Which sports have the biggest & smallest gap between pros and regular people?

I believe this would be true of any major pro sport where the players are paid a lot of money. If you put a good amateur team up against a squad from the National Hockey League, I am not confident the amateur team could even finish the game, much less compete. They’d send half the team to the hospital.

When millions of dollars are at stake, the effort put into being at the top of the game is going to be extraordinary.

Sheesh, have you ever seen professional skateboarders? There are a lot of wannabes out there, and plenty of kids that do nothing but skate everyday. The pro guys can run circles around the rest. I think the gap in most sports is pretty wide between the pro and the amateur best.

I don’t agree with this at all. Golf is probably an example of the biggest differences between amatuers and pros. Put a typical scratch golfer on a course prepared for a PGA tournament and he’d have trouble breaking 80. The PGA course is longer, the fairways narrower, the rough thicker and higher, and the greens faster than on your local course.

At the recent Masters, six amatuers were entered, and they were not typical scratch golfers, they were the very best amatuers in the world. Only one made the cut.

In my prime as an average baseball player on a bad college team, I could have been put into a major league baseball game and played error-free ball and maybe even gotten a hit. In an individual sport like golf or tennis or cycling an amatuer would be exposed immediately.

Any of the major sports are going to have a very big gap, I just think that football would likely have the biggest gap of all. Besides raw talent and gameday skills, football requires a high level of coordination with large numbers of players in order for individual plays to succeed. Football also affords very little opportunity to practice and play in an amateur adult environment. Adult baseball, basketball and hockey are more likely to have local leagues than football.

If you’re talking about amatuer teams vs. pro teams then you would be right, but I’d say that if you pick a starter from your local college team who isn’t going to get drafted and put him on a pro team, he could play passably. A D1 wide receiver would catch passes, a lineman could block or make tackles, a kicker would make field goals. A cornerback or quarterback might be the exceptions, but even they could fake it for a while.

I’d be willing to bet good money that the number of people who can get within x% drops off really quickly for small x.

Slightly off-topic but I wanted to mention why I think this is.
Why an amateur and a professional can differ so much in their ability, yet spend similar amounts of time training.

IME, the main difference is not talent, and by that I mean the talent difference is much smaller than the gulf in ability.
I think the main thing is the positive feedback you get of being a professional. If you’re just a kid who skates everyday, what’s motivating you to improve? Once you can impress your peer group there’s little to take you out of your comfort zone. Whereas as a professional, the benefits of improving just that little bit are tremendous and are a constantly moving target ahead of you.

Depends on how badly they get beaten; I see it as completely the other way around. Shooting an 80 on a typical PGA set-up course (not a major tho) isn’t doing too badly, and a lot scratch guys likely would get 72-76 or so at their best. No they’re not making the cut, but that’s only a difference of 3-7 shots per round vs. a pro (like I said a sliced drive, a pushed putt, a flubbed one out of the bunker).

In baseball (when pitching or hitting) or tennis an equivalent amateur is likely to get completely whitewashed or overmatched, while in golf he can probably fake it for awhile. On one hole he can probably do well; in one tennis game his futility will be apparent from the very first serve, in one baseball at bat same thing. He will be non-competitive only 10% of time in golf, but 90% of the time in the other two. In golf a one stroke difference in average can mean the difference between a top pro and someone who is destined to spend most of his time on the Nationwide tour. The talent slopes in the other two sports are much steeper.

I might get totally yelled at for this but I’m going to say any kind of car racing. It’s just driving! If I had the good cars they have, I’d probably be doing a lot better too. Just put my foot down on the gas pedal and turn, not much more to learn. Plus, most people have had decades of practice by their 30’s and 40’s.

Maybe F1 would be hard, but NASCAR should be simple. Huge course, only left turns, just memorize how many laps for a pit stop and I bet any joe off the streets could do decent.

There is a huge gap in bowling. The best league bowlers I know average in the 230-240 range. That is well above the average of most pro bowlers, the difference is the conditions. Those folks that average 230+ on house oil patterns may average around 200 or less on a pro pattern. As a comparison, I average around 200 on most house patterns. I bowled on one of the USBC professional patterns(they have a red, a white, and a blue pattern that offer varying degrees of difficulty) from this year’s tour and I averaged around 140. The difference between very good league bowlers and pros is the difference between being able to hit an eight inch spot and being able to hit a one inch spot forty feet down a lane with a 14-16 pound ball.

I totally concur! An average person would not score a point (or even touch the ball) while playing against professionals in football, basketball, baseball, tennis, track, cycling; but I could go out and score half (twice?) as good as a golfer, bowler, pokerplayer. I really think that is where many people put the distinction between sports and games.

I’m tempted to say that depending on the terms of the question, both answers could be baseball. Among team sports, Major League Baseball has the longest ladder of skill progression between Joe Average and the top-level players (“pro” doesn’t mean Major League, but people sometimes talk like it does), but the bottom of the professional ladder is just a lateral step from good college conferences.

  1. I don’t think you will get yelled at.

  2. I know zero about most driving but I think it takes a ton of skill to drive those cars.

  3. What about WRC(big-time rally racing). Dude, it would take me 10 years to become adequate at that kind of driving.

Watch this minute or so of Rally driving…on snow. It doesn’t even capture how hard it because it does not adequately show the sharp turns they also usually get.

Yes, there is a long string of progression in baseball, but the talent level is not hugely different from the low minors and the majors. When top major leaguers go to single-A to begin a rehab stint, they don’t suddenly hit .500 or throw shutouts. In Spring Training, sometimes college teams play and beat the pros. A decent college player could play a series for a major league team and with a little luck could look passable as a Major Leaguer. He just couldn’t do it for a month.

Well I’m no motor sport fan but even I know that that is ridiculous. Not only is race driving extremely physically demanding it requires nerves of steel and constant minute judgments.

Check out the episode of Top Gear where Captain Slow does laps with Sir Jackie Stewart coaching him.

I came in to say ice hockey (although I’m not dismissing other pro sports). There was a local news story recently about one of their reporters - who plays ice hockey - going up against Pavel Datsyuk of the Red Wings on the ice. Datsyuk was stickhandling the puck and the reporter was trying to take it away from him. It was downright comical.


I disagree. I see a lot of baseball at all levels, and while each tier shades into those above and below, the overall progression is clear. The player pool is relentlessly whittled as you go up the ladder (the whole system is really dependent on an enormous reservoir of unrealistic optimism among young players, and their resulting willingness to work very hard for little money).

Many players never reach the majors because they hit unmistakable walls in their development somewhere along the way. A guy may look great in rookie ball, very good in short-season and low-A, and then he crashes in high-A. He may get busted back for half a season, look good again, and then promptly crash again on re-promotion. When pitchers start to command their secondary pitches (and that’s about where that happens), that’s the end of the line for more than few hitters.

I do think that the size of the particular step between AAA and MLB is often exaggerated.

Major leaguers on rehab stints are not exactly playing to their top form, but they do hit .500 or throw short-outing shutouts often enough that they’re clearly a little different than their competition at that level. And it’s very rare for a college team (playing hard, with something to prove!) to actually beat a quasi-major team just getting in gear in the spring. A few years back when the Tigers were really bad they tied a college team in the spring, and that was seen as an embarrassment.

Of course anything can happen in one game here or there.

Well, yes, because passable major league players themselves regularly go not-much-for-the-series at the plate, and it’s easy enough to look passable in the field, especially the outfield, for just a series. Your college player may not stick out to a casual observer as not belonging on that team, but he’s not likely to look better than mediocre either.

In a way the differences are all small things, but there are a lot of small refinements that players make as they climb that ladder. The Crash quote is accurate, of course, but it doesn’t acknowledge how hard it can be to make up each additional tiny increment of improvement against ever-tougher competition. The most telling single fact is how rare it is for players to succeed in the major leagues without time at every or nearly every level working up. It happens for an occasional phenom, but rarely enough that the whole structure is clearly necessary to develop typical modern-MLB-quality players.

Piggybacking onto what don’t ask alluded to, but the above, with all due respect, is just fantastically wrong. First of all, the level of physical fitness required is often severely underrated, and is quite rigorous. You routinely will feel 3-4 G’s or more in any given turn, and that can wear you out quick, as can the extreme heat they typically drive in (tho some series now require that you run air conditioning). These guys (and gals) are athletes, no question about it.

Now, the talent side of the equation. I’ve been driving racing sims (serious realistic sims) for over a decade now, and consider myself pretty decent. I can routinely beat the AI set at 100% difficulty on almost any track. Going online tho has been a very sobering experience for me any time I’ve done it. On a typical oval like Daytona there will undoubtedly be people running 1-2 seconds per lap faster than me (so they’ll lap me in c. 30 laps). Okay I hate ovals-on a road course same thing. On the Nurburgring, where the typical lap time is 8+ minutes, these guys will be 10-15 seconds faster than me in the same car. I must have driven the thing 1,000’s of laps by now, obsessively, and they still leave me in the dust. Imagine how a rank beginner would fare, even on a shorter and “easier” layout like Lime Rock.

Point is that the top auto racers are fantastically gifted, in a way which is not obvious to most uninformed observers. As in the other sports mentioned in this thread, there has been a stringent winnowing process going on from kiddie go-kart leagues on up to F1. Street skills don’t translate well at all; to be on the limit for an entire lap, for most of a race, is hard as f***, even on a “simple” seeming oval.

So one out of six beat out a lot of pros? That doesn’t sound like a gigantic gap to me.

One out of six beat out some pros and five amatuers, plus a bunch of former champions who don’t play competitive golf anymore. The Masters has by far the weakest and smallest field of any of the majors.

All six of those amatuers are going to be pros as well, they’re not scratch golfers from the track down the street.