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Golf vs. Soccer: Which Sport Is Tougher?

In celebrating Welsh victory in 2019, Gareth Bale, Wales and Real Madrid forward, flew his infamous “Wales. Golf. Madrid. In That Order” flag. While controversial, it highlighted a professional soccer player’s love for golf, which raises the question, is golf or soccer tougher?

Although golf and soccer are very different sports, there is enough overlap in each sport that it can be said that soccer is the tougher sport. While golf is primarily a mental game, soccer is a more demanding sport physically and requires a wise team strategy to be successful.

“Toughness” is a complex metric to measure due to its subjective nature. While toughness indicates physical strength, agility, and raw power, it would be wrong to dismiss the need for mental and strategic toughness.

Let’s dive into the debate of golf vs. soccer and see which sport is tougher.

Golf vs. Soccer

Golf vs. Soccer – Physical Differences

Soccer games typically last ninety minutes, consisting of two halves of forty-five minutes each, bearing in mind that the clock stops momentarily for fouls, injuries, penalty kicks, etc.

Although ninety isn’t a particularly long time, the nature of soccer requires that all players be fully engaged for those ninety minutes, whereby end to end sprinting across a 100-130 yard field is expected.

This in-depth study examining the physical demands of elite soccer using GPS technology highlighted the constant acceleration during football should not be underestimated concerning the physiological demands of the sport.

Soccer requires full-body movement and awareness of all the players on the field. Both attacking and defensive duties will require large amounts of sprinting, forceful physical contact against other players, jumping, passing, and shooting.

Although different positions require different attributes, such as wingers needing to be fast sprinters, while defenders are expected to be more physically demanding and dominating, all soccer players require extremely high aerobic fitness levels.

Average heart rates during a soccer game typically sit at about 85%, while peak heart rates can get as high as 98% during high-intensity moments such as a clean break, a powerful shot, a jumping header, or a slide tackle.

Consequently, to perform at the highest level, soccer players have to be fast, agile, and exceptionally fit to complete the 150 – 200 actions needed during a game to perform at the highest level. 

This further study on the physiological demands of soccer found that high-intensity exercise periods, such as the amount of high-speed running, distinguish between top-class players and those at a lower level.

In comparison, while a round of golf can last for hours depending on the time it takes for a player to complete eighteen holes, it is a game that encourages a leisurely pace, and you do not over-exert yourself.

Along with copious stops, halfway house breaks, easy-to-walk golf courses, and the quality of life benefits such as caddies to carry golf bags or golf carts to navigate a course, the challenge of golf does not depend on one’s physical prowess.

One exception is the ban of golf carts in most competitions, but this still does not take away from the fact that it is not nearly as physically demanding as soccer, except for some golfers that look for distance off a tee shot. 

Tougher Sport: Soccer

Soccer Players

Golf vs. Soccer – Mental Differences

Generally speaking, most people find golf to be a tougher sport mentally than soccer; this is primarily a result of the unique challenges of mental toughness when playing an individual versus a team sport.

The difficulty with golf as an individual sport is that it is always a game of individuals vs. other individuals, besides some tournaments (such as the Ryder Cup).

This means that you are always looking to play against yourself as you reduce your strokes over hours and, at times, days during lengthy tournaments.

Even team golf tournaments, while including multiple team members for moral support, cannot play or strategize to use each team member’s strength to an individual’s advantage. 

Instead, each golfer must complete a full round of golf by themselves, whereafter the scores are totaled up to determine which team won.

Further to the challenges of golf as an individual sport, golf is all about consistency, whether over a lifetime or simply from shot to shot.

A single poor shot can derail a hole, round, or even an entire tournament for a golfer – depending on how they respond to a poor shot and their subsequent reaction as the round develops.

Do you want to know more about the mental aspect of golf? Check out this article, Why Golf Is a Mental Game.

While soccer also requires mental toughness in the face of opposition teams, the inclusion of teammates, vocal crowd support, and the reduced pressure of doing everything perfectly, means it relies more on team dynamics to remain confident.

However, it must be stressed that this is circumstantial and often relative to the player’s position and the situation they find themselves in.

For example, while it may be excusable to miss a tackle or two in the midfield, attacking players entrusted to take free kicks or penalties and the goalkeepers tasked with saving these set pieces will likely feel large amounts of mental strain.

Further to the above, while golf requires a cool head at all stages of a round, soccer encourages players to employ different mental stages to be successful, including aggression or volatility, which golf does not promote.

Tougher Sport: Golf

Putting a Golf ball on the Green

Golf vs. Soccer – Strategic Differences

Golf is an unbelievably strategic sport, as the different weather conditions, club options, and various courses present multiple challenges for golfers to overcome.

For this reason, top golfers all hire professional caddies to help them strategize and decide the correct choice of club and stroke for every shot during a round.

However, while countless dynamics of golf require an on-the-fly strategy, the use of consistent courses and tested shots means that the individual strategies being employed fall squarely on one individual who can adjust their game when needed.

On the other hand, soccer is a team sport, whereby whole coaching teams need to employ offensive, defensive, and emergency strategies before and during games.

Furthermore, soccer is a much faster and more dynamic game, including further considerations such as injuries, fouls, suspensions, etc.

These added dynamics mean that coaches and players have to adapt their strategies on the fly and communicate the change to their team.

In conclusion, while golf is undoubtedly a challenging sport from a strategic perspective, the holistic nature of soccer as a team sport that favors physical and mental quick reactions means that it exceeds golf in this regard.

Tougher Sport: Soccer  

Let’s Wrap This Up!

Due to golf mainly being an individual sport and soccer being entirely a team sport, it will always be up to the individual playing each sport to determine which is tougher.

However, the consensus would suggest that soccer is a tougher sport than golf. When contemplating the whole golf vs. soccer debate, which sport do you think wins the ‘tough award?’

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