Motivational Quotes: Do They Work? What Athletes & (Sport) Psychologists Can Teach You About Motivation

Do you feel like you could use a little more focus? Or that you are lacking inspiration? Why not learn from the best? Here’s what top athletes and sport psychologists can teach us about focus, motivation and performing our best.

“YOU DESERVE THIS – Focus. Trust yourself and trust your game … Play the match like it’s the last match of your life – show how much you want it.” Katie Boulter debuted at Wimbledon and this is what she read to herself during her breaks.

Katie Boulter motivation notes Wimbledon

And she is not the only one doing this. Andy Murray was caught with a long list of instructions, reminders and motivational phrases like: “Try your best”, “Focus on each point” and “Be good to yourself”.

Andy Murray motivational notes
Source: Twitter

We do not see this only in the world of tennis, but also in cycling, sailing and many other sports. Plus, YOU probably do the same. Search for ‘inspirational quotes’ on Google and you will get over 66 MILLION HITS. Although many of us find motivational quotes and inspirational messages pretty cheesy, we apparently also LOVE them. It’s not without reason that they are the most shared posts on social media.

Do Motivational Quotes Work?

So why do we love them so much? And why do top athletes do this? Do simple words and phrases really make you perform better?

Well, YES!

In These 5 Easy Tricks Will Help You Stay Motivated Every Day According To Science you can read that motivational quotes actually WORK. Multiple studies have shown their effect: exposing people to words that connote ‘achievement’ INCREASES our performance and DOUBLES our willingness to keep working. Wow!

The Psychology Behind Why Motivational Quotes Boost Performance

How is it possible that simple words and phrases have such an effect on us? And why do we love quotes by famous people, experts and guru’s? There are several reasons for this.


Ian Maynard, Professor of Sport Psychology at Sheffield Hallam University, explains that top tennis players apply this strategy in order to regain focus quickly. He tells The Guardian: “Most athletes constantly worry about winning or losing, but all they can control is performance. These triggers are designed to bring them back into themselves rather than worrying about the enormity of the situation.”
Sports psychologist and director of performance consultancy firm Sporting Edge Michael Caulfield illustrates this: “[Boulter] might be thinking: ‘If I win, I make £50,000 and get to the second round and if I do that I get on the tour and get a contract and a sponsor …’ your mind goes at 100mph. This [strategy] just stops all of that.” Caulfield adds: “The idea is to bring you back to a simple place.”

Directed attention & behavior

Robert Cialdini, professor of psychology, refers to a Canadian study where participants who watched a runner winning a race performed significantly BETTER than others. He explains that this is because the concept of achievement was in their attentional environment. He says: “[When] you make ‘achievement’ prominent in your consciousness, you make it top of mind and behavior follows.”


Psychologist and motivation expert Jonathan Fader, PhD suggests that ‘implicit coaching’ can be another reason. Knowing that your mentor, a teacher or a good friend believes in you works as a great motivational incentive. You are instantly willing to try a little harder. Quotes of people you don’t even know personally can have the same effect. According to Fader: “There’s a little bit of implicit coaching that’s happening when you’re reading it. It’s building that self-efficacy in that kind of dialogue that you’re having with yourself.”


Another reason lies on how our brains have been programmed. According to media psychology expert Scott Sobel: “Humans are aspirational. We want to look up to role models and leaders and follow what they ask,” he says. “Leaders and their words–inspirational quotes–affect us on a primal level.”

Perhaps motivational quotes aren’t so silly?