It has become more and more common for people to criticise athletes that want a break in their sport because of how well paid they are. Even if we ignore the fact that some sports are much better paid than others, the simple truth is that receiving money as payment for what you do doesn’t meant that the body is more easily able to cope with being put under extreme pressures. Some sports are infinitely more relentless than others, such is the manner in which the calendar is set up so as to stop players getting any sort of break.
There is also the fact that some sports are relentless in different ways to others. Tennis players, for example, can have decent breaks between tournaments and even choose not to enter some competitions, but when they do enter them then there is likely to be a match every other day until the tournament reaches its conclusion. Professional sports people are amongst the fittest and most impressive in the world, unless you’re talking about a sport like darts, but are the pressures that they’re being put under becoming too much for it to be able to continue?
Most Relentless Professional Sports: Sports Where Players Don’t Get A Break
The most obvious place to start is with football, which is relentless in virtually every way that you can think of. Matches last for an hour and a half, with a break of 15 minutes in the middle. Of course, on top of that there is also stoppage time at the end of each half, which can result in the match lasting for as long as 100 minutes. There is also the possibility of some of the games going to extra-time and penalties, which can mean that the majority of players are involved in a match for as long as two and a half hours from start to finish.
Yet, especially when it comes to English football, the most relentless nature of it is when it comes to the calendar. Top-level teams have to negotiate the Premier League, the FA Cup and the League Cup, with the very best of them also having European competitions thrown in there too. That there has been such wide-spread objection to adding in a winter break to the English football calendar means that things aren’t going to get easier any time soon. Some top level managers, such as Pep Guardiola, believe that sacrificing cups may be necessary.
Away from club competitions, international football also ensures that players are rarely allowed to have a break. When domestic games stop during the season, it is only in order to allow international matches, including a host of meaningless friendlies, to take place in their stead. Every other summer, tournaments like the World Cup or the Euros come around, asking the best players in each country to go again. With the likes of the Africa Cup of Nations and the Copa América to fit in too, it’s a wonder footballers every get any free time.
The New Champions League Format
In 2022, UEFA confirmed that it would be making changes to the manner in which the Champions League is formatted. In many ways, the organisation was lucky that the aborted European Super League was announced at the time that the changes to the format of the Champions League were released, else the governing body for the sport in Europe might well have found the protests were aimed at it instead. UEFA have decided to scrap the current format, which sees 32 clubs spread across eight groups, in favour of one that pits 36 teams against one another in a massive league table.
That means that each team will have to find space in the calendar for four more matches, given that they’ll be facing ten opponents in the group stage. Whilst the top eight teams will make it through to the last 16 automatically, the clubs placed ninth to 16th will be seeded and will play against the teams from 17th to 24th in order to get to the knockout stage. Though the rest of the competition will keep the same format as it currently boasts, there is little question that the increased number of games will add to an already intense workload for some teams.
There are a wealth of football supporters that like to trot out such nonsense as ‘they’re paid enough’, but the more games players are asked to play in a short space of time, the lower the quality of the matches we’ll end up watching. Top-level players are incredibly fit, but putting the body through such an intense work rate will catch up with it eventually. However well paid you are, you can’t stop the human body from getting injured. The more we ask football players to do, the more commonly they’re going to get injuries and suffer long-term consequences.
Tennis players are arguably even fitter than footballers. Depending on the playing style of the player involved, they can be expected to run as many as three miles per match. Though footballers will run about seven miles in a match, tennis players are also having to effectively box against their opponents at the same time. As a result, you would think there would be an extent to which the tennis calendar asks less of its players than the football calendar does, but that isn’t true. Though the Majors are spread throughout the year, other tournaments are not.
In 2022, for example., the ATP Tour put five different events in the month of February alone. There were 17 events in the diary between the start of January and the middle of July for male players. The big difference between tennis players and footballers is the fact that those playing tennis can choose to skip certain tournaments, should they wish to. Whilst this is really only possible for the best players who have earned enough money to give them that luxury, all players can opt to miss out on some tournaments if they feel that they need a rest.
For footballers, there is no such luck. Unless injured, footballers are expected to turn up to play in any match that their manager chooses to select them in. Even so, tennis is relentless in its own way. The physical demands put on the players in terms of how far they need to run and what they need to do during matches means that tennis players have to be at the peak of physical fitness. That is then made worse by a calendar that barely gives them a minute to breathe. It is also worth noting that the tennis calendar never really stops.
In the winter months, when the weather is less hospitable to tennis in Europe, the sport merely moves to a different part of the world where it can be played more readily. As a result, tennis players could effectively be asked to play in tournaments all year round if they wished to. Given the relentless nature of the competitions themselves, it really is non-stop for players and little wonder that so many of them pick up muscle injuries on such a consistent basis. The calendar doesn’t allow them to relax and neither does the game play.
Relentlessness doesn’t always have to be about how hard the actual physicality of the sport is. In American football, for example, the play can take a ridiculously hard toll on the body, but the fact that coaches get to change out large parts of the team for different plays means that players can get a rest during their playing time. The same is true of cricket, which is relentless in a different way to just the physical demands that are put on the players. The fact that you never see an overweight professional cricketer tells you a lot.
The players might not do a huge amount for large spells of a cricket match, but they still need to be physically fit in order to cope with the demands asked of them when the time comes for them to get involved in the play. Whether it be trying to score runs as batters or looking to shift position in the fielding team in order to catch the ball, crickets are always on the move. Not only that, but they also have to concentrate for long periods of time without losing their focus. This can be demanding in its own way, making cricket a different type of relentless.
On top of that, cricket tests last for five days. That is a long period of time to be focussed and thinking about what you need to do to win, even if there are quaint moments such as ‘drinks’ and ‘lunch’ built into the playing time. If you switch off over lunch then you’ll be punished once play resumes the other side of it, so there is definitely an extent to which players are constantly having to be alert and aware to what is going on around them. Yes, cricket is one of the ‘gentler’ sports out there in many ways, but don’t let that fool you.
On top of the relentless nature of cricket tests and the concentration involved, the cricket calendar isn’t all that much friendlier than some of the other sports that we’ve mentioned. When international tests aren’t taking place there are often one-day tournaments, to say nothing of the relatively recent invention of the likes of 20:20 cricket and day-night tests. For cricketers, the calendar doesn’t let up, with tours of warmer climates often built into the schedule for European players in order to ensure that they’re always busy if they want to be.
If you said to someone that there was a similarity between Formula One and cricket, then the likelihood is that they would say that you’re a mad person. In reality, the big similarity between the two sports is the fact that concentration levels have to be at an extreme high throughout; even though it will seem to the uninitiated as though no one is doing very much. For F1 drivers, the criticism will always be that they just have to sit down and allow the car to do most of the driving. Anyone that knows anything about the sport will know that that is a ludicrous suggestion.
One need only watch Formula One: Drive To Survive to get a real sense of just how difficult an F1 driver’s life actually is. Whilst they undoubtedly travel in comfort from one place to another, they are constantly on the move all around the world. Anyone that has ever travelled, regardless of in how much comfort, will know that travelling is not a fun thing to do and can take it out of you. The drivers have to prepare for races by doing any number of actives that enhance their fitness and concentration ahead of races.
Formula One drivers have to weigh themselves before and after races, much like jockeys. The reason for this is that the drivers have to make sure that they haven’t lost too much weight during a race, with drivers losing as much as three kilograms. That is close to half a stone, which is a remarkable amount of weight to lose over the course of a couple of hours. It shows you just how intense driving is, with the relentless nature of concentration and physical exertion that the drivers are put through being evident for all to see.
It is not just the actual activity of driving that demands so much of F1 participants. A quick look at the calendar shows that from the moment they turn up to do testing at the end of February, there is a race at least every two weeks until the end of the season in November. Though there is a bit of a break for drivers between seasons, they have to work hard even then in order to ensure that they are at the peak of their physical fitness by the time that hostilities on the track are renewed.
Even the F1 weekends are busy times, with Friday taken up by practice, Saturday with qualifying and Sunday with the race itself. There is no time to switch off and rest for the drivers until the racing has been concluded, but even then it isn’t exactly true that they can just switch off. Any minor lapse in concentration during a Formula One weekend will almost certainly result in their performance being punished on the track. If you want relentlessness in your sport, become an F1 fan.