This is often credited to Wayne Gretzky (see for example Forbes), but I have some serious doubts that this is the original. So, 2 questions here:

  1. Was Wayne Gretzky really the first to say this?

  2. What is an older, often used metaphor that means the same thing?

  • 6
    The Athenaeum, 1861 You cannot expect to reap the corn you have not sown. You cannot win unless you work. Commented Apr 3, 2017 at 13:16
  • 6
    I think you have idioms and metaphors confused. Commented Apr 3, 2017 at 14:44
  • 1
    Here you can find your answer: barrypopik.com/index.php/new_york_city/entry/… - remember to show your preliminary research whenever you ask a question.
    – user66974
    Commented Apr 3, 2017 at 16:57
  • @user66974 the linked article doesn't come up on the first two pages of google when i search, and it doesn't at all answer the question.. Commented Oct 29, 2020 at 13:42

1 Answer 1


Wayne Gretzky appears to be the earliest attributed source of this particular expression, although two older sports-related expression say much the same thing: "You can't score if you don't shoot" and "You can't hit the ball if you don't swing."

Here are the entries for those three expressions in Charles Doyle, Wolfgang Mieder & Fred Shapiro, The [Yale] Dictionary of Modern Proverbs (2012):

You miss 100 percent of the shots you don't take.

1991 Burton W. Kanter, "AARP—Asset Accumulation, Retention and Protection," Taxes 69: 717: "Wayne Gretzky, relating the comment of one of his early coaches who, frustrated by his lack of scoring in an important game told him, 'You miss 100% of the shots you never take.'" ... The saying is often attributed to the hockey player Gretzky (sometimes to his father or to a coach). Cf. "You can't score if you don't shoot."


You can't score if you don't shoot.

1965 Glenn Warner, "Soccer Shot," in Soccer Anthology, edited by Alva C. Moore and Melvin R. Schmid ({Gainesville FL}: for the editors) 57: "Don't overdo passing when shooting territory is reached (bang away—you can't score if you don't shoot)"; the article i said to be reprinted from the Newsletter of the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (1951). ...


You can't hit the ball (get a hit) if you don't swing (the bat).

1943 John R. Tunis, Keystone Kids (New York: Harcourt, Brace) 141: "'Get your bat offa your shoulders, Jocko. You can't expect to hit if you don't swing at 'em.'" 1949: Frank Bettger, How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Selling (Englewood Cliffs NJ: Prentice Hall) 16: "You can't hit 'em if you don't swing at 'em.' I found was just as true in selling as in baseball." ...

Yet another sports proverb (dating to 1907, according to Doyle, Mieder & Shapiro) expresses a related sentiment, although the gist of it is discernibly different: "You can't score unless you have the ball." This expression is more akin to saying "You must have possession of something before you can turn it to your account," whereas the first three amount to sports-specific equivalents of "Nothing ventured, nothing gained."

Also, as FumbleFingers's comment above observes, numerous sentiments similar to (and much older than) "You can't score if you don't shoot" occur in nonsporting contexts, in forms such as "You will never reap what you do not sow."

  • Phew, I was about to CV on 'source of quote' wrong site grounds. But acceptance as a proverb by a recognised authority makes its etymology valid on ELU. Commented Mar 15, 2022 at 12:12

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