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Ivan Wolfe 08-13-2008 02:30 PM

Friend says that Football players are greater athletes than decathletes...
We've been having a go on this. I claim the best athletes are decathletes and gymnasts, he insists it's football and basketball players.

Here are the points he most recently gave me:


The decathlon is a very incomplete measure of “greatest athlete” because it lacks events that test important athlete skills, including:

1) endurance (the longest event is the 1500 meters—a blink of the eye in marathon terms)

2) hand-eye precision (yes, the pole vault and high jump require precision, but let’s see a decathlete throw a ball. To be more explicit: how would a decathlete compete at throwing an object to another person (say, acting as QB in football, or handler in Ultimate)? Can we agree that the precision timing req’d to pole vault and jump are quite different than the hand-eye precision req’d to return a tennis serve or pitch a fast ball?

3) field awareness (meaning, that uncanny ability of star players to “see” things behind them) One’s own, personal spatial awareness (proprioception) is high, but not one’s awareness of what others are doing. And yes, I know that racers pay attention to where their competitors are on the track, but that is nothing compared to trying to read an offensive play (like a linebacker or sweeper has to) or counter an offensive move (like a wrestler has to) or coordinate a play (like a point guard has to).

4) agility—to a certain degree (I’m talking the ability to weave in and out of traffic the way football or soccer players do without losing footing). I play a lot of soccer, and I am always impressed by the agility of players better than I who can weave, twist, jump, etc. through traffic and never lose their footing. I may be underestimating a decathlete’s ability to do the same.

I am still totally unconvinced about the decathlete, and I am likewise unconvinced about the gymnast. I am especially unconvinced about the gymnast because I’ve played team sports with gymnasts and they were not very good at all.
At this point, I'm a little nonplussed on where to go. Part of me tells me that my friend is just throwing up smokescreens and just plain doesn't like decathletes and gymnasts, but I'm wondering what solid evidence I could give to refute his points.

Matthew Stafford 08-13-2008 02:36 PM

Re: Friend says that Football players are greater athletes than decathletes...
First, I'd challenge the metrics he is using, then the assumptions he is making.

His metrics for fitness, for example, seem particularly biased towards a football player. Ask him how fast a football player could run a 1500, and compare that to the average decathalete. Note, this should be an average time for all positions (since they vary so greatly), as well as the average time for a run of the mill decathalete.

His assumptions on a pole vaulter are just that, assumptions. He has no knowledge of the coordination and skill required to pole vault. I've tried it, it's damned hard. I like throwing balls better.

Also, he is basing his decision about all gymnists based on the few that he has met. That may or may not be a representative sample.

Your friend is a good debater, though, consider yourself lucky! If you really want to settle this, I think you should each play a game of football, and then have your own decathalon! That'll end the argument.

Phillip Garrison 08-13-2008 02:36 PM

Re: Friend says that Football players are greater athletes than decathletes...
Yes football requires more eye and coordination and "field awareness". But lets see a linemen run a sub 5:00 minute mile, or Corner Back throw a shot put 50 feet. Throwing and catching a ball only applies to about 1/10th of the players on the field, so it's not a valid argument for everyone who's not the qb,rb,wr, and te.

Grant Anderson 08-13-2008 02:50 PM

Re: Friend says that Football players are greater athletes than decathletes...
I was actually debating this with a friend as well. As I was checking out the decathletes in the Olympics, I noticed there weren't really any events that required any lateral quickness or agility. I can see that argument coming up, because obviously to be all around athletic, lateral movement must be considered. I think it would be a generalization to say that football players are better athletes than decathletes, because some football players certainly aren't.

I think it could be argued however, that there are many football players who are better athletes than decathletes. These would most likely be positions like receiver, corner back, safety, linebacker (maybe), etc. The one downside of this is that most of these players would not have quite as much endurance as a decathlete, because while the longest decathlon event is 1500m, the longest football play without rest is much much shorter than that.

I don't think that one could really say decathletes are more athletic that football players, because athletic ability includes more than running and jumping (I know high jump and pole vault require coordination, but I feel that many other sporting skills are much more complex.)

When a decathlete does a high jump or pole vault, they are moving through a polished series of practiced motions with nothing to screw them up but themselves. When a football player is going for a diving catch up against a corner and safety, they must adapt to and overcome those obstacles while making a catch, which, while catching is a repeatable motion, changes every time depending on the throw and players movement, etc. I think that this adaptation is much more athletic than the ability to repeat an identical movement many times.

Phillip Garrison 08-13-2008 03:01 PM

Re: Friend says that Football players are greater athletes than decathletes...
Decathletes also have to throw three different apparatus, which requires alot of skill, and power. "Skill" players have more lateral speed than decathletes, but not the upper body power and endurance. Lineman have more power and strength than a decathlete, but not nearly the speed or endurance. The point is, take every professional football players lineman through kickers, adn take their averages, then take all international level Decathletes, and take their average numbers, and then you have a valid argument.

Shane Skowron 08-13-2008 05:34 PM

Re: Friend says that Football players are greater athletes than decathletes...
Since there is no metric to decide what makes the greatest "athlete", I think you will have to settle for who is the "fittest" athlete.

I do not believe that the average pro football player has more endurance than the average pro decathlete. Just because you only compete at a maximum of 1500m does not mean you can't go further than that. Any decathlete could destroy any football player at a marathon, hands down. If you have a decathlete do alternating intervals of 20 sec/75 sec for one hour (an average football game, in simplified terms), I'm sure he would fare much better than most pro footballers too. There are no events in football that last longer than 4:00, and so by sheer timing the decathlete possesses greater sustained endurance than any football player.

Football players may be very agile, but have you ever tried to run 100m hurdles? There is a great deal of agility required there, especially when you are traveling at all-out speeds.

I think pro football halfbacks are some of the world's best and fittest athletes, but an excellent decathlete would beat him in virtually every aspect.

I'm surprised your friend didn't mention strength, because that's the one aspect where virtually every football player will defeat a decathlete.

Brian Degenaro 08-13-2008 06:03 PM

Re: Friend says that Football players are greater athletes than decathletes...
Let's go through this event by event...

100m dash --> pure, all out sprint for the first 50-70m and then holding onto your max speed. Most elite decathletes are running low 10s in the 100m with fully-automatic timing (FAT). The fastest football player I've met ran 10.4 hand timed, which translates to ~10.64 FAT assuming whoever timed him was dead on with the stopwatch.*

Long jump --> a very straightforward event, sprint and leap. The only precision here is timing your penultimate step with you ultimate step. A week of dedicated practice can get someone good at this. Good decathletes can average over 24' with each jump and there are several football players that can match this.*

Shot Put --> depending on the technique used, this can be a very straightforward event (using glide) or technical (using spin). Utilizing the spin requires the decathlete to have very good spatial awareness because they are in a 7ft circle, and this is not a lot of room to maneuver in. Most decathletes can throw over 50ft with the 16lb shot. High end NCAA throwers (who tend to be football players) can throw in the high 50s and low 60s.

High Jump --> sprint, turn, jump. It requires the athlete to transfer all horizontal momentum into vertical momentum while maneuvering over a very unstable bar. This requires spacial awareness as well as coordination to clear high heights. Most elite decathletes are able to clear well over 6', some even can get a hair over 7'. I've met some football players that can barely clear 5'9" while there are some that can clear 6'6". *

400m --> Decathletes have this one hands down. This is pure mental and physical toughness. Very few elite decathletes run slower than 50s on this event. Very few football players run faster than 50s on this event.*

110m hurdles --> one of the most technical events in T&F which everyone is overlooking here. It requires not only 100m quickness but the ability to maneuver over 3.5' hurdles. That's a big height and you're not jumping over it. It requires tremendous hip strength and flexibility in order to successfully compete. Elite decathletes usually run below 14.5s in this event. I've met some football players who can run 15s and a lil faster in this event.*

Discus --> just like shot but requires much more agility in the circle. Most decathletes throw upwards and over 160', some even over 180', with this event. NCAA football players who throw tend to get into the 170s.

Pole Vault --> just as technical as the hurdles. This requires much dedicated practice in order to compete. You have to time your plant, jump, leg swing, and release in order to clear heights well. You have to make sure you don't plant early or late, wait for the pole to begin to unbend before you initiate the leg swing, invert, and then know when to appropriately turn and push to catapult yourself off the top of the pole. This requires the same coordination as basic ring skills in gymnastics.

Javelin --> either this comes natural or not. It requires much skill and has a very similar approach to the high jump (skip to hop), except it's about transferring your leg drive into your implement. It takes proper release in order to throw the jav straight. Most times people throw it and it flies end over end. Good decathletes can throw over 190', some even over 230' in this event. Any football player I've met who's decently good at jav can throw upwards of 190' and into the low 200's as well.

1500m run --> Very similar to a sprint if you actually run it. A good test of both aerobic and anaerobic capacity when it comes down to it. Most decathletes run faster than a 5 min/mi. pace for this event, some able to average 4:30 mile pace. I haven't really met any football players able to run faster than a 6 minute mile.

*All these scores are from football players who trained track 2/3 of the year and still competed in D1 college football or state and county level football.

Christian Gotcher 08-13-2008 06:10 PM

Re: Friend says that Football players are greater athletes than decathletes...
Your friend's a good debater. His argument's tricky.

"1500 is a blink of an eye compared to a marathon."

By comparing decathlons to marathons, a measure of one type of fitness that we can all respect to a certain degree, he marginalizes what you could argue is a decathlete's greatest strength compared to a hefty football player- running. Note, though, that he excludes football from this comparison. A single football play is even less than a blink (literally, sometimes), and a game includes so many rests that marathon-style 'endurance' is not an accurate component of the sport.

"Football players win in measures of field awareness/ball skills/etc."

Notice here that he employs another overgeneralization tool- he lumps all the different parts of the team, with all their separately trained component, as one 'uber-player' that represents 'football.' Does a defensive lineman have a significant picture of the field? Or is he focused on his narrow segment of the game- specifically, the guy in front of him?

There's more to it, of course, but I couldn't really add anything to the good points already made, so I'll stop there.

Shane Skowron 08-13-2008 06:19 PM

Re: Friend says that Football players are greater athletes than decathletes...

Originally Posted by Christian Gotcher (Post 374968)
Your friend's a good debater. His argument's tricky.

"1500 is a blink of an eye compared to a marathon."

What does Greg say about Crossfit? Something like "we do things we do better, we do things you do better, and we do things neither of us do better."

Neither of them do marathons, but it's no question who will win. So how is that even an argument for the football player?

Justin Algera 08-13-2008 06:41 PM

Re: Friend says that Football players are greater athletes than decathletes...
Its an argument that can't be won or lost... Sure many decathletes (not all) are great athletes as well as many football players (again, not all) but to say one is more than the other marginalizes both athletes and does a disservice to each one. What is the greater accomplishment, a decathlete who goes out and sets a new world record and wins a gold medal in the Olympics, or a tail-back who rushes for 205 yards, catches 2 TD passes, and makes 3 qb saving blocks to lead his team to a Superbowl win? Impossible to answer as they are both great athletic accomplishments that one couldn't do in the other persons place.

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