Greatest Athlete Quotes of All-Time

Greatest Athlete Quotes of All-Time

Most elite athletes know that in order to succeed at the highest level, they need to develop mental toughness, much like they build strength and agility, and master fundamental skills. With the help of performance coaching, mental conditioning, and sports psychology, athletes are constantly working on their ability to be more present in the moment, stay focused, and embrace any challenge with confidence—all of which are skills that can transform one from being merely good to great, and from successful to superstar. Here is a list of our favorite quotes about the mental game from some of the most iconic sports figures of all time.



“What you are thinking, what shape your mind is in, is what makes the biggest difference of all.”

Willie Mays

“Champions aren’t made in the gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them­­ – a desire, a dream, a vision.”

Muhammad Ali

“Make sure your worst enemy doesn’t live between your own two ears.”

Laird Hamilton

“I’m about five inches from being an outstanding golfer. That’s the distance my left ear is from my right.”

Ben Crenshaw

“Competitive toughness is an acquired skill and not an inherited gift.”

Chris Evert

“I’ve been in a poor physical shape many times in my career and I’ve had some of my best results. My best performances happened because my mind was in the right place. The mind is definitely stronger than the body.”

Kelly Slater

“The ideal attitude is to be physically loose and mentally tight.”

Arthur Ashe

“Baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical.”

– Yogi Berra

“Toughness is in the soul and spirit, not in muscles.”

Alex Karras

“Mental will is a muscle that needs exercise, just like the muscles of the body.”

Lynn Jennings



“You’ve got to love what you’re doing. If you love it, you can overcome any handicap or the soreness or all the aches and pains, and continue to play for a long, long time.”

Gordie Howe

“Somewhere behind the athlete you’ve become and the hours of practice and the coaches who have pushed you is a little girl who fell in love with the game and never looked back… play for her.”

Mia Hamm

“When I step onto the court, I don’t have to think about anything. If I have a problem off the court, I find that after I play, my mind is clearer and I can come up with a better solution. It’s like therapy. It relaxes me and allows me to solve problems.”

Michael Jordan

“Pressure is a privilege, it only comes to those who earn it”

Billie Jean King

“As you walk down the fairway of life you must smell the roses, for you only get to play one round.”

Ben Hogan



“If you can believe it, the mind can achieve it.”

Ronnie Lott

“It’s the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief. And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen.”

 – Muhammad Ali

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

Wayne Gretzky

“I’ve never lost a game. I just ran out of time.”

Michael Jordan

“Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.”

Michael Jordan

“When I’m down or maybe when it’s close in the match, I feel like I’m still in it. I don’t feel like I’m letting down. Mentally, I’m still really, really, tough.”

Maria Sharapova

“I think I was given a gift to play golf and to be mentally strong.”

–  Karrie Webb

“I’m stronger than I think I am. Mentally, physically.”

–  Misty May-Treanor

“Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.”

John Wooden

“Slump? I ain’t in no slump. I just ain’t hittin.”

Yogi Berra



“Why does everyone talk about the past? All that counts is tomorrow’s game.”

Roberto Clemente

“You can’t put a limit on anything. The more you dream, the further you get.”

Michael Phelps

“I’m reflective only in the sense that I learn to move forward. I reflect with a purpose.”

– Kobe Bryant



“My thoughts before a big race are usually pretty simple. I tell myself: Get out of the blocks, run your race, stay relaxed. If you run your race, you’ll win…channel your energy. Focus.”

Carl Lewis

“Concentration is a fine antidote to anxiety.”

Jack Nicklaus

“The principle is competing against yourself. It’s about self-improvement, about being better than you were the day before.”

Steve Young

“It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear out, it’s the pebble inside your shoe”

Muhammad Ali

“If you fail to prepare, you’re prepared to fail.”

Mark Spitz

“Relax? How can anybody relax and play golf? You have to grip the club, don’t you?”

Ben Hogan

“Push yourself again and again. Don’t give an inch until the final buzzer sounds.”

Larry Bird

“Success is found in the running of the race – your planning, preparation, practice, and performance – counts for everything”

John Wooden



“The more difficult the victory, the greater the happiness in winning.”


“Champions keep playing until they get it right.”

Billie Jean King

“Always make a total effort, even when the odds are against you.”

Arnold Palmer

“Never let your head hang down. Never give up and sit down and grieve. Find another way.”

Satchel Paige

“Never let the fear of striking out get in your way.”

Babe Ruth

“If you aren’t going all the way, why go at all?”

Joe Namath

“How you respond to the challenge in the second half will determine what you become after the game, whether you are a winner or a loser.”

Lou Holtz

“The difference between the impossible and the possible lies in a person’s determination.”

Tommy Lasorda

“A champion is someone who gets up when he can’t.”  

Jack Dempsey

“There are only two options regarding commitment. You’re either in or you’re out. There is no such thing as life in-between.”

Pat Riley

“You’re never a loser until you quit trying.”

Mike Ditka

“Difficulties in life are intended to make us better, not bitter.”

Dan Reeves

“Never give up! Failure and rejection are only the first step to succeeding.”

Jim Valvano

How to be “Objectively Optimistic”

How to be “Objectively Optimistic”

Fundamentally, most performance psychologists and mental conditioning coaches like myself agree that one of the most important aspects of being successful in leadership, business and the rest of life is to be positive and optimistic. But positivity gets a bad rap these days. When we have negative results, optimism may not only seem misplaced, but outright dangerous. Some even say it’s better to focus on the negative or the obstacles in your way. In fact, there’s an entire line of thinking that supports something called “mental contrasting” which has shown the value of considering possible negative conditions and how you will deal with them.  I see the value in this line of thinking but I would argue that these two things are not mutually exclusive.  There is a common misconception about how optimism and positive thinking works and how it can help you be more resilient to whatever comes your way in business.

Effective thinking in performance is not about ignoring the data, putting on some rose colored glasses and looking away from negative results. It’s about using what I call objective optimism to equalize our evolutionary pressures to be negative. Our brains have a strong negativity bias — if you’ve ever been unable to avert your gaze from a stain on someone’s shirt, that’s the negativity bias. We tend to notice what’s wrong first. Not what is right.

The tendency to notice what is wrong in the world is part of an alarm system that has been our friend for thousands of years in the sense that it has helped our ancestors identify danger and is one of the main reasons we still exist as a species. After all, if we didn’t have this alarm system, the lion would have eaten us—or our ancestors, that is! But there’s one problem with having a brain that prefers negative observation: it doesn’t do a good job of separating real threats from perceived ones.  For example, many are terrified of flying, despite the fact that it’s statistically safer than driving in a car. More often than not, everything goes right. Thousands of flights every day takeoff and land without incident.

Just like air travel fears, worries and negative thoughts about the world are the residue of that alarm system doing its job. We’ve evolved that way because the penalty of ignoring a physical threat to our safety is very severe. So we’re wired with a tendency to pay more attention to what could go wrong and hurt us than what is safe. That can make seeing the world as a fundamentally safe and good place more challenging when there are such salient alarms, like acts of terror happening that instruct our brains’ that it’s not.

As we work on developing a customized mental performance routine, one thing I often do with my clients in sports and business alike is to have them come up with some examples of what is going right in their performance, bodies or lives in general. Making this part of their routines helps them to balance the negativity bias. It also helps people in business to do the hard work to keep on performing. By noting the moments when you are performing well and investigating the performance elements that lead to your optimal performance, it helps you to run the marathon through the moments when you are confronted by a negative event in your business or the world at large.  By training our mindset to see the world as it is, a place in which there is more good than bad, we can simultaneously face negative elements and continue to act to improve our results.

Jonathan Fader

Performance Coaching In Business

Performance Coaching In Business

As a sport and performance psychologist, or “Optimizer” as I have sometimes been called, I am frequently asked what it is I do with elite performers in sports and how it relates to business.

I believe all of life is a performance. In the very sense that whether we’re giving a presentation, in an interview, at the trading desk or a big meeting every minute is an opportunity to improve how we do what we do, be our best, and enjoy life with greater depth.

As Thich Naht Hahn said, “life is only available in the present moment.” In my life and in the lives of the people I coach, I work to help each moment be more meaningful, each performance more powerful, and the ride more enjoyable.

At SportStrata we apply the principles of performance psychology to business people and entrepreneurs. Because we believe that we have to understand someone’s work to help them optimize it. We get to know high performers as we work to coach them towards improved performance.

An example of this is an experience I had on a drill with the New York Fire Department and ran into an actual burning building.  I had instruction from the absolute best so I knew what to do. I had mentally practiced using the psychology skill of visualizing, which science bears out improves our actual performance.

Feeling ready, I entered the burning building. But life throws us curveballs!  All of a sudden I found my heart beating out of my chest and my thoughts disorganized. This is the natural human response of physiological arousal. But just like the elite performers we train, I had anticipated this and I was prepared. I found my breathing, practiced adaptive self-talk, and got myself back in the present moment.

Carol Dweck, one of the world’s top researchers in the field of mindset, has data to show that people generally respond to stress as a challenge or a threat. The more we learn to view it as a challenge the better off we are. Those who see it as a threat run or even worse, freeze.

Hopefully you are not running into a burning building… but we all have stress in our business lives. We all have internal and external demands that can overwhelm us and cause us to perform less than optimally whether at home, work or in social settings. Through performance psychology and mental performance coaching in various aspects of business there are techniques that help us be at our best in any fire, large or small.

Jonathan Fader

Mental Performance Training for Healthcare Workers

Mental Performance Training for Healthcare Workers

Doctors aren’t big fans of stress management and lifestyle balance seminars.  Overworked, and under pressure, they view such exercises with a mix of cynicism and annoyance.  But here I was, performance psychologist, brought in by the human resources department of a major hospital to coach a group of prominent physicians on how to improve mindset.  As a mental performance coach who works mostly with athletes, entertainers, first responders and other high-performers on how to optimize performance, I practiced what I preached and thus felt relaxed, energized, and confident in my ability to deliver a stimulating presentation.  Standing on the stage talking about imagery, goal setting, self-talk, behavioral routines, and mindfulness, I felt like an elite athlete in flow — the space where your ability matches the challenge before you.

The group was into it. They seemed starved for something stimulating and re-energizing.  I left the presentation feeling excited.  In the lobby of the hospital I asked my co-trainer, a veteran performance coach, how she thought the group responded. After all, my very discipline is about optimizing performance with the precept that, however skilled you are, you can always improve. Feedback and practice outside of the performance environment is essential in this quest for improvement.

“They are all so lonely and stressed.” She said.

Surprised, I asked her to repeat herself. I was expecting her to tell me I used too many filler words such as “like” or “um” or that I favored one section of the lecture hall. I was surprised by her observation. She was picking up on a part of the experience that I hadn’t paid much attention to. Then I thought back to the expressions of the people in the room before our presentation began. The tired looks. The furtive, anxious glances at cell phones. The frantic rush. The massive caffeinating.  She was right. The group of healers was maxed out.

Of course, it’s not just doctors. It’s all of us. We are all burned out and looking for ways to alleviate the stress and pressure of modern life. Talk to just about anyone and find out they’re stressed, anxious, and simply unfulfilled.

For the past decade I have worked with professional athletes, performing artists, law enforcement agents, firefighters, and others with high-pressure jobs that demand physical conditioning and relentless practice. Now many of these high performers are training with people like me to help develop their mindset, not only to enhance their performance but to relieve the stress and pressure that can cause them to choke, falter, or not perform at their peak. The medical community is beginning to benefit from mental conditioning.

When introducing the concept of mental conditioning I often use an analogy that helps these individuals to understand what it is. Think of your mind as a fish tank. If you don’t keep it clean, it becomes toxic and the fish will get sick and potentially die. A well-maintained fish tank is cleaned regularly.  Our mental state is the same way. Why should we wait until we are stressed, overwhelmed, angry or hitting adversity to improve our mindset? Why wait until we feel like we’re going to collapse from mental exhaustion or explode in anger to find an easy way to quiet our minds (like breathing training)? Why wait until we’re confronted with a big event or an overwhelming situation to learn to relax and focus?

Because of the old ways we view mental health — as an area that needs to be paid attention only when things are falling apart by seeking therapy, we have missed the opportunity to proactively work on building mental strength. It is only in the past couple of decades that most sport teams have developed mental conditioning staff that are an active part of the training programs for their athletes. We travel with teams, meet with players to proactively develop patterns of thoughts and behaviors that optimize their performance. We don’t just talk to people who have “problems”. We talk to everyone. Wherever we are, whatever we do, whether it’s on the football field, the operating room, the trading floor, the kindergarten classroom or our dining room, we can be doing better and learning to enjoy it more.  At SportStrata we are passionate about applying performance psychology to the medical setting. We enjoy working with physicians and other health care professionals to help them improve performance, build more unified teams and enjoy their meaningful work more. With the tools and techniques of modern performance psychology there’s no need to wait until we’re falling apart to live more satisfying successful lives.

Jonathan Fader

Mental Conditioning Tips for Runners

Mental Conditioning Tips for Runners

While every runner is different, some aspects of mental conditioning are the same regardless of the individual. At SportStrata, we call these fundamental ideas and attitudes our performance pillars: Enjoyment, Objective Optimism, Present and Future Orientation, and Process Focus. We teach specific mental skills like self-talk and visualization with the understanding that they are in the service of strengthening these performance pillars. The particular way a specific mental skill is used is unique to each individual and each performance setting, but the goal of strengthening the mental performance pillars remains the primary goal.

For runners of all levels, there are many challenges to maintaining strong mental performance pillars. Long and exhausting training regiments, extended periods of painful physical sensations, and an overwhelming focus on outcome results are all a big part of the sport. Learning how to use mental skills can be very useful in effectively coping with these difficult challenges.

Here are five examples of ways that mental skills can be used to help improve your running experience and result:

1. Love “The Wall”

The way you think about difficult moments has a significant impact on the way your body reacts at the time. Create a self-talk cue that can remind you to think of these difficult moments as challenges you are prepared for, instead of miserable obstacles threatening to take you down. If running a marathon was easy, everybody could do it, and it wouldn’t come with that overwhelming sense of accomplishment crossing the finish line brings. You know you will “hit a wall” at some point, so prepare for it, embrace it, and have a different reaction to those thoughts telling you to quit. Use self-talk cues that you believe because they are based in fact. Statements like “I trained for this”, “I’ve been here before”, or even a simple “Gotta love it” can remind you that you are ready to overcome the challenge.

2. Allow the Outcome to Take Care of Itself

Marathon culture is very focused on finishing times, and that makes sense! However, focusing on your time while you are running will not help you run any faster, and realistically, it is not totally in your control. Factors like weather, course difficulty, and stress can have a major impact on your time. Take some time to think about why you are really running a marathon or other race. What is your true motivation? Once you realize that you are not only in it to best your time, you can begin to focus on devoting all your energy to what you control – your mindset and performance routine! By freeing up your attention, you can then experiment focusing on different things to see what is most helpful. Your breathing? The surroundings? Try using your imagination to come up with a fun story line. You will find that by taking your mind off the final time, you will experience more enjoyment and your time may improve more than ever!

3. Make Gratitude Part of Your Routine

Create a routine of reminding yourself of the things you feel most grateful for and take the time to really feel that sensation of gratitude. Wear a bracelet or put a sticker on your phone to remind you of this gratitude practice. Intentionally cultivating gratitude is a great way to enhance your motivation and enjoyment, and it also leads to better performance!

4. Learn to “Watch” Your Difficult Sensations and Feelings Instead of Trying to Change Them

Inevitably, you will be dealing with pain and discomfort at some point during your race. Acknowledging and labeling those unpleasant sensations and feelings instead of trying to fight or ignore them is a very effective approach to maintaining a consistent level of performance. Fighting against feelings is exhausting and unproductive. This does not mean you should not make practical adjustments like getting a blister pad if you need one. An experienced marathon runner described his personal style of using this method as imagining his body as a factory with himself as the supervisor. He imagined that this factory had many different systems that could send him, the supervisor, messages in the form of different sensations. When his legs started to cramp he imagined that the “legs system” had just sent him a message saying that they were being overworked in that department and had filed a complaint requesting to stop immediately. As the supervisor, he would imagine sending a message back that he had heard their complaint and he would compromise by allowing them to slow down to a walking pace for a minute at the next water station. He went on to describe that his thirst system could message him requesting water, and so on. This is an incredibly helpful example of someone who has figured out how to “watch” his sensations and feelings without trying to suppress or fight against them.

5. Appreciate the Experience

It is easy to get so caught up in trying to run your best time that you miss out on the moment-to-moment experience the day of the race. Remember that having a body that can run at all, let alone 26.2 miles is an amazing blessing! There are many things to feel grateful for during training and on marathon day: the people around you, your health, your community, the volunteers that make the race possible.

Sport and performance psychology shows us that achieving your marathon goal is a result of effective practice and physical and mental preparation. Develop a customized mental performance routine that will maximize the strength of your performance pillars. Practice it, tweak it, and most importantly, use it when it’s time to race. If you practice enough, you won’t have to think about executing your performance plan because you will do it automatically, and that is the key to peak performance.

Ben Oliva

Four Ways to Help Your Kid to Be the Best Player on the Team

 Four Ways to Help Your Kid to Be the Best Player on the Team

When I watch my teenage daughter play basketball, I have to restrain myself from yelling instructions from the sidelines… And I am a sport and performance psychologist!

We all want our kid to be the best they can be! It’s challenging to watch them struggle, lose, and just generally not live up to what we know is their true potential. After all, evolution is at play, you’re watching your genetic potential out there on the court or field. However, your investment can be a huge risk because it can drive you to do things that are not helpful for your kid.

Here’s what you can do to help your kid play their A-Game:

Get Better at Praising Effort
The best coaches understand that results are out of the players control. How many points/goals/runs scored is a result. What the athlete controls is their focus, drive, and energy that they bring to each game. You can enhance that by praising those things. Have a goal to notice the effort and energy they put in and make specific comments about it. “I was impressed by your drive, even though you missed you were aggressive and had great form.” That will keep your player in the hunt even if they lost.


Encourage Internal Motivation
A study of west point cadets showed that that people are motivated by internal factors more than external ones.1 Your young player is most likely going to do better because they have a desire to be a part of a peer group or team rather than winning a trophy. When I ask NBA, NFL or MLB players why they want to play ball, if the answer is external motivators, like fame or money that doesn’t bode well for their career. I want to know what their passion is. Find out what your kid’s passion is. The answer can be simple as playing sports makes them feel good. But find out WHY?!

Be Specific
I hear parents and coaches in little leagues everywhere screaming, “Get in the zone” or “just focus.”  If they knew where the zone was, they would get into it! Kids, elite athletes and the rest of us need a method to do these things. Learning some basic sport and performance psychology skills is essential. Tactical breathing, performance routines and imagery can all help. I discuss these in detail in my book Life As Sport .

Enjoy Yourself!
The most important thing is to show your kid how to enjoy sports and have a good experience. As I said, my daughter plays basketball and when I see her do things like not keeping her arms up, it can trigger me to say or do unhelpful things. But, at the end of my life, I want her to remember my clapping and cheering, not yelling like a maniac. At the end of their careers, people who play at the little league or major leagues always wish the enjoyed it all more. As a parent, you can help ensure that that will be the case. Ask them what they enjoyed most about each practice or game and confirm your understanding by repeating it back to them.

Engage in Mental Performance Coaching
Your kid is likely stretching, strength building and practicing the fundamentals of their sport. As they grow you and they will realize, if you haven’t already, that so much of their success and enjoyment of their sport is dependent on their confidence, focus and attitude. Mental performance coaching that focuses on training these factors can help you and your son or daughter to perform at their best both on and off the field.

Jonathan Fader

Work Cited

Wrzesniewski, A., Schwartz, B., Cong, X., Kane, M., Omar, A., & Kolditz, T. (2014). Multiple types of motives don’t multiply the motivation of West Point cadets. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(30), 10990-10995.