Advertisement

12 Women’s Sports Documentaries You’ll Want to Stream Immediately

Andy Cheung/Tony Duffy/Bret Bielmann/Getty Images

With women’s history month in full swing, what better way to celebrate the contributions of women athletes than with documentaries that share the amazing true journeys of trailblazers and changemakers? While Hollywood still has a ways to go when it comes to championing women on all fronts, there are some filmmakers doing incredible work highlighting some of the courageous and resilient stories that are raising the bar in sports and beyond.

By featuring women competing across different events at various levels, these documentaries show the next generation of athletes that they have a spot in sport too. “It’s important that younger girls see that adult women play,” pro runner and filmmaker Alexi Pappas tells SELF, citing a Women’s Sports Foundation report that found that by age 14 girls drop out of sports at two times the rate of boys. “To see women put in challenging situations that are real, to see how they navigate that, and have the rare opportunity to peek inside those worlds…you will undoubtedly come out feeling something different—it’s mind-expanding and permission-giving to see other people building resilience right in front of you.”

Whether you’re a former sportster, still play recreationally, or are simply content to cheer from the sidelines, there’s sure to be a documentary that’ll inspire you. Here are some of the best ones we’ve been streaming all month long.

1. Under Pressure: The US Women’s World Cup

This limited series explores a high-stakes moment for the US Women’s National Team (USWNT): their attempt to win three consecutive World Cup titles—a feat no group has ever accomplished—and the background that went into it. In interviews with players including Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, and Kelly O’Hara; coaches; and soccer experts, the four-part docuseries shares the immense pressure the current generation was under to perform at the 2023 FIFA World Cup, the impact they’re making on and off the field, and their legacy overall.

“Where Under Pressure shines is its focus on its subjects in the early episodes—the fight for a roster spot on the USWNT is a lifelong goal for many of these players, who toil in anonymity for the chance to represent their country,” sports journalist and broadcaster Johanna Gretschel tells SELF. “Meeting players like Kristie Mewis and Lynn Williams, who finally get their shot at the national team in the later stages of their careers, and seeing the dynamics of a team that includes both teenage rookies like Alyssa Thompson and veteran contributors like Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan is fascinating from a human perspective.”

While we know the outcome of the tournament was heartbreaking for the squad, Under Pressure still does great work celebrating their achievements and immersing audiences in the brutal process of fighting for gold at the highest level.

Rating: TV-MA
Where to watch: Netflix

2. Sisters on Track

This coming of age story shares an intimate look at a family pursuing their Junior Olympic dreams—and the challenges that came with it on and off the track. The film follows the Sheppard sisters (12-year-old Tai, 11-year-old Rainn, and 10-year-old Brooke), all Brooklyn-based rising track stars who were thrust into the spotlight after being chosen as Sports Illustrated Kids of the Year in 2016. The documentary captures all different parts of their journey together, from their time in a homeless shelter to their mom’s focus on helping the girls find self-empowerment through a community of women, led in part by their track coach, Jean Bell.

We weren’t the only ones inspired by the Sheppard sisters’ story. After watching the doc, film director Tyler Perry offered to pay the family’s rent for two years, according to ABC News. In 2021, Brooks Running set up a $25,000 educational fund for each sister, totaling $75,000, a surprise gift the family received during an appearance on The View.

Rating: PG
Where to watch: Netflix

3. The Fastest Woman on Earth

This captivating yet heartbreaking documentary shares the story of Jessi Combs, a professional racer who broke the women’s land speed record in 2013, and again in 2016, only to pass away doing this same activity in 2019. In archival footage and interviews, The Fastest Woman on Earth documents the fascinating pursuit of Combs’s seven-year quest to make history in an extreme sport. “She is so committed to (or borderline obsessed with) achieving and maintaining these records, it’s something that makes you equally inspired and…maybe somewhat concerned,” says SELF associate health conditions director Julia Sullivan. “Still, you can’t go wrong watching a woman kick ass in a male-dominated field. Her ending is so, so tragic, but this documentary really honors her remarkable life.”

Rating: TV-MA
Where to watch: HBO Max

4. Lorena, Light-Footed Woman

If you’re looking for a 28-minute mini jolt of inspiration, Lorena, Light-Footed Woman is a must-watch. The Netflix documentary, which is a favorite of SELF’s web producer Caroline Acosta, follows Lorena Ramírez, a gifted runner from Mexico’s Rarámuri community, who stunned the ultra running world by crushing the competition while wearing a traditional handsewn skirt and huarache sandals. Ramírez is Tarahumara, an Indigenous people from Chihuahua, Mexico, known for their long-distance running prowess, and the sport has been passed down in her family: Her father, Santiago Ramírez, won the Ultramaratón de los Cañones three times. The film follows the stoic athlete and her family—they “live a quiet herding life in the mountains,” says Acosta—as she navigates international competition amid the breathtaking canyons and mountains of rural Chihuahua, where running is a way of life.

Rating: G
Where to watch: Netflix

5. Naomi Osaka

This 2021 documentary series follows one of the greatest tennis stars in history as she navigates highs and lows of the pressure-filled world of athletic superstardom. The three-part doc chronicles Osaka’s upbringing as a tennis prodigy and her dream of becoming a US champion, but it also shares an intimate look at how success and fame can take a tremendous toll on mental health. It segues out of sport too: The series also details how Osaka uses her platform for activism outside of tennis—for instance, delving into her decision to wear face masks commemorating Black people killed by police while competing at the 2020 US Open.

Rating: TV-14
How to watch: Netflix

6. Unmatched

The ESPN Films 30 for 30 special follows tennis legends Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova in their retirement years as they reflect on their fierce rivalry from the 1970s and the long-standing friendship that endured after. Pappas considers this 53-minute documentary one of her top picks because it shows a multifaceted side to women that’s often overlooked.

“Women who want to win at sports…that doesn’t make them not human; it doesn’t mean they don’t want friendships. It just means that they happen to also be competitors in their craft, and they can both exist in that world,” Pappas says. “They just both want to get the most out of themselves, probably made better by the other one anyway.” Relationships are truly key in this film about top athletes trying to best each other—the pair played 80 matchups in their heyday—while also growing to admire and respect one another.

Rating: TV-G
How to watch: rent or buy on Amazon Prime

7. Women of Troy

This 2020 film explores the groundbreaking story of the USC women’s basketball team that took the NCAA by storm in the 1980s. Led by Cheryl Miller, the squad’s undeniable talent catapulted the program to back-to-back national championships and influenced the formation of the WNBA.

“I was familiar with Reggie Miller, who played in the NBA for nearly two decades…. But until I watched Women of Troy, I had no idea his sister, Cheryl Miller, is also a fantastic basketball player—maybe even the best woman to ever play the game,” says SELF’s editor in chief Rachel Miller, who considers this doc one of her top picks. “She definitely gets her due in this film.”

This gripping documentary includes interviews and archival footage of basketball trailblazers, including Miller, Cynthia Cooper, and Rhonda Windham, among other legends in the sport, and the steps they took to create more opportunities for future generations of players.

Rating: TV-14
How to watch: HBO Max

8. The Founders

The Founders shares the inspiring story of the 13 amateur women golfers who overcame a whole bunch of barriers—from sexism to lack of funding—to create the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA), one of longest running professional sports organizations for women in the world. The film includes interviews with the four living pioneers—Marilynn Smith, Louise Suggs, Shirley Spork, and Marlene Bauer Vossler—who beat the odds time and time again to form the league and shift the perception of female athletes in the late 1940s. “All of us draw strength from what those women did,” former professional golfer Renee Powell says in the film.

Rating: TV-Y
How to watch: Amazon Prime

9. “Break on Through

In this episode of Reel Rock, American climber Margo Hayes attempts to conquer two of the most revered peaks in the entire world—a goal that came with a few struggles and was years in the making. “When climbing a hard route, self-doubt can come on as quickly and intensely as physical fatigue, but Hayes shakes off both with ease. She’s a plucky, ambitious, and balletic climber that you just want to see succeed. And that’s not only because she’s making history for women in the sport generally, but because her goals clearly mean so much to her as an individual too,” says SELF’s senior commerce writer Sara Coughlin, a recreational climber who considers this doc one of her top picks. “The entire time, it feels like rooting for someone you know—your friend, your sister, or that strong girl you always see at the gym.”

Rating: 18+
Where to watch: Red Bull TV

10. Zero to 100

This 2013 film takes viewers through the meteoric rise of Lakey Peterson, then a 17-year-old star surfer making her way in the sport. Director Aaron Lieber followed Peterson in her rookie year on the Association of Surfing Professionals World Tour, which included top tier competitions in Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, and France. As she dealt with the ups and downs of performing at an elite level—from adjusting to life on the road to handling poor performances on the big stage—Peterson also found her footing giving back to environmental causes as she worked toward her breakthrough victory at the 2012 US Open.

More than a decade later, the film is still inspiring fellow athletes, including Olympian and 10,000-meter world bronze medalist Emily Infeld, who’s a big fan of Peterson’s approach. “I like seeing her navigate her losses and learning a lot as a rookie,” Infeld tells SELF. “I feel like we learn so much from losses and from competing against people better than us.”

Rating: G
Where to watch: rent on Amazon Prime

11. Power Meri

Power Meri follows Papua New Guinea’s first-ever national women’s rugby league team, the PNG Orchids. The film follows the groundbreaking squad’s lead up to the 2017 World Cup in Australia, a difficult journey that saw the team battle a lack of financial support and national prejudice in order to play the sport they love. After its release in 2018, the film earned a number of awards, including the June Andrews Award for Women’s Leadership in Media from the Walkley Foundation.

It’s also one of Pappas’s favorite documentaries. She appreciates how the filmmakers took the time to immerse the audience in the overall significance behind women playing rugby in Papua New Guinea. “It’s a deep dive into a world where many might not know about the sport, the place, or the culture, or what’s going on with gender there,” she says.

Rating: G
How to watch: Docubay subscription through Amazon Prime

12. The Deepest Breath

Get ready to hang on to the edge of your seat (and shed a few tears in the process): The Deepest Breath explores free diving—an extreme sport in which athletes plunge hundreds of feet into the depths of the ocean with a single breath—through the stories of Italian free diver Alessia Zecchini and Irish safety diver Stephen Keenan. Using archival footage, interviews, and photos, director Laura McGann tells the divers’ separate journeys and shares how they converged in 2017. That’s when Zecchini, with assistance from Keenan, set a world diving record of 104 meters (341 feet). Later that year, the pair set off on a new ambitious, dangerous goal: Zecchini would attempt to free dive at the Blue Hole near Dahab, Egypt—nicknamed the divers’ cemetery. But in a few crucial seconds, the challenge came to a heartbreaking end. While the film is tough to watch at times, McGann really captures the pair’s determination and camaraderie, as well as Zecchini’s influence as a trailblazer in the sport.

Rating: PG
Where to watch: Netflix

Related:

Originally Appeared on SELF