Sports are an important part of the human experience. They create competition, but they also provide many life lessons. Sports are more than playing games, they involve learning how to win graciously and lose with the mindset of a champion. Athletes learn how to dig deep inside and come together in victory and defeat alike.
Sports are a great source of inspiration for many people, and some of the motivational speeches are full of lessons that can apply to all aspects of life. Here are the best 10 motivational speeches in sports history.
#1. Jim Valvano 1993 Espy Awards
In 1993, the beloved basketball coach for NC State was awarded the Arthur Ashe Courage & Humanitarian Award at the Espys. His speech was inspirational and brave, as he gave his point of view on sports and life. He was battling cancer at the time.
He starts off by saying that the way to get through hard times is to laugh, you should think, and you should cry. He tells a great story about his first coaching job, and he says that the way to get where you want to be is by having enthusiasm for life.
He talks about his family and how important they are, and he goes on to say that he plans to spend the rest of his life raising money to fight cancer. He encourages everyone to join him in this battle. His speech is the epitome of courage, and it leaves you feeling inspired.
#2. Herb Brooks 1980 Olympics Team USA Hockey
In 1980, the United States Hockey Team was getting ready to face the USSR in the Olympics. They were not expected to win. Their victory is considered one of the greatest wins by an underdog in all sports. Herb Brooks was the head coach, and he gave the team a motivational speech that is considered one of the greatest of all time.
He started by telling the team that great moments are born from great opportunity, and he was able to motivate the team by getting them to live in that moment no matter what else might happen another day. This is a great example of how a legendary coach can motivate his team and get the best out of them.
#3. Lou Gehrig Luckiest Man Speech
Lou Gehrig’s final appearance at Yankee Stadium was one of the most emotional ever. He was ill, and the Yankees celebrated him with members of the famous 1927 Yankees team and more. With over 60,000 fans in the stands, Lou stood on the field and listened to legends such as Mickey Mantle sing his praises.
When it was time for Gehrig to speak, he was too emotional. However, hearing chants of the crowd asking for him, he gave in. He was sick and dying of what is now called Lou Gehrig’s disease, but he begins his speech, “Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” Even as his health was failing, Gehrig teaches us that there is always something to be grateful for.
#4. Knute Rockne Notre Dame Coach
This speech by legendary Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne is a great example of his pep talks to the team. In 1928, the team was having what would have been Rockne’s only losing season, and Walter Cronkite got this recording for his CBS-TV series titled “Twentieth Century.” It shows his style.
He spoke in staccato and emphasized the key points. His intonation sends the message as much as his words. Later on, in the movie, “Rudy,” Rudy delivers part of this speech in the Notre Dame locker room. Not only did Knute Rockne inspire his teams to win games, but he inspired a kid to pursue his dream of playing football.
#5. Jack Buck’s 9-11 Poem
The terror attacks on the United States left an entire nation stunned yet resolved to rise up again. Jack Buck, the voice of the St. Louis Cardinals, wrote and delivered his poem, “ For America,” on September 17, 2001 to a crowd of 32,000 baseball fans.
Jack Buck retired from announcing in 2000, but he made one last appearance to deliver this poem at Busch Stadium. The poem is short and to the point, but it is inspirational and gives people hope. Baseball was living proof that the terrorists couldn’t take away the American dream, and Jack Buck knocked this one out of the park.
#6. David Belisle 2014 Little League World Series
When his team was eliminated from the Little League World Series by just one run, he gave a speech to his team of 11- and 12-year-old boys that helped them rise up from their disappointing loss. The boys didn’t have a meltdown; he points out how well they played and the little things that really matter.
He tells the boys to hold their heads up high because everyone is proud of them, and he tells them to celebrate before returning home to a parade for their accomplishments. His words are truly inspirational, and this speech had a huge and lasting impact on those boys and anyone who listens to it.
#7. Ray Lewis Hall of Fame Speech (NFL)
If anyone can preach, it’s Ray Lewis. His presentation is enough to inspire anyone to believe in their dreams. He tells a story of how he wasn’t supposed to survive, but here he is. His speech is all about his career, and he relives moments and tells how he overcame adversity.
When he talks of his injury and how he promised to come back, and he did. He says he is living proof of the impossible. He talks about working through pain and bouncing back from it. He truly embodies an athlete who will never let anything get in his way.
He speaks to kids who might be at home and thinking of joining a gang, and he shows them that he is living proof that you have to chase your dreams. He grew up in the projects, too. He has strong faith, and he attributes his strength to his mom.
#8. Kevin Durant 2013-2014 MVP Speech
When Kevin Durant accepted the 2013-2014 MVP, he gave an incredible speech on how he got there. He talks about tough times growing up and how he never imagined he would go to college much less play in the NBA. He gets quite emotional as he tells everyone what the people who are close to him meant to his journey.
This speech is inspirational for anyone who is struggling with adversity. He not only tells how he made it to this place in spite of incredible adversity, but he mentions everyone who played a role along the way. He is truly a humble and grateful person who made it to the top of his sport, and he acknowledges what a huge role his family, mentors, and friends have played along the way.
#9. Al Pacino’s “Inch by Inch” Speech
In the 1999 film, “Any Given Sunday,” Al Pacino plays the football coach, and he gives a powerful talk to the team about the importance of inches. Not only are his words true and applicable to just about any situation in life, but they fire the team up and lead them to victory.
A great coach needs to motivate the team to fight for the win, and in this movie, Al Pacino does a brilliant job of inspiring his team with this speech. Everyone can learn from this speech. The “inches” are the little things in life that add up to keep you on your path. It is true of all sports and all life experiences.
#10. Rocky Balboa “It Ain’t About How Hard You Hit”
This is another great motivational speech from a movie. When Rocky’s son is letting him know how hard his life is because of his father, Rocky gives him a lesson on life. In a speech from the heart, Rocky lets his son know how much he loves him and believes in him before schooling him on his insecurities.
It’s a simple lesson, and it relates to boxing as well as life. He says, “It ain’t about how hard you hit.” Then he explains that it’s about how many times you can get hit and keep going in life. The point is that life is hard, and you have to be tough enough to go after your dreams without letting any excuses get in your way.
Sports provide a lot of material for motivation. While sports is about winning, athletes and coaches know that you can’t win every game. Your failures make you better, and your teammates, coaches, family, and mentors help you achieve your dreams. Winning is a result of coming together for a common goal, and life works the same way. These are truly great examples of how to learn to stand up strong, rely on family and friends, and believe in yourself.