| 5 Reasons Sports Movies Fall Flat

Author / John

8 - 10 minute read

Sports movies have entertained athletes, has-beens, and never-was’s alike. Just like Power Athlete Radio!

During Power Athlete Radio Episode Radio 373, Luke and I engaged in a spirited debate: is Finding Forrester (2000) a sports movie? Having never seen the movie, I had no grounds from which to discuss, let alone argue, so I gave it an Add to my Netflix queue.

Because Luke and I are Luke and me, we are tossing the simple “yes/no” overhead like a reactive med ball, and instead whipped together a sports movie checklist that tests this classic “mentee mentors the mentor” tale starring Sir Sean Connery and DIII All-Star Rob Brown, directed by the Good Will Hunting guy.

Is Finding Forrester a winning sports movie?! Read on.

Power Athlete Sports Movie Checklist

1. Is There a Training Montage?

Fun fact: the first ever training montage for a movie, sport or otherwise, appeared in 1976’s rocky documentary, Rocky. Even though the first Rocky won an Oscar for Best Movie Ever Made, I would argue Rocky III and IV should have won Best Training Montage Like Ever. Without a montage, how else would audiences understand the characters’ “process” for developing strength, skill, conditioning, while magically accumulating 10,000 hours of solid reps, all within two verses, two choruses, and a bridge of a Frank Stallone song?

Google that. Frank Stallone is real.

Rocky III’s beach sprint bro-down is one thing, but the initial Clubber Lang hunger building montage to “Eye of the Tiger” fires. You. UP! Admit it, you rooted for Mr. T in their first match didn’t you?

Two years later, Rocky IV ups the montage ante with nearly 10 solid minutes of back and forth, pitting Rocky’s ollld schoooool 🎶Hearts on Fire 🎶 soundtracked, snow-bound training against Drago’s red LED-lit, computer-driven, steroid-fueled camp. Including the villain really accelerates our desire for that person to get smashed.

Sly wasn’t the only one perfecting the montage in sports flicks. Sports with long seasons (i.e. baseball) or high number of matches (golf) gen-ed up competitions, accelerating the pace by cutting to victories (or defeats), getting the heroes where they needed to be with the viewer(s). Think of Happy Gilmore collecting all those big-little checks to save Grandma.

And now that I think about it, the epic opening montage show all of Happy’s training jobs. That counts, right?

Finding Forrester Checklist #1:

✅ If Major League’s accelerated season winning streak montage counts, we gotta check off Finding Forrester’s quick run through their season and playoffs to get the viewer to the State Championship.

2. Is this an Underdog, Come-from-behind, Upset City Scenario?

Tough to name a sports movie that is not an underdog story. A story about someone who we know is going to win just isn’t fun. It took a bevy of washed up cartoon characters forming a team of galactic mon-stars for us to believe Michael Jordan could actually lose in Space Jam. While there are many different ways to paint the underdog, come-from-behind story, they all share the theme of doubt from an athlete/team/coach, or a heavy, external force weighing them down.

Magic really happens when the underdog story is based on a real life event. Don’t get me wrong, I love Emilio, the Mighty Duck man, but there is no comparing D2 to the Kurt Russell-Herb Brooks powerhouse of 1980 miracle on ice, Miracle.

I could go on. And I will.

Moneyball, The Blind Spot, Friday Night Lights (the movie, not the TV show. Fight me.), and Glory Road hit a little harder because we know they’re real(-ish), and embrace reliving their story.

Finding Forrester Checklist #2:

✅ Rob Brown’s Jamal is an underdog, not only as he joins the new school’s team that already has a star, but also taking on his new writing teacher in the classroom.

3. Can the Actors Actually Look Like They Can Play the Sport?

As our friends Matt Stone and Trey Parker from Baseketball so eloquently put it:

Stone: We’re pretty good at basketball.
Parker: Yeah, as long as we don’t have to run or jump or dribble or nothing. You know what I mean?

Yes, we know exactly what you mean. 

Good example: Kevin Costner pitching in For Love Of the Game
Bad example: Freddie Prinze Jr. pitching in Summer Catch

This is an ad. Please consider our shameless self promotion.

As a world-class DIII lacrosse player, every lax scene in every movie ever (including….nay, especially American Pie) offends me. I’ve never run a casting couch…I mean, audition, so I have no clue what is involved. That said, I can’t believe there is no subject matter expert (coach or athlete) to run a couple drills or, at minimum, play catch to seek an ounce of athleticism. On that note: hey @Disney, call me.

You hear constant stories of actors learning to sing or play instruments for a role, so why not the same commitment demanded of the actor-athlete?! That said, not all were fails. Tip of the cap to Blue Chips and Miracle for recruiting athletes to act in key roles.

If I could do all over again, I would have studied drama and found my niche as an athlete-actor. At 34, I feel I missed my window… or is this the beginning of the next great, true underdog sports movie story?!

Finding Forrester Checklist #3:

✅ Rob Brown can ball. Fun fact: he was on his varsity bball team while filming Finding Forrester at the age of 16 and went on to play college football at Amherst College (DIII).

Sub-question: Share your favorite embarrassingly bad actor-athlete scenes in the comments below. Vision Quest anyone?

4. Given an Opposing Athlete, System, Circumstance, or Even Self-imposed Opposition, is Resolution Discovered via the Sporting Arena?

We tackle this in depth during Power Athlete Radio Episode 373. For the most part, sports movies tick this box with the likes of Shooter McGavin, White Goodman, Chong Li, and Big Ern. And given Hollywood’s propensity to expand, we can’t limit confrontation to an individual. We now have System, Circumstance, or Self as forms of opposition.

Our heroes overcome self-doubt, self-destruction, fear, or personal constraint to compete so we can pour all of our energy into watching them face these head on like Joe Kane in The Program, Jake G in Southpaw, or Rocky admitting to Adrian he’s afraid on the beach before the aforementioned bro-down with Apollo. Through their sport, the self-inflicted chains are broken.

Sports, and sports movies, spark motivation and help a future generation empathize with the challenges and pressures previous generations faced. The true story factor plays heavy with these movies as well, painting the picture of individual courage like Jackie Robinson in 42, or how a team can unify and defy societal norms in Remember The Titans. These athlete’s valour and the opportunity to compete created an immeasurable real-world impact no silver screen can capture.

We root against circumstance when something out of left field (see what I did there?) derails the movie’s conflict. The classic, real-life based Brian’s Song is a perfect example where two teammates struggling to understand race and competition take on an unexpected struggle as one is diagnosed with cancer. We Are Marshall sees another circumstance driven conflict with no opponent to root against, but we still get juiced up when McConaughey says…, well, anything at all. In Bleed For This, the circumstantial surprise that confronts Miles Teller’s mamba mentality was outstanding.

All this to say, the success against circumstance does not need to be a W. These stories keep us fighting back tears while re-aligning our life perspective, and rooting for a triumphant return to the sporting arena.

Finding Forrester Checklist #4:

✅ Jamal takes on the system and (spoiler alert) wins! But not through the sporting arena (or did he?). The school wanted Jamal for his academic abilities and used basketball to persuade him to enroll, but eventually used basketball against him. The ball was in Jamal’s court (see what I did there…again?), as he chose to miss the game winning free throws, effectively not allowing the school to manipulate or define him. Game, blouses.

Sub-question: Who is the real villain to root against in The Karate Kid?!

5. Will There Be a CHILLING Speech to Rile Up the Hero(es)?! 

If there was a checkbox to rule over all other checkboxes, this would be it: The Speech. These moments define why we love sports movies and more importantly, why we keep coming back.

Delivered to the hero, The Speech is exactly what we need to hear when we need to pick ourselves up. Through the goosebump-inducing inspirational words, the hero (and by extension, the audience) understand that anything can be overcome.

Whether it’s Denzel teaching history lessons on Gettysburg, Billy Bob Thornton reminding his team perfection is being able to look friends in the eye and live in that Friday night moment, Al Pacino inching his way through the football pre-game speech we wish we had in high school, or Baby Ruth reminding every 11 year old that heroes get remembered but legends never die, this moment thrusts us among our heroes right before they face the greatest challenge of their lives. We are right there with them.

Finding Forrester Checklist #5:

❌ Timing is everything with the chilling speech. Too early has no punch, too late, and it’s…weird. The speech is where we can look at Finding Forrester and not check the box. Nothing against Sir Sean Connery’s reading of Jamal’s work and the big reveal (very well written and performed), but the State Championship was yesterday, Sean! Drop this moment and shock the school before the big game and Jamal makes those two free throws.

The speech not only has to inspire the audience, it needs to give the hero a puncher’s chance to seize the spotlight and shoot their shot!

Sub-question: What is your all-time favorite chilling speech from a sports movie? Mine is clearly Kurt Russell giving us an anatomy lesson.


Power Athlete Radio Hotline Is Now Open!

Power Athlete Radio 373 will not be the last movie debate! Have a sports movie that challenges this list? Need us to settle a classic argument between you and your friends? Let us know!

While Power Athlete Radio is the real deal when it comes to S&C Podcasts, chock-full of valuable info from best selling authors, industry leading researchers, and world class coaches, we still enjoy a good quable.

You have questions, we have answers. Call us anytime from anywhere and let us know what’s on your mind. Leave us a message and we will get you the answers you deserve on our new and improved Crew series of podcasts launching in August.

No new subscription required, just keep on eye on the Radio feed for more frequent episode drops!

So, have you been squatting on a training, coaching, or nutrition question for John, Luke, or Tex? How about some feedback regarding the podcast? Even a movie review for the Crew to watch and argue about.

Or hell, just show us some love.

Call (929) 464-4640, that’s (929) ING-ING-0

Related Content

PODCAST: Power Athlete Radio Episode 373: The Ultimate Sports Movie Checklist
YOUTUBE: Brew w/ The Crew 40: Casting the “Power Athlete Movie”
BLOG: PA Nation Bookclub – The Creative Curve by Tex McQuilkin
BLOG: How Strong is The Rock? Train Like Hercules by Luke Summers
BLOG: Superman Jacked – Henry Cavill’s Superman Workout by Luke Summers

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John Welbourn is CEO of Power Athlete and Fuse Move. He is also creator of the online training phenomena, Johnnie WOD. He is a 9 year veteran of the NFL. John was drafted with the 97th pick in 1999 NFL Draft and went on to be a starter for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1999-2003, appearing in 3 NFC Championship games, and for starter for the Kansas City Chiefs from 2004-2007. In 2008, he played with the New England Patriots until an injury ended his season early with him retiring in 2009. Over the course of his career, John has started over 100 games and has 10 play-off appearances. He was a four year lettermen while playing football at the University of California at Berkeley. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in Rhetoric in 1998. John has worked with the MLB, NFL, NHL, Olympic athletes and Military. He travels the world lecturing on performance and nutrition for Power Athlete. You can catch up with John as his personal blog on training, food and life, Talk To Me Johnnie and at Power Athlete.


  1. Andrew on August 7, 2020 at 10:45 am

    William Zabka is the REAL Karate Kid, fight me! Or better yet, fight him!

  2. […] NOW: HAMR – Holistic Athlete Movement Readiness by John […]

  3. […] NOW: 5 Reasons Sports Movies Fall Flat by Tex […]

  4. […] Now: 5 Reasons Sports Movies Fall Flat by Tex […]

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