The Wisdom of Asking Questions: Lessons from Popular Sports Movies

Guest Post by Danny Brassell, Ph.D.

 From thoughts in the shower to running errands, taking a walk on the beach to listening to background music in a department store, leaders can find inspiration in the unlikeliest of places.

A case in point are sports movies.

Sports movies have long been a source of inspiration and entertainment for people of all ages. Americans – in particular – love good underdog stories, evidenced by films that have captured our hearts and imaginations. Within these narratives lie valuable life lessons that can inspire and motivate us in various aspects of our lives, especially as leaders.

Leadership begins with motivation, and sports movies have a unique way of capturing the essence of determination, passion and triumph that leaders seek for the people they lead – beginning with themselves. But beyond the drama and excitement of sports films themselves lies deeper wisdom and insight – when we ask ourselves the right questions.

In Rocky, for example, Rocky Balboa is a down-on-his-luck boxer who gets a shot at the heavyweight championship. Rocky faces numerous challenges, both inside and outside the ring, but he never gives up and continues to believe in himself. He also surrounds himself with two people who believe in him – his trainer, Mickey, and his girlfriend, Adrian – amidst a sea of people who doubt him.

As a leader, you must ask yourself: How can you develop self-belief, belief in the people around you and resilience in the face of adversity?

Miracle tells the story of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team, which famously defeated the heavily-favored Soviet team. Coach Herb Brooks is faced with the daunting task of assembling a team of college players to compete against the Soviet Union, who had dominated international hockey for years. Brooks puts his team through intense workouts, and he and his team spend countless hours practicing and studying their opponents. Ultimately, they achieve one of the unlikeliest victories in 20th century sports history.

This raises the question: How can you and your team achieve success through hard work and preparation, and what role does luck play in your success?

In Hoosiers, Coach Norman Dale arrives in a small Indiana town to take over the local high school basketball team. Most of the local yokels have no idea of his previous coaching success, and they are skeptical of his coaching methods and his ability to lead the team to victory. But rather than allow their critics to determine their path, the coach and his players persevere, working together to win a state championship.

How can you, as a leader, foster a sense of unity and cooperation within your own team, regardless of its  size or purpose?

Finally, the film Chariots of Fire tells the story of two British runners competing in the 1924 Olympics.

One of the protagonists, Harold Abrahams, is portrayed as arrogant, self-centered and determined to make it to the Olympic games. He feels like an outsider, both as a Jew in a predominantly Christian society and as a runner who is not part of the traditional British athletic establishment. But rather than wallowing in his insecurities – especially after losing a race to his primary rival – Abrahams seeks out the advice and guidance of a coach. Working together, they change his techniques and strategy en route to an Olympic gold medal.

But there’s a catch.

Abrahams is unable to compete in the Olympics against the only man to have ever defeated him in a race, Eric Liddell. A devout Christian, Liddell refuses to run on Sundays, even if it means missing his chance to compete in his best event at the Olympics.

So this raises an important question for you as a leader: What sacrifices are you willing to make to achieve your goals without compromising your integrity?

Popular sports movies often feature inspiring stories of personal growth and resilience. At the heart of these tales is the notion that each of us can accomplish anything if we’re willing to challenge our preconceptions and ask the hard questions.

As the characters in Rocky, Miracle, Hoosiers and Chariots of Fire ultimately prove, having the courage to question our assumptions can open us up to unexpected opportunities and help propel us to success.

So next time you hit a roadblock in your leadership endeavors, don’t be afraid to take a step back and ask some tough questions about the bigger picture. In fact, you make discover the bigger picture while watching motion pictures! You never know what insights you might gain or what possibilities may open up.

After all, courage lies in questioning.


Dr. Danny Brassell


A highly-sought after speaker, trainer and coach known as “Jim Carrey with a Ph.D.,” Dr. Danny Brassell ( has spoken to over 3,500 audiences worldwide and authored 16 books, including his latest, Leadership Begins with Motivation. He helps entrepreneurs, executives and small business owners boost their business and impact by improving their communication skills. Click here for a 3-min video clip he filmed for you.  


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