Every athlete is looking for that next push. This list collects motivational quotes from athletes from every era of modern sports. These athletes pass on their words of wisdom to you so that you can get the same motivational drive that got them going. Think of this list as your personal coach, without all the yelling and spitting.
1. George Halas Has No Regrets.
“Nobody who ever gave his best regretted it.” – George Halas
When you are in competition, you have to leave everything on the field of competition. You can’t hold back and hope that you have enough for tomorrow. The best competitors leave the arena with no regrets and with nothing left in their tank. That’s the type of effort you have to give to every match.
2. Tim Notke Works Hard.
“Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.” – Tim Notke
You can have all the talent in the world, but without the hard work to sharpen those skills the talent is useless. There are countless first round draft picks who flaked out without ever making it onto the field. There are even more that don’t even make it to the next level. From high school to college, from college to pro, from pro to legend.
3. Babe Ruth Never Gives Up.
“It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up.” – Babe Ruth
When you have the ability, that is the first part. Next, you have to develop your mental strength and intestinal fortitude. That’s what pushes you to reach the next level. When you have nothing left in the tank, your mind can reach down into the depths and pull out another round you didn’t even know was there.
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4. Les Brown Loves a Good Battle.
“The harder the battle, the sweeter the victory.” – Les Brown
No one wants to win if the other person gives up. When you are locked in a fierce battle, you must know that the victory is even sweeter in the end. When you hear the final bell, you’ll be even more filled with joy. The scoreboard is a reflection of all your hard work. When you enter the locker room that shower will be your reward.
5. Michael Jordan Failed Many Times.
“I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan
When you fall down, get back up. That’s how you succeed in life. Jordan knows the exact number of buzzer beaters… that he missed. He doesn’t know the ones he made. He remembers those feelings of joy. More than that, he remembers those misses and that’s what drove him to succeed the next time.
6. Vince Lombardi Loves Chumbawumba.
“It’s not whether you get knocked down; it’s whether you get up.” – Vince Lombardi
Vince Lombardi was tubthumping long before the band made it a thing. Lombardi is known for his resilience and leadership. Despite all failures, you have to find a way to continue to get up, especially in the face of adversity. When you feel pain, that’s just a weak spot in your mind. Push through the pain to find that last ditch effort. That’s what makes champions.
7. Derek Jeter Doesn’t Make Excuses.
“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
There are people more talented. No one better want it more. Joe Montana, Tom Brady, and Terry Bradshaw have more Super Bowl rings than any other quarterbacks in history. None of them were revered as the most talented in their class. Derek Jeter is the same way. No one ever considered him the best hitter or fielder. These guys just wanted it more.
8. How Sandy Koufax Became a Good Pitcher.
“I became a good pitcher when I stopped trying to make them miss the ball and started trying to make them hit it.” – Sandy Koufax
When you reach that next level, it’s when you believe in yourself. You simply know that you’re better than your opponent. It doesn’t matter how talented they are, you have to face them down and reach inside to give more than you have. When you finally bring that maximum effort, you will unlock your fullest potential.
9. Ben Hogan Outworks Them.
“If you can’t outplay them, outwork them.” – Ben Hogan
There are times where you will face people that have a better chip shot, a perfect fadeaway, or an uncanny serve. The truth is that you have to work a little harder to win. They have a few skills that make them better, but you can work harder on every other aspect of your game to dig deep and find the key to unlock the victory.
10. Lou Holtz on Self-Discipline.
“Without self-discipline, success is impossible, period.” – Lou Holtz
You are the only one that is invested in your success. No one else is dependent upon you reaching your fullest potential. If you believe that and know that, you have to be the one to take responsibility to push yourself to your limits. When you reach that limit, set a new one and go for that.
11. John Wooden Makes Masterpieces.
“Make each day your masterpiece.” – John Wooden
Every match, every game, every moment is a blank canvas. What you do with your opportunity can either be a kindergarten finger painting experience or it can be The Persistence of Memory. Whatever you do with those opportunities defines the way you’ll be remembered as an athlete and as a competitor.
12. Joe Namath Goes All the Way.
“If you aren’t going all the way, why go at all?” – Joe Namath
Champions give everything they have on every possession. It starts in training and then in competition. You have to find a way to push yourself to your limits everyday. When you do that, you create a new limit. Each day presents a new challenge and a new limitation to break.
13. Jack Dempsey Is a Champion.
“A champion is someone who gets up when he can’t.” – Jack Dempsey
Even when your body is completely broken, your mind can overcome the exhaustion and pain. You can pull yourself off the floor. When you are able to do that consistently, you will become a winner. When that habit becomes your second nature, where you don’t even think about it, you just do it, then you’ll be a champion.
14. Billie Jean King Gets It Right.
“Champions keep playing until they get it right.” – Billie Jean King
Another thing champions do is keep going. Billie Jean King was a winner for a long time before she became a champion. It wasn’t the Battle of the Sexes that made her a champion. She was a champion when she kept pushing herself to become the number one ranked woman in the world.
15. Shaq Is Grateful.
“I’d like to thank everyone who voted for me. And the one guy who didn’t vote for me, thank you, too.” – Shaquille O’Neal
Shaq was named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player almost unanimously. One voter placed a vote for someone else. Instead of Shaq being completely grateful for the award, he took the time to thank the one naysayer because he knew that would be the fuel to push himself even harder the next year.
16. Bear Bryant Prepares to Win.
“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
Everyone wants to win. You never run into someone who is trying to lose or even happy to lose. When people say “it’s how you play the game,” they quit a long time before that. Preparing to win is much more difficult than wanting to win. Preparing to win starts in the mind and the heart and then it proceeds into the training room and the practice field.
17. Andre Agassi Is Something Special.
“What makes something special is not just what you have to gain, but what you feel there is to lose.” – Andre Agassi
Everyone has the same reward. What are you risking? If you are a true competitor, a true champion, every minute is a new challenge. When you lose that one challenge, there’s another moment waiting. When you want to win every second, you have a lot to lose. That’s the mentality that drives you toward perfection.
18. Vitas Gerulaitis on Persistence.
“Nobody beats Vitas Gerulaitis 17 times in a row.” – Vitas Gerulaitis
Don’t forget about persistence. Bjorn Bjorg beat Vitas Gerulaitis in 16 straight matches. The 17th time, Vitas had not given up. You see people that have lost the belief, even in professional sports. You could see it at times in Nadal’s face at the 4th showdown against Federer at Wimbledon. You could see it at times from Federer in the 4th showdown against Nadal at the French Open. Every match is a new chance to win.
19. Sir Charles Ain’t Afraid.
“If you are afraid of failure you don’t deserve to be successful!” – Charles Barkley
Charles Barkley failed all the time. He never won a championship in college or in the NBA. His only championships were with Team USA in 1992 and 1996. That never killed his drive to compete. He never thought of himself as a failure because he knew that he left everything on the court, every night.
20. Coach Ditka Never Quits Trying.
“You’re never a loser until you quit trying.” – Mike Ditka
Ditka was a champion. He suffered through losing seasons. He never adopted the mentality of a loser. Every team had a chance to improve and a direct method to improve. That’s the mentality you must have to succeed. Every day is another opportunity to win, another chance to succeed. Pour every ounce into training and competition and you’ll never lose.
21. Muhammed Ali Takes Risks.
“He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.” – Muhammad Ali
Taking risks is part of the competitive spirit. You have to be willing to put everything on the line in order to bring home the prize. If you go out there and play with a defense first mentality then you are not really taking a risk. You have to be willing to play with reckless abandon in pursuit of the goal.
22. Evander Holyfield on Size.
“It is not the size of a man but the size of his heart that matters.” – Evander Holyfield
When you enter any battle, you have to embrace every fiber of your being. Recognize that you aren’t the tallest, strongest, fastest. You have to acknowledge the physical limitations you have. What separates you is the heart and the passion that you have. All the training you’ve done to put yourself in this fight is what prepares you to win the fight.
23. Matt Biondi Changes Failure.
“Persistence can change failure into extraordinary achievement.” – Matt Biondi
Stick with it and you’ll never lose 17 times in a row. Someone could have the best drive in the world, but that just means their short game isn’t good enough. When you continue to compete, continue to train, and continue to push yourself past your limits, you can achieve anything you can envision.
24. Steve Prefontaine Gives His Best.
“To give any less than your best is to sacrifice a gift.” – Steve Prefontaine
Your personal best is just that: Personal. The only person you let down by not giving every ounce of effort is yourself. No one else is going to be robbed of glory. Someone may sympathize and feel some sense of sadness or pain, but only you will know that you didn’t leave everything on the field.
25. Dean Karnazes Runs, Walks, and Crawls.
“Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must; just never give up.” – Dean Karnazes
Nothing is harder than running a marathon. When you get to mile 5, you are just starting. Mile 13 is only the midpoint. Every person that has run a marathon will have a story of their first marathon. Mile 20 is the point of no return. You have to literally dig deeper than you ever have to finish those last 6 miles. There are moments that you’ll walk and moments you’ll pause… but you never stop.
26. Carl Lewis Loves the Journey.
“It’s all about the journey, not the outcome.” – Carl Lewis
At the end of the day, the finish line is not the goal. The goal is to have the best start to finish you can possibly have. If you give everything you have in that 200 meters, then you’ve won, regardless of the tenth of a second you came up short. When you have the best journey, you win.
27. Yogi Berra on the End.
“It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” – Yogi Berra
The wise words of Yogi are never forgotten. When it’s the 4th quarter, the bottom of the 9th, stoppage time, or match point, the game is not over. You have a chance to win. The list of improbable comebacks continues to grow. The Cavs just came back (2016) from a 3-1 deficit to be the first team in NBA history to do that in the Finals.
28. Gretzky Is a Mathematical Genius.
“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” – Wayne Gretzky
Wayne isn’t known for his math skills, but this is a statistical fact. If you leave anything undone, it’ll be a question for you later. You have to take every ounce of your training onto the field of competition. When you are on that field, you leave every ounce of practice, skill, and heart on the field. That’s how you compete, and that’s how you become a champion.
(Read this next: 90 Motivational Quotes on Hard Work and Giving it Your All)