Which are the world's easiest and hardest pro sports leagues to get into?

Uh, I don’t think anyone throws hard enough such that they can throw what might be classed as a “breaking ball” that fast. Now, the ball still might have a little bit a movement on it, but a “breaking ball” is generally one that is offspeed at least a little.

The question needs more detail. For instance, The NBA would easily be the easiest league to get into if you are seven feet tall, but would be the hardest league to get into it you are 5’6. Football, on the other hand, has room for players that have strength, speed, dexterity, throwing ability, etc.

Most other sports accomodate a wide variety of people. Boxing has weight classes, hockey has roles for many different types of people, etc.

Another requirement that should factor in is college. Some sports recruit from the college level, and it can be very hard to break in if you don’t go to college.

Some sports, like equestrian sports or motor sports, require big money or sponsorship to do it. To be a professional race car driver you likely had to start driving go-karts competitively as a kid, and move up into more powerful and more expensive cars. Poor people need not apply.

My money would be on the NHL. There’s a robust mimor hockey system that starts in grade school, and if you have talent you can rise to the top of the league without ever going to college or being anything physically special. It’s also not very expensive for average people. Only hard work required.

To clarify the question a big more so we’re all on the same page, would this be an equivalent rephrasing to what you had in mind?

“Imagine you had randomly selected child that would receive industry standard training and all financial requirements met. Which sport would they be most likely to get into the top league? The least likely?”

If we are considering financials, self selection, availability in training, etc I think you’d have a much different answer.

Sure, we could go with that, although I really wasn’t thinking any particularly refined or narrow answer/question. There were numerous factors, I guess. For instance, soccer seems to be in one sense, one of the easiest to get into - just be really good and catch some scout’s eye, and you can be a player - yet also one of the hardest, because soccer is the world’s most played sport, so if you want to play for the likes of Everton or Real Madrid, you’d be competing against millions of other players who would also love to go pro.

Believe it it not, other sports use scouts too.

Damned little. As per this article from 2019:

Because of the very low salaries of minor league players, it’s very common, in the low minors, at least, for teams to find local families to host (and often feed) their players.

Watching an IPL match today, it occurred to me that this league must be high on the list, when you consider the entire male populations of India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, where cricket is the only sport that matters.

While I’m sure soccer is still a far more popular sport, you have at least 4 leagues that have a reasonable claim to being the best, plus a few more when you look back through history.

Clear your throat. Whatever-----if you cant hit a breaking ball or the near 100 mph heat or throw either, your gonna have a tough time getting into the Show.

I’m coming at it from a different direction, as my first thought was “Which all male sports team has had a female come the closest to potentially playing in that league breaking the gender barrier”. I feel if a woman can get into a professional all men league it makes it potentially easier because it means you now have half the population who can potentially get in.

Wasn’t there a promising female NFL kicker a few years ago? I can see a woman who learns to kick really REALLY well potentially being able to join the NFL since 99.9% of the time they only need to be able to kick, that’s it.

There’ve been several who have kicked in the college ranks, but none have gotten past a tryout in the NFL.

Lauren Silberman attended an NFL scouting combine day in 2013, but kicked very poorly (it appears that she was dealing with an injury, which likely affected her performance).

Katie Hnida played for both the University of Colorado and the University of New Mexico, and while with the latter, was the first woman to score in a Division 1-A game. I’m not sure if she ever had an NFL tryout, but she was never signed by an NFL team.

Julie Harshbarger was the kicker for several minor-league professional indoor football teams over the past decade, but as far as I know, never had a tryout for anything above that level.

Also, last year, Carli Lloyd (captain of the U.S. women’s soccer team) talked about possibly trying out for the NFL – she hit a 55-yard field goal at a joint practice between the Ravens and Eagles during training camp, and said that she got several offers from NFL teams, but she never actually signed with a team.

Manon Rhéaume - a hockey goalie - played in several NHL exhibition games (1992-93), and played in numerous minor league (“men’s”) games.


The first sport that came to mind for me was women’s curling. Countries like China and South Korea have gone from having almost no presence in women’s curling to winning medals at the Olympics in a relatively short time span.

Lots of wrinkles here.
My thought for easiest might be NFL – the teams are big, and only really drawing from the USA and (most of) Canada. NHL doesn’t even draw from all of the USA, but adds northern Europe, so I think harder.

NBA is probably toughest; teams are small, and basketball is pretty worldwide at this point.

Soccer is interesting: obviously the biggest talent pool (the entire world, pretty much), but the leagues are all very top-heavy in talent. You’ve got to be one of the top-100 players in the world to suit up for Barcelona, Real Madrid or Atletico, but you probably won’t find a single top-100 player on a Mallorca team that was just promoted from the second division and will probably be relegated back at the end of the season. I think most teams in EPL are basically top-tier teams, but any other top league has a lot of AAA or even AA talent once you leave the top 2-3 teams. So if La Liga or Bundesleague count, they might be the easiest to make it to, assuming you’re OK with only playing one season before getting relegated back to the second tier.

I was curious, so I went and looked at 538s rankings of the teams.


Vertical axis is their SPI, horizontal are rank of the teams. So EPL has a better midtable, but about the same at the bottom. The other 3 of the “big 5” drop off way faster outside the top 5 teams or so (or top 1 in France).

I’d have to go with NBA as toughest, too. Think about how many potential players have access to some type of hoop and court. You don’t have to be rich or be from a certain area. So you get so many challengers. Anyone can learn to play almost anywhere. But when it comes to sports like hockey, where $350 is what the uniform costs every season, or tennis where you need coaches that cost as much as college, there are less people who can train for the sport at a pro-level.

I would think pro soccer is the easiest to break into. Not EPL, La Liga, Serie A of course but in terms of just getting a paid job. There’s like 150-200 “premier” leagues around the world, and then many of them have lower level teams always looking for players. The issue is if you are from America do you really want to play for Quizkilum in a hellhole like Uzbekistan or are you better off stocking shelves at Home Depot back in the US?

There’s still a fixed number of spots. In any given year, roughly 1000 people pay in the NHL. (There are only twenty people dressed for one of the 31 teams in a game, but guys go up and down from the minors and injury lists.) It doesn’t matter how easy you think it is; the number of available jobs is what it is, and no matter how hard you work you cannot change that.

The answer to the question is basically a math question; it’s a function of

Number of people vying for spot
Number of jobs there are

Among the major North American sports the answer has to be basketball. (Yes, it’s way different for 7-footers than 6-footers but I’m averaging it out.) The NBA has far fewer jobs than the other sports - NBA teams rarely use more than 17-18 players a year - and basketball is probably the most internationally popular participation sport of all the Big Four.

Conversely, the easiest of the big four is football. NFL teams are very big (though in practice MLB teams use almost as many guys because roster churn is really, really high) and football is the least popular participation sport of the big four; it’s not played to a significant extent outside the USA and Canada, and participation in organized football drops off very rapidly once kids hit puberty.

Mind you, I’m not saying it’s EASY to be an NFL player, and I’m not saying it’s easier in terms of the hard work and dedication and talent requirements. It’s just much likelier than the other sports from a numbers perspective.

I’m not sufficiently familar with the numbers for soccer to even guess. Obviously it’s by far the most popular participation sport, but it’s also the most vastly prevalent professional sport, and to be honest the dividing line between “the big leagues” and minor leagues is not all that clear.

I think we could make the question a little better-defined as far as soccer goes if we included anyone who is able to make a decent living as a player, as their sole occupation. In England, there are around 100 teams at that level, each of which will have a squad of around 30 players - so if you restrict it to England, you need to be roughly in the top 3,000 players to have a shot at making it your career. But there are probably about 3 million kids in this country playing the game (5 year old cite), so your chances are mathematically about 1 in 1,000.

Many other countries will have a smaller pool of players, but probably also a smaller pool of professionals earning a living from the game. For example, in Germany only the top 3 leagues (comprising 58 teams) are professional, likewise Italy (60), and in Spain only the top 2 leagues (42 teams) are fully professional. It looks the USA theoretically has 81 professional soccer teams, though I don’t know how much those in the bottom division earn, but the number of kids playing looks likely to be higher than in England.

Based on all that I’d suggest 1 in 1,000 as an upper bound for the likelihood of making it as a soccer pro. Perhaps someone more familiar with American sports could run the same numbers for them?

Although, as I understand it, in the Premier League, and maybe in the next few top-level leagues in England, many of the players are from other countries. So, it seems like there may be even fewer opportunties for English soccer players to make a career of it (though there’s undoubtedly many of them playing professionally in leagues in other countries).

I would have to think that’s the case. You can probably more or less cancel that effect out; the opportunities a given country will have for solid jobs playing professional soccer is going to be reasonably proportional to the interest in playing the sport.

I suspect we would find that the very, very best soccer associations, like the Premier League or Bundesliga, will have a disproportionate number of foreign players. That’s where the huge money is, and so that’s where the world’s best players go. However, that inevitable means opportunities in lesser but still fairly well playing leagues elsewhere will open up for British and German players. A guy who cannot quite catch on in the EPL or Bundesliga can almost certainly be a starting player on a team in MLS or J1.