We often use sports as a metaphor for life. Overall, sports often package life’s lessons into neat 60-minute games or into perfect soundbites that summarize to achieve at a high level. For this reason, we sifted over the glories of all sports, seeking to find a few uber-inspirational sports quotes.
1. “I don’t count my situps. I only start counting once it starts hurting. ” -Muhammad Ali
Muhammad Ali, the inventor of the modern overconfident athlete persona and multiple time world boxing champion, has many quotes that could have made this list, but we thought we’d get him out of the way early.
2. “Cancer can take away all my physical abilities. It cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart and it cannot touch my soul. And those three things are going to carry on forever.” – Jimmy Valvano
The speech Jimmy Valvano gave at the 1993 ESPY awards is choked full of wisdom and tightly-packed emotion, and it was hard to pick just one phrase from it. In it, legendary NC State basketball coach Jim Valvano is given the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, with everyone in the room knowing that he was going to die within a few weeks. It’s worth a watch.
3. “I’ve failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan
The world-renowed basketball player Michael Jordan is always thought of as the victor, the one who took the shot no one else could make, the one who transformed the game. In these simple lines quantifying his failures, Jordan shows that getting to success is never easy, and that the failures are what make us who we are.
4. “The only way to prove you are a good sport is to lose.” – Ernie Banks
No one knows enthusiasm and integrity better than Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks. A Hall Of Fame Shortstop, Banks knew about losing, playing mostly for terrible Cubs teams.
5. “There may be people that have more talent than you, but there’s no excuse for anyone to work harder than you do.” – Derek Jeter
Recently retired First-Ballot-Hall-of-Fame shortstop accomplished a lot in his career with the New York Yankees, and was widely thought of as a class act. Jeter was a player’s player, a hard worker, and here he shows what got him there: hard work.
6. “If you fail to prepare, you’re prepared to fail.” – Mark Spitz
Nine-time Olympic champion Mark Spitz was an amazing swimmer, and nothing got him to where he wanted to be more than preparing. Spitz records stood until Michael Phelps broke them recently, so I’d say he has room to talk about preparation.
7. “The road to Easy Street goes through the sewer.” – John Madden
John Madden may be known for being a broadcaster and owner of a popular video game franchise, but before that, he coached the Oakland Raiders to two Superbowl Championship. In this, Madden shows how it wasn’t easy to get where he ended up.
8. “Stubbornness usually is considered a negative; but I think that trait has been a positive for me.”- Cal Ripken, Jr.
Cal Ripken Jr. holds the streak in baseball, for most consecutive games played, with 2,632 games over the course of more than 16 years. You can see how he may consider himself stubborn, as he just trotted out there, every day, for more than a decade and a half.
9. “To uncover your true potential you must first find your own limits and then you have to have the courage to blow past them.” – Picabo Street
Olympic gold medalist Picabo Street, as an alpine skier, blew past her limits pretty consistently. Whizzing down a mountain at high speeds does take courage, and so does achieving your goals.
10. “Do you know what my favorite part of the game is? The opportunity to play.” -Mike Singletary
During his Hall-Of-Fame career with the Chicago Bears, Mike Singletary was known for his tenacity and his eyes. This must have been the result of a child-like vigor that he brought every day.
11.“Never let your head hang down. Never give up and sit down and grieve. Find another way.” – Satchel Paige
Legendary Negro League pitcher Satchel Paige was big on creativity and perseverance. Sometimes thought of as one of the greatest pitchers to ever live, Paige would never quit, and never let his emotions take over.
12. “It is not the size of a man but the size of his heart that matters.” – Evander Holyfield
World Heavy Weight Boxing Champion Evander Holyfield knows a lot about fighting and the heart. He was the man who had his ear bit off by Mike Tyson, and was at one point the undisputed world boxing champion.
13. “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.” – Wayne Gretzky
The Great One, Wayne Gretzky, was widely regarded as the best hockey player to ever play the game. In his best season, he had in average more than one goal per game, and was a four-time Stanley Cup Champion with the Edmonton Oilers. He never saw a shot he didn’t like.
14. “Wisdom is always an overmatch for strength.” – Phil Jackson
Hall-of-Fame NBA Coach Phil Jackson won a total of eleven (!!!) championships during his coaching career: six with the Chicago Bulls and then five more with the Los Angeles LAkers, which complimented two he had as a player with the Knicks. He worked with the aforementioned Jordan, as well as with Shaquille O’Neill, with Kobe Bryant, with many others, such as Scottie Pippen.
The man knows how to win, and, if he says wisdom is more vital than strength, you better listen.
15. “It’s not whether you get knocked down; it’s whether you get up.” – Vince Lombardi
Vince Lombardi is the man the Super Bowl Trophy is named after. He was a legendary coach with the Green Bay Packers, and won the first two SuperBowls. Full of hard-nosed wisdom, Lombardi’s quote is one to live by.
16. “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.” – Tim Notke
Tim Notke, a high school basketball coach, said this in a motivational speech to his players to encourage them to work hard in order to be the best.
17. “Never say never because limits, like fears, are often just an illusion.” – Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan is an American retired professional basketball player. He was said to be too short to be signed by Adidas, but with his hard work and persistence, he is now said to be “the greatest basketball player of all time”.
18. “Good is not good when better is expected.” – Vin Scully
Vin Scully is an American retired sportscaster. He has seen lots of good and great players and so he knows everyone has room to improve all the time.
19. “Without self-discipline, success is impossible, period.” – Lou Holtz
Lou Holtz is a former American football player, coach, and analyst. He is the only college football coach to lead six different programs to bowl games and guide four different programs to the final top 20 rankings.
20. “It’s not the will to win that matters — everyone has that. It’s the will to prepare to win that matters.” – Paul “Bear” Bryant
Paul “Bear” Bryant was an American college football player and coach. He was best known as the head coach of the University of Alabama football team. He set a record (later broken) for more games won than any other collegiate coach.
21. “A trophy carries dust. Memories last forever.” – Mary Lou Retton
Mary Lou Retton Kelley is a retired American gymnast. At the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, she won a gold medal in the individual all-around competition, as well as two silver medals and two bronze medals. But to her, the process of doing the sports still matters more.
22. “Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must; just never give up.” – Dean Karnazes
Being hailed as one of the fittest men on the planet, Dean Karnazes can run for three days and nights without stopping. His persistence is definitely the key to his success.
23. “What makes something special is not just what you have to gain, but what you feel there is to lose.” – Andre Agassi
Andre Agassi is an American retired professional tennis player and former world No. 1 player. This is how he motivated himself to keep going and keep winning.
24. “You win a few, you lose a few. Some get rained out. But you got to dress for all of them.” – Satchel Paige
Once again, Satchel Paige’s wise words have taught us to face failures positively.
25. “Never give up! Failure and rejection are only the first step to succeeding.” – Jim Valvano
Last but not least, here we have Jim Valvano again, who had an excellent coaching career at multiple teams. He always encouraged his teams to never give up, no matter how hard it might be.
Featured photo credit: Pixabay via pixabay.com