Motivational phrases from sport – a semantic analysis


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Motivational phrases and mottos are ubiquitous on social media. Many come from the sport and serve as inspiration for endeavors in private and professional life. We asked ourselves whether there are common patterns among all these phrases? For this purpose, we semantically analyzed 215 sayings and identified four main themes: success orientation, commitment, meaningfulness, and prerequisites.

How did we proceed? We collected motivational phrases from famous athletes. The majority of them were in English, and the others were translated into that language. Then we analyzed them semantically: Which terms appear, how often, and in which context are they used? We use the Word Cloud for better visualization.

What do you think about these categories? Which do you see as crucial for you in your professional or private life? Feel free to share your view in the comments!

Category 1: Success orientation

The most common term, with 45 citations, is “win” followed by words such as “success” (13 times) and “champion” (10 times) also fit into this category. Winning in itself is a prime motivator in sports:

“Winning – that’s the most important to me. It’s as simple as that.”

Cristiano Ronaldo

On the one hand, it’s about the benefits that success means (fame, money, etc.).

“Winning solves everything.”

Tiger Woods

On the other hand, it is also about the moment of triumph, which is often mentioned. Success is a reward for the efforts of training that the athlete has put in.

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


Category 2: Commitment

The second category is about these efforts and the willingness to train in a disciplined way.
Here, terms such as “don” (24 citations), “always” (20 citations) “never” (23 citations) “give” (23 citations) or “work” (21 citations) are mentioned.

Practice makes perfect is also a truism in sports. That is obvious because top athletic performances require systematic and disciplined training. Especially in challenging moments, it pays to persevere and perceive them as an opportunity.

“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
“I’ve got a theory that if you give 100% all of the time, somehow things will work out in the end.”

Larry Bird

Category 3: Meaningfulness

Why go through all the trouble when most athletes, with few exceptions, have little fame or fortune ahead of them?

It is about doing something special in life. Why not try something impossible (“impossible”, 9 citations) in life (“life”, 23 citations)! Both training and competition have great moments. These remain in our memory and enrich our lives.
Examples include:

“You will always have ups and downs in your life and your career, but just stay positive and go for it.”

Angelique Kerber
“You have to do something in your life that is honorable and not cowardly if you are to live in peace with yourself.”

Larry Brown
“I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.”

Muhammed Ali

Category 4: The prerequisites

Finally, it is also about preparation for delivering a performance that motivates. These include “Dream” (7 citations), “Goal” (9 citations), “Talent” (7 citations), and “Team” (7 citations).

Even the most successful athletes started small, yet their dreams were big.

“So many people along the way, whatever it is you aspire to do, will tell you: It can’t be done. But all it takes is imagination. You dream. You plan. You reach.”

Michael Phelps

However, they do not come true by themselves. It takes hard work not to lose sight of the goals you set.

“Everyone’s dream can come true if you just stick to it and work hard.”

Serena Williams

In many disciplines, teamwork is essential for success. By supporting each other, everyone gets closer to their dreams.

You’ll score a lot of goals in your career, but not one of them will happen without the help of a teammate.”

Abby Wambach

So, which of the topics appeals to you the most? Which is your favorite motivational phrase or motto? Feel free to share it with us and make a comment!