You see inspirational sports quotes on posters in school gyms, locker rooms, and increasingly business presentations.
What draws people to these insights on life lessons like hard work, determination, taking chances, and giving 100 percent?
Frequently, it’s because we recognize star performers whom we admire face some of the same challenges that we do. Since they’ve overcome the challenges and succeeded, it gives us hope, inspires us, and lets us know anything is possible.
Best Inspirational Sports Quotes Ever
With so many motivational sports quotes available, we’ve narrowed the field down to the best of the best. These 37 quotations showcase stars like Babe Ruth, Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan, Billie Jean King, Derek Jeter, John Wooden, and many other well-known sports figures. Inspiring, motivating, and in some cases very funny, we think you’ll get a kick out of this collection.
1.) “You miss 100% of the shots you never take.” – Wayne Gretzky
Has anyone dominated a professional sport to the degree that Wayne Gretzky, The Great One, mastered professional hockey? His message of taking a chance and letting a shot fly is especially great for kids who might be reluctant to put themselves in the spotlight.
2.) “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.” – Steve Prefontaine
Steve “Pre” Prefontaine was an American long-distance runner who set American records at every distance from 2,000 to 10,000 meters and competed in the 1972 Olympics. In this motivational quote, he appeals to higher-order for us to give our very best.
3.) “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
Let’s face it, the folks who make it to an all-star level in professional sports likely have a pretty good genetic mix. But, what sets them apart from others is their ability to work hard, practice longer, and with greater intensity than their peers. And, importantly, hard work is something we all can control.
4.) “Gold medals aren’t really made of gold. They’re made of sweat, determination, and a hard-to-find alloy called guts.” – Dan Gable
Dan Gable is a wrestling legend. He won two NCAA Division I national championships while at Iowa State, a world gold medal and an Olympic gold medal. In addition to sweat equity and hard work, Gable notes that a certain intestinal fortitude is needed to capture gold. Whatever that quality is, Gable seemed to have it in spades.
5.) “Willie Mays’ glove is where triples go to die.” – Jim Murray
Ok, this might be my favorite sports quote of all time. Jim Murray, the writer of this gem, worked as a sportswriter for the Los Angeles Times for 37 years. He won the NSSA’s Sportswriter of the Year award 14 times. Willie Mays’s defensive skills, along with every part of his game, were on another level. His ability to cover ground and finish catches from his centerfield position spoiled many a hitter’s days. Before Joe Montana found Dwight Clark for the NFL catch, there was “The Catch” in the 1954 World Series by you know who.
Willie Mays and “The Catch” video
6.) “We would accomplish many more things if we did not think of them as impossible.” – Vince Lombardi
There’s a reason the Super Bowl trophy is named after Vince Lombardi. The legendary Green Bay Packers coach knew how to coach, play within the rules, and earn the respect of his players. Lombardi is notable for many of his inspirational sports quotes, but we like this one as a means to motivate a team.
7.) “Make each day your masterpiece.” – John Wooden
John Wooden, The Wizard of Westwood, won ten NCAA men’s national championships in basketball in a 12-year period. That’s a record that will likely go unchallenged. But Wooden was much more than a basketball coach. He was a modern-day philosopher who had a standard for living that was admirable. He thought well beyond the framework of sports, and because of that, he molded men, not just sports stars.
8.) “Don’t look back, something may be gaining on you.” – Satchel Paige
Leroy “Satchel” Paige pitched in the American Negro League and Major League Baseball. He is recognized as being one of the best pitchers of all time. His longevity and his rules for living are showcased in wonderful quotes. Ted Williams described Satchel like this, “Satch was the greatest pitcher in baseball,” and Joe Dimaggio said, “The best and fastest pitcher I ever faced.” Another favorite Satchel quote, “Don’t pray when it rains if you don’t pray when the sun shines.” Satchel’s homespun wisdom packs a lot of punch. Check out 88 of Satchel Paige’s great quotes.
9.) “You can observe a lot just by watching.” – Yogi Berra
What collection of sports quotes would be complete without one from Yogi Berra? Yogi played 19 seasons in MLB and probably had ten quotes from each season worthy of this list.
10.) “The idea is not to block every shot. The idea is to make your opponent believe that you might block every shot.” – Bill Russell
The 6’10” center for the Boston Celtics averaged 22.5 rebounds per game in regular seasons. Some argue that he is the greatest player to play the game based on his performance on the court, championships won, and contributions to the game. Russell was also the most successful player coach in the history of professional sports. Russell’s quote about getting players to think about their shot suggests the importance the mind plays in basketball.
11.) “Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.” – John Wooden
What’s not to like about Wooden’s inspirational sports quotes? In sports, as in life, sometimes you’re dealt a bad hand. The truly successful ones make the best of what’s in front of them and don’t complain.
12.) “Champions keep playing until they get it right.” – Billie Jean King
Some would suggest that Billie Jean King’s quote didn’t go far enough. It should say, “Champions keep playing until they can’t get it wrong.” But, since Billie Jean King won 39 Grand Slam titles, I think we’re going to have to go with her version.
13.) “Wisdom is always an overmatch for strength.” – Phil Jackson
If you’re watching ESPN’s “The Last Dance,” you know it took a special coach and human being to shape the Chicago Bulls’ talent, personalities, and egos into some harmonious squad to win six NBA championship rings. Oh, and he did it five more times with the Los Angeles Lakers. The winningest NBA coach ever, Phil Jackson brought a unique perspective to coaching and managing the players of that era. He could also deliver a quote or two. Another favorite is, “If you meet Buddha in the lane, pass it to him.”
14.) “Every strike brings me closer to the next home run.” – Babe Ruth
Babe Ruth recognized that sometimes minor setbacks were stepping stones to something greater. You have to deal with some disappointment before enjoying success. Ruth struck out a lot over the course of his career. But, you know what? People don’t remember him for that. They remember him for his home runs.
15.) “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed.
I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan
I wonder if Michael Jordan ever said this line, or was it just scripted by a Nike advertising copywriter. Mickey Mantle was said to have said, “During my 18 years, I came to bat almost 10,000 times. I struck out about 1,700 times and walked maybe 1,800 times. You figure a ballplayer will average about 500 at-bats a season. That means I played 7 years without ever hitting a ball.” Frequently, great quotes are attributed to great players, whether the words ever came out of their mouths or not. Does it really matter? I do know that both of these quotes are pretty good, though.
16.) “Nobody who ever gave his best regretted it.” – George Halas
The founder of the Chicago Bears was spot on with this quotation. Nuff said.
(You might like NFL Quarterbacks By the Numbers.)
17.) “From what we get, we can make a living; what we give, however, makes a life.” – Arthur Ashe
While a phenomenal tennis player, Arthur Ashe was perhaps even a better social activist. For young athletes who have a lot of free time and personal wealth, this is a great message. But, it’s also a great message for all of us.
18.) “The more difficult the victory, the greater the happiness in winning.” Pele
I think we all know Pele’s quote to be inherently true. If you have a rivalry or a fierce competitor and yet can still come out on top, that means a lot. A victory over an outmatched opponent doesn’t share the same joy. That’s why teams and individuals should look to play the best opponents.
19.) “I hated every minute of training, but I said, “Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.” – Muhammad Ali
The ability to postpone satisfaction now for delayed reward is a sign of maturity. Many sports require training and repetitive exercises to teach muscle memory. Let’s face it. They can get boring. That’s why it is so important to keep your eye on the prize. Just like Muhammad Ali did.
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
Excelling at sports is all about practicing. When I was coaching girls basketball, parents would come up to me and say that Jr. couldn’t do practice, but (with a big smile), she can make the game. I would usually prefer that they could do practices and not the game. You see, the practice was where most of the learning took place. If a team wants to succeed, thought and effort must be focused on quality practice time.
21.) “I’ve got a theory that if you give 100% all of the time, somehow things will work out in the end.” – Larry Bird
With Larry shooting, things usually worked out pretty well for his team. That giving 100% doesn’t just apply to game time. It also means giving your all at practices.
22.) “What you do with a mistake: recognize it, admit it, learn from it, forget it.” – Dean Smith
Dean Smith was another one of those coaches like John Wooden. Through his experiences and his insights, he learned a lot about life through the game of basketball. And, he was good about sharing those thoughts via insights like this. Permitting young players to make mistakes is critical. A lot of kids won’t try new skills because of the fear of making an error. But, if one encourages them that it’s ok not to be successful, you reward the effort and not the result.
23.) “One man practicing sportsmanship is far better than 50 preaching it.” – Knute Rockne
If you’re a football coach, you’re going to teach kids how to block, tackle, line up, etc. It would be best if you also taught them about sportsmanship. Break it down into smaller parts if need be, but don’t just assume all of your players know what it means.
24.) “Shout praise and whisper criticism.” – Don Meyer
Don Meyer, another basketball coach philosopher, is one of my favorites. This quote is so crucial for people of all ages in sports, business, and life. With kids especially, it’s great to call out folks who are doing the right thing and have them demonstrate for the bigger group. Everyone learns, and it makes one kid’s day!
25.) “A man has to have goals – for a day, for a lifetime – and that was mine, to have people say, “There goes Ted Williams, the greatest hitter who ever lived.” – Ted Williams
Ted Williams on the importance of goals. Williams’ focus throughout his life led him to some great achievements on the baseball field and in fishing. He also flew 39 successful missions as a pilot in the Korean War. So, as John Glenn noted, “He may have (hit) .406 for the Red Sox. He batted 1.000 for the Marines.”
26.) “The way to catch a knuckleball is to wait until it stops rolling and then pick it up.” – Bob Uecker
“Mr. Baseball” may be the funniest man in baseball in a sport loaded with them. The Milwaukee-born Uecker’s self-effacing description of his less-than-hall-of-fame caliber contributions to the sport has entertained crowds for some time.
27.) “Nobody beats Vitas Gerulaitis 17 times in a row.” – Vitas Gerulaitis, upon beating Jimmy Connors after losing their previous 16 matches.
Vitas hits the nail on the head with this one. Funny sports quotes have to be a part of this collection for sure.
28.) “I’m like tax. You’re going to pay one way or the other.” – Shaquille O’Neal
At 7’1″ and 324 pounds, Shaq has to be in the discussion of the most dominating basketball players ever.
29.) “If you fail to prepare, you’re prepared to fail.” – Mark Spitz
Mark Spitz knew a few things about preparation as he won seven gold medals in record time at the 1972 Summer Olympics.
30.) “Sometimes the coaches tell me to be selfish, but my game won’t let me be selfish.” – Lebron James
Lebron recognized early that basketball is a team game. You have to root for the guys who try to share the spotlight and make their teammates better.
31.) “Talent is never enough. With few exceptions, the best players are the hardest workers.” – Magic Johnson — Inspirational Sports Quotes
Magic, the amazing leader of the Lakers’ “Showtime” offense, must’ve practiced a whole lot because he brought his “A” game nearly every night.
32.) “Rooting for the Yankees is like rooting for the house in blackjack.” – Adam Morrow
My vote for the best simile in sports. If you’re not a Yankees fan, you know what I mean. If you do support those guys in pinstripes, think of this as the highest compliment.
33.) “You have to play this game like somebody just hit your mother with a two-by-four.” – Dan Birdwell
My vote for the second-best simile in sports.
34.) “Persistence can change failure into extraordinary achievement.” – Matt Biondi — Most Inspirational Sports Quotes
Great athletes didn’t start great. Everyone was a beginner once. It takes persistence to reach the highest levels.
35.) “You just can’t beat the person who never gives up.” – Babe Ruth
Ain’t that the truth. It’s discouraging when your opponent in a sport like a tennis goes after every ball, tries their hardest on every shot, and plays every point like it’s the last in a tiebreaker.
36.) “Push yourself. No one else is going to do it for you.” – Unknown — Great Inspirational Sports Quotes
Success comes from within. If you want to be the best, you’ll need to be self-disciplined.
37.) “People who work together will win whether it be against complex football defenses or the problems of modern society.” – Vince Lombardi
It’s all about teamwork making the dream work. Working together and encouraging teammates is what makes great teams great.
By Mike O’Halloran
Mike is the author of three basketball coaching books and the founder of Sports Feel Good Stories.
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