3 Reasons Why American Football is Hard to Play

Updated on 
April 2, 2022

Football is known to be one of the most aggressive and physically demanding sports to play in the world. With NFL bodies ranging from 180lbs to upwards of 400lbs, you never know what you're going up against. Football is very demanding, both in physical and mental spaces.

Many parents are reluctant to play their children in football leagues because of its aggressive nature, and common injuries players receive.

With this said, what are some reasons why American football is a hard sport to play?

Is American football hard to play?

The general answer is yes. It is a very demanding sport in all aspects of the body, with the mental side of the game becoming more and more prevalent in the pros. According to an in-depth page by ESPN, football is the third most difficult sport.

"We identified 10 categories, or skills, that go into athleticism, and then asked our eight panelists to assign a number from 1 to 10 to the demands each sport makes of each of those 10 skills. By totaling and averaging their responses, we arrived at a degree-of-difficulty number for each sport on a 1 to 100 scale. That number places the difficulty of performing each sport in context with the other sports we rated."


These explain what each category is in the graph below.

With all of this said, football may not be the toughest sport in the entire world, but it ranks very high compared to a lot of other sports across the world.

Why is American football hard?

Difficult doesn't always mean bad, quite frankly the more difficult a sport is, the more rewarding it can be when you succeed in such sport. Football is a very broad sport when it comes to its difficulties so;

Beyond in-depth statistics and charts showing why football is a difficult sport, what other reasons are there?

  • Fundamentals/Basics
  • The Need to be Mentally Profound
  • Injuries

1. Fundamentals/Basics

Every sport has its basics and some are much harder to learn than others. When you ask a person who does not quite enjoy sports on the same level as someone like a die-hard fan about the basics of basketball, you'll usually get an answer that isn't far from the exact truth.

When you do the same for the sport of football, you'll usually get an answer that isn't close to the right answer or a very basic answer of what football actually is.

A basic understanding of the game can be explained very nicely by a quora user here:

"The game starts with a KICKOFF, and the guy catching the ball needs to TRY to run all the way to the other side of the field into the ENDZONE. This is easier said than done, and he usually gets tackled before then. Wherever he got tackled, is where the OFFENSE needs to start the DRIVE. The Offense has 4 attempts (The attempts are called downs) to get past the yellow line and keep getting closer to the endzone until they score a touchdown. If they can’t get past the yellow line in 4 tries, they have to PUNT the ball back to the other team, and it is rinsed and repeated thereafter. Whoever scores the most points at the end of the game wins. Period.

As for scoring, this is a rough summary.

Touchdown= 6 points + 1 point Field Goal

Field Goal without a touchdown= 3 points

Safety= When the offense goes backward and gets tackled in their own endzone, 2 points go to the other team."

Football's fundamentals are usually known as "Throw the ball and catch the ball" unfortunately, that is not even close to the full truth.

There are eleven players on the field all at the same time, most having different responsibilities on what they are supposed to do on the given play. The fundamentals are different for each position, and in itself is another reason why football is difficult.

To begin, Quarterbacks have plenty of different responsibilities and are required to pass the ball or give the ball to another player. We have covered these responsibilities and difficulties in our 4 Reasons Why Quarterback is the Hardest Position in Football.

The entire offensive line has to protect the ball carriers at all times, ensuring that they take the blows that the ball carrier would without them. There are of course different techniques, but the fundamentals are to stay low and keep your hands inside of the defender's chest.

As for ball carriers and receivers, catching and running with the football are their most important responsibilities. Some fundamentals are staying low and quick out of breaks.

The offensive side of the ball is littered with different types of basic responsibilities, between running the football and receiving the ball, football has its differences in itself which once again, makes the sport difficult.

2. The Need to be Mentally Profound

As you can probably tell above, football is a very mentally demanding sport. When you are watching football, it seems that usually players are in sync constantly and know when and where to be. But in reality that takes quite a lot of practice and mental focus on the game to ensure perfection.

Quarterbacks are usually the smartest player on the field at all times, as they know what everyone else is doing, including the defense. If you aren't planning to become a quarterback, all the other positions are mentally draining as well.

How are they also mentally draining?

As a former football player, my coaches expected very little of us mentally, as we ran less than twenty plays. You would think that would help very much in the mental department, but my senior year team we struggled extremely with keeping up with around 10.

In higher levels of football, you are required to learn the playbook which can:

According to a LA Times article:

"He said that while there are hundreds of plays in a typical playbook, most teams select between 75 and 100 pass plays for a game, and 15-20 running plays when assembling a game plan for a given week."

That is just for offense, and if you play both ways, be expected to know defensive playbooks as well.

Note: In higher levels of football, playing both ways is extremely rare.

For defensive playbooks, there are plenty of different alignments and techniques that can lead to different plays, but the basic plays are zone and man with different types of underneath coverages and rushes.

Learning these plays is one of many different mentally draining things in football, not to mention the stress of practicing and performing well both in games and in practice.

3. Injuries

Every sport has its injury issues, it is just natural for athletes to get injured during athletic play, as that is how the human body can work.

In football, concussions and every type of injury imaginable is possible during practice and play.

According to the NFL's statistics, here are charts of three of the most common injuries year to year:

"The NFL analyzes and shares injury data as a part of ongoing efforts to advance the health and safety of players. The injury data are compiled and analyzed by IQVIA, an independent, third-party company retained by the NFL.

The injury data below includes available statistics on a range of injuries, including numbers from 2015 – 2021 for the incidence of reported concussions and ACL and MCL injuries during the preseason and regular season."


Whether it is Injuries, Mental Health/Smarts, or the Fundamentals of the game, football has its difficulties, as do all sports though. Football definitely can be very enticing to many and the reward can come greater than the risk.

I personally enjoyed all of my four years playing as a player, although the stress and injuries I do not miss. But to be quite frank, I miss nearly everything else about the sport!

To conclude, playing football is a difficult thing to do, but it shouldn't discourage anyone from playing the wonderful sport. Football and its complications may seem to be a turn-off for many, but playing football can bring out great joy.

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Tom Lindeman
Ball Athlete project
Hey! My name is Tom and I created this blog in order to help people wherever they are in their sport journey. Inspirational posts, guides, reviews and much more! Read about the project here.
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