The world of sports has always been captivating. It’s a world where athletes strive for greatness and success, pushing their bodies and minds to the limit. And while we admire their achievements on the field, court or road, it’s not often that we get a glimpse into the trials and tribulations they face in order to make it to the world stage.
Enter these remarkable sports documentaries. They give us an up-close look at the highs and lows of the sports world, revealing invaluable life lessons that transcend the playing field.
So join us as we dive into the stories that changed the way we see sports forever, all watched, reviewed and loved by the Women’s Health team.
1. Mental health is just as important as physical health
David Beckham – Soccer
Kicking things off with none other than the “Golden Balls” himself, David Beckham. Once considered just a pretty face on the pitch, Beckham’s mental strength took centre stage in his documentary. In an era where athletes often suffered in silence, Beckham endured immense mental pressure and emerged as an icon.
“Every episode I had to fight back tears. I just thought, ‘Wow, how much can one man take?’ Yet, he always persevered and kept going, maintaining a professional demeanour through it all,” says Chamain van Zyl, Women’s Health’s Online Editor. Beckham’s journey teaches us the invaluable lesson that resilience and mental fortitude are just as important as physical prowess.
2. Trust in yourself, no matter what!
Break Point – Tennis
This doccie series follows tennis players as they travel the world in search of Grand Slams and wins on the ATP and WTA tours. It follows both the men and women of the tour and introduces the up-and-coming athletes that we are guaranteed to see and support in decades to come.
“In order to succeed and get far in life, one of the most important things you need is an unwavering belief in yourself. When the cards are stacked against you, when things aren’t going your way, when you start to doubt your ability or your strength, if you can silence that negativity and believe in yourself, anything is possible. That’s what Break Point ultimately shows. It’s not you vs. someone else, it’s not you vs. a problem, it will always be you vs. your mind,” says Kelleigh Korevaar, Women’s Health’s Managing Editor.
3. Teamwork really does make the dream work
Tour de France Unchained – Cycling
Cycling’s Tour de France is a gruelling test of endurance, but what sets it apart is the emphasis on teamwork. Sacrificing personal glory for the greater good of the team is a theme that runs throughout this documentary.
“Good or bad, it’s never over until you cross the finish line,” says Chamain. The Tour de France teaches us that success in sports, like life, often hinges on working together, pushing through challenges and supporting your teammates, no matter the odds.
4. Rely on friends and family when times get tough
Cheer – Cheerleading
This is a total 180 from the days of Bring It On. Cheer follows the Navarro cheer team as they try to toss, flip, jump and dance their way to the top and win the annual National Cheerleading Championship in Daytona Beach, Florida.
“It’s an incredibly raw look at what it takes to be a star athlete at a young age and in a sport that many people don’t truly understand or consider a sport. Injury is rife, it’s extremely competitive and one wrong step can shatter your chance at winning. But through it all you’re constantly shown the importance of teamwork and reaching out and relying on your friends and family when times get tough,” says Kelleigh.
5. You’re only as strong as your weakest link
Drive To Survive – F1
If you thought Formula 1 was all about speed and glamour, think again. Drive To Survive delves into the high-octane world of F1, filled with nail-biting moments and backstage drama that rivals reality TV. But it’s not just about the drivers; it’s about the unsung heroes behind the scenes, the engineers and the teammates who give up podiums to win championships.
“I’m a huge F1 fan now! This series has taken my fandom to the next level. From the soaring budgets to the cutthroat team politics, Drive to Survive gives you an inside look at the world of F1 that you just can’t get anywhere else. And the driver profiles are so revealing, you’ll feel like you know them personally. One minute, your favourite driver is on top of the world, and the next, they’re gone. It’s a wild ride, but it’s also incredibly entertaining,” says Chamain.
This documentary reminds us that success in individual pursuits often depends on the strength of the team that supports us.
6. When everyone else rests, keep going!
The Last Dance – Basketball
Michael Jordan, the legend, is a shining example of an athlete who thrived amidst the chaos. “The highest poles receive the most wind,” Chamain aptly notes, emphasising Jordan’s incredible determination. The Last Dance shows us that the relentless pursuit of excellence and perseverance in the face of adversity can lead to legendary success. When everyone else rests, keep going!
7. Wins and losses are a part of life
Losers – Multisports
In sport – and life – there are wins and losses. This documentary explores the latter, with real-life stories told by the athletes who survived those losses themselves. From a long-distance runner lost in the desert to figure skater Surya Bonaly, who fought to have her efforts recognised on the ice.
“This documentary is absolutely fascinating and looks into the often undiscussed losses in sport. It shows how athletes overcome and work through all those Ls they face – and they’re far more frequent than the wins. This teaches you resilience and drive against all odds. A brilliant watch,” says Michelle October, Women’s Health’s Features Editor.
8. Set goals and focus on them
The Alpinist/Free Solo – Rockclimbing
Vertigo-inducing and edge-of-your-seat excitement are just a couple of ways to describe these gripping rock-climbing documentaries. “It’s incredible to see what the human body is capable of,” Chamain confesses. These films teach us that setting audacious goals and pushing our physical and mental limits can lead to breathtaking achievements.
9. With the right mindset you can conquer anything
I Am Bolt – Running
Usain Bolt, the fastest man alive, is a sheer inspiration. His mindset, attitude and remarkable speed are the stuff of legends. “This man is just remarkable,” says Chamain. Bolt reminds us that with the right mindset and an unwavering commitment to your goals, you can achieve greatness, no matter how daunting the challenge.
10. You already have everything you need to succeed
Make Or Break – Surfing
You don’t need to know the first thing about waves to enjoy this doccie series, spanning a year on the competitive surfing scene, called The World Surf League (WSL). Follow along as the men and women of surfing’s elite battle it out for their chance to be crowned the best surfer in the world. High stakes? You bet. This series delves into the mental load, physical demands and technicalities of competing at the highest level of the sport. You will be thrilled and entranced by the perseverance and grit these athletes have to show in order to hold up that trophy.
“What I love most about this show is that it’s equally balanced – showing the side of the males and females in the sport, along with how they cope with their unique challenges. I have a huge love for surfing but non-surfers the world over have found this show incredibly gripping. It taught me about grit and makes you realise that everything you need to complete a daunting task is already inside of you,” explains Michelle.
11. With a clear sense of purpose you can overcome anything
Williams Sisters – Tennis
When you think about tennis, these two names, Serena and Venus Williams, instantly pop into your head. But behind the glamour and the fame came a journey filled with adversity, fierce sibling rivalry and a determination to break barriers.
“This documentary truly highlights what manifesting and believing in a greater purpose can do for you,” says Chamain. The Williams sisters’ story teaches us that with an unwavering belief in your goals and a clear sense of purpose, you can overcome any obstacle, conquer your dreams and leave an indelible mark on the world of sports.
12. Not every day is your day and that’s okay
Full Swing – Golf
“You don’t have to know anything about or even like golf (guilty), in order to get roped into this documentary that takes you behind the scenes of the PGA tour, following the players and tournaments. Seriously, of all the sports in the world, golf was without a doubt my least favourite. Whenever I would see my brother watching it on TV I would quite literally groan and roll my eyes. Then because I loved Drive To Survive, I thought I’d give it a watch, although I thought I’d just end up scrolling social media with it in the background. Boy was I wrong, I was absolutely hooked. I laughed, I cried and I’ve watched it twice now,” explains Kelleigh.
The lessons to take away from this is that you could be one step away from the best day of your life, not every day will be your day and you’ve always got to show up for yourself even if you’re not at your best.
13. “Never Say Die…”
Matildas: The World At Our Feet – Soccer
Follow the journey of the Matildas, Australia’s female soccer team, as they prepare for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup on home soil. It’s an inspirational and intimate look at this well-loved soccer team that changed the game for women around the world.
“If you watched this year’s World Cup or if you were on TikTok to see the viral highlights, you’ll know that the women’s World Cup was seriously hyped up, delivered amazing games and pulled in a huge audience. Even our own Banyana Banyana garnered huge support from South Africans online. It’s taken tons of work and effort from athletes and sponsors but it finally feels like we’re making huge progress towards women’s sport receiving mainstream attention and support and I couldn’t be more excited about that,” says Kelleigh.
The one thing you’ll take away? The “Never Say Die” attitude that the Matildas live and breathe. It’s a motto that they say often and wear on the inside of their jersey and you’ll be inspired to take that phrase and apply it in your life once the credits roll.
14. Curiosity and bravery are a powerful combination
The Deepest Breath – Free Diving
Finally, plunge into the abyss with “The Deepest Breath,” a documentary that explores the depths of deep-sea diving. These divers teach us that there’s always something new to discover when you’re brave enough to explore the unknown. It’s a lesson in the beauty and mystery that lies beneath the surface of our world.
Get hooked on these documentaries:
The Bottom Line
We’ve learned that the path to glory is fraught with challenges, both mental and physical. From David Beckham’s resilience and Michael Jordan’s unwavering spirit to the importance of teamwork in cycling and Formula 1, these stories have enriched our appreciation of sports and life itself. So grab some popcorn, tune in and let these documentaries inspire you to pursue your dreams, push your limits and never stop chasing greatness!