In Search of Greatness

Movie review by
Tara McNamara, Common Sense Media
In Search of Greatness Movie Poster Image
Insightful sports docu connects passion, play to genius.
  • PG-13
  • 2018
  • 80 minutes

Parents say

age 8+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 9+
Based on 1 review

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We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Educational Value

Offers lessons in sporting conduct, hard work, perseverance.

Positive Messages

Having unstructured time to create, innovate your game is key to success. You have to love your sport/talent to truly excel at it; forcing kids to participate in/practice something they don't have a passion for probably won't lead to high achievement. Having a supportive parent/encouraging mentor is important to the growth of an outstanding athlete. Building blocks of greatness for athletes can also apply to other careers. Champions harness anger and frustration into motivation.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Featured athletes are superstars in their sports. They demonstrate thoughtfulness in their craft, an incredible work ethic. Examples of sports heroes who overcame physical obstacles, adversity to become masters in their field. Jerry Rice speaks of how his mother taught him importance of spreading kindness. John McEnroe's outbursts on the court are portrayed as being positive, having a positive outcome: an example of self-advocacy that led to pro tennis associations improving judging methods. Athletes in film are ethnically diverse, hail from different parts of world, but they're mostly men (tennis champs Venus and Serena Williams are the only women included).

Violence & Scariness

Film doesn't show a lot of violence on field, rink, or court. But quick clips show hockey players punching each other, a goalie taking a puck to the head. Knockouts, direct punches to face from historical boxing matches. Clip from a Bruce Lee film shows him using kung fu and stick fighting to stop attackers. Clip of Keanu Reeves dodging slo-mo bullets in The Matrix.

Sexy Stuff

A man is shown dancing in the shower; his genital area is blurred out. As decorative imagery, videos made to study the musculature of athletes are shown; the model is not clothed, although there's never full-frontal nudity.


A coach bursts into a profane tirade; all foul words are bleeped, but the "f" in "f--k" is obvious. McEnroe calls a tennis line judge a "jerk" in a hostile rage.


Michael Jordan shows off his Air Jordans. Quick glimpses from a multitude of sporting events are shown, with brands used by or sponsoring teams seen in the background (like a Nike swoop on a sweatband or a DraftKings banner on the side of a rink).

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Two coaches are shown smoking in historical clips; one smokes a cigar.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that In Search of Greatness is a sports documentary that examines what -- beyond physical factors -- goes into making someone a champion. The film doesn't focus on techniques, strategies, or how-tos. Rather, by sharing interviews with and stories of athletic legends (including Wayne Gretzky, Jerry Rice, Pele, and more), the movie looks at what kind of training environment cultivates success. The greatest takeaway is that passion, perseverance, and parents play key roles. For a documentary that examines the world of sports at the highest level, iffy content like sex, drinking, drugs, branding, and profanity are barely present. There's a tiny bit of nongraphic, nonsexual nudity; a bleeped-out tirade from a coach; historical smoking; and quick clips that show some sporting violence (punches, martial arts, a puck to the head, etc.). While there's nothing so inappropriate that you should worry about younger kids in the room, the film is mostly a discussion among adults, which may not appeal to all elementary-age kids. But if there was ever an explainer for parents on how to raise a champ, this is it.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bycollegiate October 26, 2018

Experience Greatness in Theaters November 2nd.

This movie is incredibly inspiring and important for all parents, coaches, young athletes and artists. It highlights the importance of freedom, unstructured pl... Continue reading
Kid, 10 years old November 25, 2018

How Do You Become Great?

In Search of Greatness is a documentary about three great athletes: Pelé, Jerry Rice, and Wayne Gretzky. It presents their childhood life, their idols, their st... Continue reading

What's the story?

IN SEARCH OF GREATNESS explores the "nature" and "nurture" components that work together to create athletic genius. Featuring interviews with hockey hall-of-famer Wayne Gretzky, football champ Jerry Rice, soccer icon Pele, education expert Sir Ken Robinson, and sports author David Epstein -- as well as the stories of other sports and creative legends -- the documentary outlines the commonalities of the masters who changed their sport with passion, dedication, and innovation. 

Is it any good?

This documentary is a riveting, perceptive look at how a champion goes beyond good to become great. Coaches, sports fans, and hopeful athletes will definitely lean in, but since the theories discussed here apply to achieving excellence in all areas, it's just as captivating to non-sports enthusiasts. But the audience that this film may appeal to the most is parents: What mom or dad hasn't seen a spark in their child and wondered whether he or she has what it takes to be the next Michael Jordan, John Lennon, or Meryl Streep -- and then wondered what to do to encourage it. By highlighting stories about the best of the best, along with scientific and analytical research, the film provides answers that are immensely insightful and satisfying.

Stylistically, In Search of Greatness is simple and straightforward, almost like a thesis paper. It begins by dismissing the current "combine method" of athletic evaluation through statistics: speed, strength, mobility, etc. Then it launches into its core theory: Genius is a byproduct of many things but includes an element that's quickly disappearing: unstructured play. While this assertion might seem like common sense -- free time lets you explore, create, and ultimately innovate solutions that can lead to a winning advantage -- it comes off as revelatory. From there, the film moves through bullet-point assertions, proving each notion (e.g., don't force your kids to practice if they don't have passion for something) by pointing to examples and experts who back it up. The film does have a void: It ignores the sports in which athletically inclined genetics and hard work really can overcome all, such as swimming and track. But this film is really for those who want to know how the greats overcame the odds to dominate, and those questions are answered.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how the athletes featured in or interviewed for In Search of Greatness persevered to achieve champion status. What obstacles or adversity did they have to overcome? How did they turn their difficulties into a winning advantage?

  • What do you think the movie's message is? What will you take away? Did anything surprise you?

  • What do you think the meaning of this statement is: "If you are doing it for a result in the future, you are not doing it." What role does passion play in success -- both athletic and otherwise?

  • Why are Gretzky, Rice, and Pele considered great role models?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love sports

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