80+ Sports Idioms with meanings and Examples
Sports Idioms! List of commonly used sport idioms in English with meaning and examples. Learn these sports phrases (baseball idioms, football idioms, tennis idioms…) to improve your English.
At the top of your game
Meaning: performing at your best
Example: The tennis player was at the top of his game during the finals.
Ball is in your court
Meaning: it’s your turn to take action
Example: We’ve made our offer, now the ball is in their court.
Bend over backwards
Meaning: to make a great effort or sacrifice to please someone
Example: He bent over backwards to make sure his client was satisfied.
Beat the buzzer
Meaning: to complete something just in time
Example: The basketball team beat the buzzer with a last-second shot.
Caught off guard
Meaning: taken by surprise
Example: The team was caught off guard by the sudden change in the game plan.
Clear the bases
Meaning: to hit a home run with runners on base, clearing them all
Example: The baseball player cleared the bases with a grand slam.
Dead in the water
Meaning: unable to make progress or achieve a goal
Example: The team’s lack of funding left them dead in the water.
Drop the ball
Meaning: to make a mistake or fail to do something
Example: The quarterback dropped the ball, costing his team the game.
Meaning: A rough estimate
Example: A ballpark figure for the cost of the new stadium would be $150,000,000.
Field of dreams
Meaning: a place or situation where anything can happen and great things are possible
Example: The basketball court was a field of dreams for the young players.
Get a second wind
Meaning: to regain energy or enthusiasm after being tired or discouraged
Example: After struggling in the first half, the team got a second wind and came back to win.
Get the ball rolling
Meaning: to start something
Example: Let’s get the ball rolling on this project and see what we can accomplish.
Set the Bar (Too) High
Meaning: To set a high standard for something
Example: The college sets the bar high when it comes to admission. You have to have really good grades, plus a variety of extracurricular activities.
Go for broke
Meaning: to take a big risk in pursuit of success
Example: The entrepreneur decided to go for broke and invest all his savings into his startup.
Hand in glove
Meaning: working together seamlessly
Example: The quarterback and wide receiver worked hand in glove to score a touchdown.
Give Someone a Run for Their Money
Meaning: Compete effectively with the leader in a particular field
Example: Toyota has been the best-selling car in this country for many years, but I think that this year Honda will give them a run for their money.
Hit it out of the park
Meaning: to achieve great success or do something exceptionally well
Example: The singer hit it out of the park with her latest album.
Meaning: A powerful, influential person
Example: Swedish producer Max Martin has been one of the heavy hitters in the music industry for more than 20 years.
Meaning: an obstacle or challenge
Example: The team had to overcome many hurdles to win the championship.
In the home stretch
Meaning: nearing the end of a race or project
Example: We’re in the home stretch of this project and just need to finish a few more tasks.
Meaning: Maintain one’s resolve
Example: When I asked my boss for a raise, I told myself I should hang tough. But I agreed to keep working for the same salary.
Jump the gun
Meaning: to start something too soon or prematurely
Example: The basketball player jumped the gun and committed a foul before the game began.
Keep your eye on the ball
Meaning: to stay focused on your goal or task
Example: The coach told the team to keep their eye on the ball and not get distracted by the opposing team.
Knock it out of the park
Meaning: to do something exceptionally well
Example: The sales team knocked it out of the park with their latest campaign.
Meaning: Next; having the next turn
Example: I’ll call you back in an hour. The speaker is almost finished, and I’m on deck.
Leave it all on the field
Meaning: to give your best effort and not hold anything back
Example: The soccer team left it all on the field in the championship game.
Meaning: A powerful sequence of two events
Example: The area has been devastated by the one-two punch of a cyclone followed by a gas leak.
Jump Through Hoops
Meaning: Complete a series of tasks in order to satisfy someone
Example: The boss is making me jump through hoops on this project, but I’m almost finished.
Level the playing field
Meaning: to create a fair and equal opportunity for everyone involved
Example: The new policy was designed to level the playing field for all employees.
Monday Morning Quarterback
Meaning: Someone who offers criticisms or comments after already knowing the outcome of something
Example: It’s easy to be a Monday morning quarterback and say we should have sold the stocks, but the fact is there was no way to know they were doing to decline in value.
Light a fire under
Meaning: to motivate or inspire someone to take action
Example: The coach lit a fire under the team at halftime and they came out with renewed energy.
Kick Ass, Kick Butt
Meaning: Defeat badly
Example: Madrid won most of our matches during the season, but we kicked ass in the playoffs.
On the ropes
Meaning: in a difficult or vulnerable position
Example: The boxer was on the ropes and in danger of losing the fight.
Out of left field
Meaning: unexpected or surprising
Example: The new proposal came out of left field and caught everyone off guard.
Hit the Ground Running
Meaning: To begin a job or project with no learning or training period needed
Example: If you hire Jean, you won’t need to train her; she’ll be ready to hit the ground running.
Meaning: to be aggressive and unyielding in negotiations
Example: The company decided to play hardball in the contract negotiations.
Par for the Course
Meaning: What would normally be expected. This has a negative connotation.
Example: Patricia asked for the job at the last minute again. I’d be annoyed, but I guess it’s par for the course.
Pull out all the stops
Meaning: to do everything possible to achieve a goal
Example: The team pulled out all the stops to win the championship.
Raise the Bar
Meaning: Increase standards in a certain competition or area of endeavor
Example: The Tesla cars have raised the bar for all makers of electric cars.
Put all your eggs in one basket
Meaning: to focus all your resources or efforts on one thing, with the risk of losing everything if it fails
Example: The investor put all his eggs in one basket and invested heavily in a single company.
Roll With the Punches
Meaning: Deal with problems by being flexible
Example: The boss gave Jason a really hard time during his first year on the job, but Jason rolled with the punches, and now he has an easier time of it.
Rally the troops
Meaning: to gather and motivate a group of people to work together towards a common goal
Example: The CEO rallied the troops to launch a new product line.
Meaning: An error made by an inexperienced person
Example: Trying to put in too many subplots is a common rookie mistake among first-time novelists.
Meaning: Cooperate, agree to participate
Example: We’d love to have our competitors participate, but if they won’t play ball, we’ll go it alone.
Meaning: to block or distract someone from a goal or task
Example: The assistant ran interference for the CEO, keeping distractions at bay so he could focus on his work.
Score a touchdown
Meaning: to achieve great success
Example: The new product launch scored a touchdown with customers.
Skate on thin ice
Meaning: to take a risk that could have negative consequences
Example: The employee was skating on thin ice when he missed his deadline for the third time.
Take one for the team
Meaning: to make a sacrifice for the benefit of the group
Example: The employee decided to take one for the team and work overtime to finish a project.
(The) Ball’s in Your Court
Meaning: It’s your turn to make an offer or decision.
Example: We’ve lowered the price as much as we can. Now the ball’s in your court.
Take the ball and run with it
Meaning: to take advantage of an opportunity and make the most of it
Example: The new employee took the ball and ran with it, impressing the CEO with her initiative.
Come Out Swinging
Meaning: Respond to something very aggressively
Example: The president came out swinging after his aides were accused of corruption.
Pick Up the Slack
Meaning: Do something that someone else is not doing; assume someone else’s responsibilities
Example: I’m going on vacation, but please contact Janelle in my office for anything you need. She’ll be there to pick up the slack.
The ball’s in your court
Meaning: it’s your turn to take action
Example: I’ve given you all the information you need, now the ball’s in your court to make a decision.
(To Throw Someone a) Curveball
Meaning: Say or do something unexpected to someone
Example: The boss really threw me a curveball when he told me I’d have to work through my vacation.
Throw in the towel
Meaning: to give up or surrender
Example: The boxer threw in the towel after the tenth round, unable to continue.
A Horse in This Race
Meaning: To have no preference in the outcome of a competition
Example: I’m fine with either Olivia or Jason as president. I don’t have a horse in this race.
Toe the Line
Meaning: Accept authority, follow the rules
Example: There’s room for debate about the new sales program, but we need everyone to toe the line in presenting it consistently.
Pipped to the Post
Meaning: Defeated by a narrow margin
Example: The incumbent president was leading for most of the campaign, but he was pipped to the post by the opposition leader in the end.
Meaning: a break or pause in the action
Example: The coach called a time out to regroup the team and come up with a new strategy.
Against The Run Of Play
Meaning: Atypical of the way a game has been going
Example: Man United scored two goals against the run of play but lost badly in the end.
Meaning: to check in or make contact with someone
Example: Let’s touch base next week to go over the project status.
Get in Shape
Meaning: Undertake a program of physical conditioning; exercise regularly
Example: I gained a lot of weight over the holidays and never left the house. I really need to hit the gym and get in shape.
Up to par
Meaning: meeting the expected standard
Example: The employee’s performance was up to par and exceeded expectations.
Meaning: A suspenseful event
Example: Last night’s soccer (football) match was a real nail-biter, finally decided by a shootout.
Win by a nose
Meaning: to win narrowly, by a small margin
Example: The horse won by a nose in the photo finish.
Meaning: Scoring three goals in hockey or soccer (football), or accomplishing three of anything.
Example: The striker scored a hat trick in the first five minutes, and after that the match was never close.
Meaning: Visible public appearances after a victory or accomplishment
Example: The president has been taking a victory lap, appearing on numerous talk shows after his re-election.
Up to Scratch
Meaning: Meeting a basic standard of competence or quality
Example: I’m going to have to send Katrina back to headquarters for more training. Her work is just not up to scratch yet.
Meaning: an unknown or unquantifiable quality that sets someone or something apart
Example: The athlete’s x-factor was his incredible work ethic and determination.
You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs
Meaning: you can’t achieve something great without taking some risks or making sacrifices
Example: The CEO knew that expanding the business would be risky, but reminded the team that you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.
Step Up to the Plate
Meaning: Prepare to take action, be the person in a group who takes action
Example: We can sell cars in the Brazilian market, but someone is going to have to step up to the plate and research the import regulations.
Zero sum game
Meaning: a situation in which one person’s gain is equal to another person’s loss
Example: The negotiations turned into a zero sum game, with both parties unwilling to compromise.
Step Up One’s Game
Meaning: Work to advance to a higher level of a competition
Example: You need to step up your game if you want to win the championship. Sanchez is going to be very difficult to beat.
Meaning: Difficult progress
Example: Our competitor’s model dominates the market, so ours is facing tough sledding.
Ace up your sleeve
Meaning: a secret or advantage that can be used to gain an advantage
Example: The negotiator had an ace up his sleeve, a key piece of information that he used to gain leverage.
Back to square one
Meaning: back to the starting point or beginning
Example: After months of negotiations, the two companies ended up back at square one with no progress made.
Take a Hike
Meaning: Go away
Example: Maybe you could take a hike while we discuss salaries.
Sink or Swim
Meaning: Fail or succeed
Example: I’ve helped him as much as I can in that class. Now he’s going to have to sink or swim.
Behind the eight ball
Meaning: in a difficult or disadvantageous position
Example: The team was behind the eight ball after losing their star player to injury.
Take a Deep Dive
Meaning: Explore something extensively
Example: In today’s lecture, we’re going to take a deep dive into quantum physics. Hope you’re ready to take notes!
Meaning: an important or influential person
Example: The CEO was the big cheese at the company.
Meaning: An effort that is certain to succeed
Example: I have studied so hard – acing the exam should be a slam dunk.
Meaning: to recover quickly from a setback
Example: The team bounced back from their loss and won the next game.
Meaning: A difficult, tricky situation
Example: There are strong trade relations between China and Malaysia, but the issue of the South China Sea is something of a sticky wicket.
Meaning: to take shortcuts or skip steps in order to save time or money
Example: The contractor was accused of cutting corners to finish the project on time.
Take the Gloves Off
Meaning: Negotiate in a more aggressive way
Example: We’ve already offered concessions to management, but they haven’t responded. It’s time to take the gloves off and threaten a strike.
Dead in the water
Meaning: without any hope of success or progress
Example: The proposal was dead in the water after it was rejected by the board.