respect to ‘anger’, excess is ‘irascibility’, deficiency is ‘spiritlessness’ and the mean is ‘gentleness’.

On the subject of ‘confronting inconvenient truths’, I submit that deficiency is ‘delusion’. The opposite extreme, excess, your correspondent further submits, is ‘cynicism’. A cynic interprets facts honestly but is so magnetically attracted to the negative aspects that his thoughts and movements are rarely constructive. A deluded individual refuses to accept climate change as fact whereas a cynic says it’s too late to do anything about it. The deluded individual thinks the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be solved with a handshake between the right set of ministers. The cynic says it’s hopeless and we should let them keep killing each other. Cynicism, like delusion, is too easy. Harping on imperfections is a way of avoiding the effort required to remedy them. One could argue that cynicism is more perilous than delusion because both are inefficient behaviors, but a cynic’s incessant focus on the negative poisons the potentially positive.

So what’s the mean between delusion and cynicism? Is there a way to congeal these contrasting extremes in a way that magnifies their benefits while minimizing those unsustainable elements?

I believe there is. It takes the form of proactivity.

‘Proactive’ is defined as “Creating or controlling a situation by causing something to happen rather than responding to it after it has happened.” A proactive person assesses a situation honestly, reevaluates when necessary, and works towards a goal. The poker player who folds a hand that he would’ve won can win the next three if he notices that the opponent rubs his right eye when bluffing. The actress who, after 3 years of auditions, hasn’t landed a gig can transfer her skills quite profitably to marketing or PR. The guy whose calls have not been returned would do well to give up on this one and promise himself that next time he’ll wait until the second date to inquire about her SAT score and detail exactly how many kids he wants. The proactive person continues to have fantasies while drowning out delusion’s lullaby, and he sees the facts without shackling himself in negativity’s prison cell. Proactivity is neither easy nor certain, but it’s liberating, inducing confidence in a way that can only be done through energy well-directed.

And to the gray-haired, buck-toothed smarm in South East Asia, is there a proactive behavior? What do you do if you’re lonely and too old to attract your desired demographic? It could be argued that Mr. Grayhair’s behavior is more desperate and pathetic than it is deluded. Your correspondent maintains that it really is deluded, however, because the contention that a weekend with a South East Asian teenager will do anything other than deepen that loneliness and sense of being socially outcast is too absurd to consider seriously.  The challenge presented by affection-starvation is difficult, and simply paying for that affection is too easy. The more he accepts the smiles that money bought, the more he’s conditioned to believe that smiles only happen as a result of a transaction. The more derisive glares he deflects from people like me, the more accustomed he becomes to epithets such as ‘creepy’ and ‘pedophile.’ The cynic, at the other extreme, responds to affection-starvation by deeming resolution hopeless and holing himself up. The proaclolita-book-covertive play, it seems, is to concede to social norms. Is to become de, as it were, lewded. Use that money spent on the plane ticket to the Philippines to buy a nice shirt and a well-fitting pair of slacks, date someone who also watched I Love Lucy as a kid, and aim for wit and charm, the happy medium between boorishness and buffoonery.

And what to do with that pedophilic energy? Follow Nabokov’s example, perhaps. Isn’t writing just a medium whereby dissatisfied perverts spread angst? Err, I mean, uhh, isn’t writing… oh shit. I’ll just stop.

The $1.5 Million Euro Parking Space


At this firm, we comply with Swiss law. A bank’s mandate is to grow its clients’ wealth, not to police how this wealth is used, acquired, or taxed.

Following this lesson in business ethics, the firm’s compliance director – a chipper, lean, and maternal French Canadian woman in her mid-50s whose bouncy voice and silver bangs radiate positive energy – opens the stack of portfolios on her desk and begins presenting her daily routine.

“Here, we don’t want dirty money. So I perform background checks on prospective clients and review current clients’ sizable transactions to ensure against money laundering and other criminal activity.”

She waits for me to nod, then continues her wholesome chirp.

“Look here.  This man sold his yacht’s parking spot on the Riviera for 1.5 million Euros.”


The account manager beckons Come-in-come-in with his non-phone-holding arm, so I enter and slump at a seat.

“Move to England for 8-10 years, then return to Canada with your Swiss money. Claim you made that money in England.” The account manager mouths two minutes in my direction, straightens his spine, and moves a hand through is full head of silver hair.  Lean, fit, and about 5’7” or 5’8”, he’s the less energetic but far smoother version of the compliance director.

ScroogeTwenty minutes later, the account manager orders wine, 30 Franc (1 Swiss Franc was about USD$1 at the time) appetizers, and 75 Franc entrees for the two of us on the sun-deck at his favorite week-day lunch spot.

After firm handshakes and broad smiles with other men in suits, the account manager’s attention shifts to me.  At a conversation lull, I ask why he advised the nervous man on the phone to move to England.

“You see, Swiss banking secrecy is on its final limb.  The American government is hounding us to become more transparent. We operate as if there are 10 years left. So legalizing the 95% of the money we manage that’s been hidden from governments – and, thus, un-taxed – is an important part of our work.”


“So what do you do for the firm?”

“Some very very very wealthy Arab men. They trust me. Their money follows me.”

Another week on the job, another casual 300 Franc mid-day lunch.  This time my benefactor is an impeccably dressed Pakistani. Pressed black Italian suit with thin cream pinstripes covering a starched cream-colored button-down shirt – his maroon tie and mocha shoes, which match his complexion perfectly, are the only articles of clothing that are neither black nor white. A man in his mid-70s, he’s lost most of his hair; yet, he manages to groom what’s left and polish his scalp in a tasteful manner.

Money. That’s the image this man projects. That’s what he talks about.  Those who have it are the people he admires.  He’s endearingly polite and awkward. He opens doors for others, his head-bobs and hand gestures are jerky, there’s an unnatural pause before he speaks, and he cranes his head forward with a static gaze when he listens.

handmade chocolatesThis man enjoys discussing what he loves, not why.  While elegant, there’s a void where substance should be.  His style is antiquated. I’m sure he has no idea how to use a computer. While presentation may have been the name of the game 30 years ago – when he built his Arab clients’ “trust” – today’s connectivity and big data analyses expose lack of substance.

He proclaims his love for American literature and states that my grandfather was “a very very very good man.” I’m sure they barely knew each other, but embellishing positive sentiment is what people in Switzerland do. After attempts at other subjects hit premature dead ends, conversation circles back to money.

At the end of the meal, I convey a similar degree of gratitude I’d expressed to the other four co-workers who had taken me to lavish lunches. While the lunch was a treat for me, it was arguably even more of a treat for him. The ability to pay for lavish treats is why he’d made all that money in the first place.


Upon arriving a little before 9am, I turn on my computer, check my email, and scan, New York Times, and Wall Street Journal headlines.  Between 9:30am and 10am, I crack open my French textbook. The firm pays me 4,000 Francs/month to study French, procrastinate, and consume chocolate croissants while observing swans dance on a glassy lake upon which the sun’s reflection hurts my eyes.

I receive an email from my college roommate. He’s a counselor at a summer camp for an orphanage in Ethiopia.  He functions as underprivileged children’s exposure to Western culture.  He teaches them English and sports, and he organizes their days so that the lessons/fun mix is optimized.  And he learns from them.  He improves his ability to interact with young children, and he exchanges laughs and smiles with accepting villagers who have nothing but are happy anyway.  They teach him cultural dances and expose him to how the developing world operates.  Of particular note are Ethiopian construction sites.  In the USA, scaffolding is metal. In Ethiopia, it’s sticks glued together with gum.  His room is hot and sticky, and he sleeps on a cot.  Connecting to the Internet requires miles of driving down unpaved roads to a nearby hotspot.

I receive second email from a different friend spending his summer building a hospital and introducing vaccines to a small village in Sierra Leone.  The deterioration of his personal hygiene is a lowlight – he sweats constantly and never showers.  The laziness of his co-workers is another lowlight – even when provided resources they refuse to build the hospital in a timely manner. But at the end of the summer, he will have contributed to healing the maladies of villagers for generations to come while having encountered the inefficiencies of the developing world.

Swiss SceneryMy response to both emails evokes the glamorous land of chocolate shops, swans, Italian suits, casual 300 Franc lunches, and 1.5 million Euros parking spaces. The pristine world in which bankers work 9:30am-5:30pm and make millions.  And where scenery for sunset jogs sets fresh water streams and massive pastures beneath an Alpine horizon.  Like my impeccably dressed Pakistani co-worker, I project elegance, but there’s a void where substance should be.

This void stems from selfishness. From consuming without contributing.  A depressing day for an asset manager is when he loses $1 million for a client who has $40 million in the bank. It’s $1 million that would have languished in a vault – not built hospitals for villages in Sierra Leone or connected orphanages in East Africa to the Internet.

I try stretching capitalist theory to embellish the asset manager’s contribution.  The world needs asset managers. People need to be confident they can retain wealth once they’ve acquired it.  And getting rich is a contribution in and of itself! The wealthy spend more, and every dollar spent trickles down and multiplies throughout the economy.  Indirectly, the asset manager feeds the poor through his diligent pursuit of turning $40 million into $41 million.

Perhaps this logic is valid on a large scale.  But, on an individual level, I have trouble convincing myself that Mr. 40 Million would spend more if he became Mr. 41 Million. And even if he would, this contribution is too abstract for me – it’s not observing the hospital you helped build or listening to an eight year-old Ethiopian girl speak the English you taught her.

I work at an environmental NGO now. Everyone wishes paychecks were higher – snarky catch phrases, such as “that’s why they pay us the big bucks,” are commonplace. Budgets are tight, and pursuing grants from private donors who dedicated their careers to accumulating wealth is core to our organization’s existence. Daily conversations, however, revolve around the creation of incentives to reduce deforestation and wean the world off of coal far more often than around personal wealth.  And it’s inspiring to work alongside people who are more focused on the global influence of their work than how their work will impact bonuses.

Ball Room DanceI don’t hate finance, and I love money. It makes life cozy, and I want a lot of it.  I want to consume, and I judge people who spend at an unsustainable rate. And my Swiss co-workers from the summer of 2010 treated me with kindness.  But obsession with wealth can be costly.  It can deprive one of a sense of citizenship – how one can claim he made the world a better place, beyond tax-exempt charitable donations.  Furthermore, wealth obsession can instill a mentality that prizes elegance and prices over substance – preference for the $30 can of beans over the $25 sushi platter.

I’m unmarried with zero dependents and at least 40 years from retirement; the NGO salary is more than enough for me.  But as I get older, I foresee this state of affairs might no longer be the case. What’s frustrating is that luxury and public service, from what I’ve experienced so far in my brief career, has been either-or, not both-and. I tip my hat to those in lucrative professions who are fulfilled by their contribution to society.