List of 45+ Commonly Used Sport Idioms in English

Learn commonly used Sport Idioms in English with meaning and examples.

List of 45+ useful Sport Idioms in English.

(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.

Note: This is from the game of tennis and is often used in negotiations.

(To Not Have) 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.

(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 throughmy vacation.

Note: This is also heard as just “throw someone a curve”.

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.

Note: This is British, and refers almost exclusively to sports, usually football (soccer).

Ballpark Figure

  • Meaning: A rough estimate
  • Example: A ballpark figure for the cost of the new stadium would be $150,000,000.

Note: This is of American origin (“ballpark” is a colloquial term for a baseball stadium), but is now more widely used.

Come Out Swinging

  • Meaning: Respond to something very aggressively
  • Example: The president came out swinging after his aides were accused of corruption.

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.

Get the Ball Rolling

  • Meaning: Do something to begin a process
  • Example: I’d like to get the ball rolling by offering $2.3 million for the building. We can negotiate from there.

Useful Sport Idioms in English | Image 1

List of 45+ Commonly Used Sport Idioms in English

… Sport Idioms in English …

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.

Note: This idiom comes from horse racing.

Hang Tough

  • 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.

Hat Trick

  • 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.

Heavy Hitter

  • 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.

Hit It Out of the Park

  • Meaning: Succeed brilliantly
  • Example: Francesca hit it out of the park with her speech today. It was fabulous.

Note: The expression comes from baseball.

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.

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.

Kick Ass, Kick Butt (1)

  • Meaning: Defeat badly
  • ExampleMadrid won most of our matches during the season, but we kicked ass in the playoffs.

Kick Ass, Kick Butt (2)

  • Meaning: Be excellent or highly effective (only “”kick ass”” would be used for 2)
  • ExampleThat movie kicked butt! It was so exciting

Note: To “kick someone’s ass” is slightly different, meaning to physically beat someone badly in a fight. Definition 2) may also be used as an adjective, “kick-ass”: That car has a kick-ass engine. Both “kick ass” and “kick butt” are somewhat crude; “kick ass” is more so.

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.

Note: This is from American football, where games are usually played on Sunday.


  • Meaning: A suspenseful event
  • Example: Last night’s soccer (football) match was a real nail-biter, finally decided by a shootout.

No Holds Barred (usually adj., often hyphenated)

  • Meaning: Unrestricted, without rules
  • Example: At a meeting today, Chad and Joe got into a no-holds-barred argument, but at the end they agreed to disagree.

Note: The original sense of the phrase referred to wrestling.

On Deck

  • 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.

One-Two Punch

  • 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.

Out of Left Field

  • Meaning: Unexpected, random and odd
  • Example: The small independent film came from out of left field and won all the big awards.

Note: This is similar to “out of the blue” and “out of nowhere,” but “out of left field” often carries a suggestion of something strange.

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.

Note: The expression comes from golf.

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.

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.

Note: This idiom is British.

Useful Sport Idioms in English | Image 2

idioms about Sport

… Sport Idioms in English …

Play Ball

  • 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.

Play Hardball

  • Meaning: Adopt a tough negotiating position; act aggressively
  • Example: Railroad officials are expected to play hardball in the upcoming round of contract negotiations with trade unions.

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.

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.

Rookie Mistake

  • 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.

Second Wind

  • Meaning: Renewed energy
  • Example: I thought I was totally exhausted after mile nine of the race. But then I got my second wind.

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.

Note: You can also say “set a high bar for.” These expressions come from the sports of pole vaulting and the high jump.

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.

Slam Dunk

  • Meaning: An effort that is certain to succeed
  • Example: I have studied so hard – acing the exam should be a slam dunk.

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.

Note: Although this comes from sports, it may be used for any kind of competitive situation.

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.

Sticky Wicket

  • 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.

Note: This idiom comes from the game of cricket. It’s often used with the preposition “on”-”on a sticky wicket.

Take a Deep Dive (Into)

  • 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!

Take a Hike

  • Meaning: Go away
  • Example: Maybe you could take a hike while we discuss salaries.

Note: This is often used in the command form: “Take a hike!”

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.

Note: This idiom refers to boxing.

Throw in the Towel

  • Meaning: To give up, admit defeat
  • Example: After losing his queen, the chess player threw in the towel and resigned.

Note: This comes from boxing, where a defeated fighter’s team might throw a towel into the ring.

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.

Touch Base

  • Meaning: Meet briefly with someone
  • Example: Let’s touch base whe you get to the mall. Then you can go and hang out with your friends.

Note: This is from the game of baseball.

Tough Sledding

  • Meaning: Difficult progress
  • Example: Our competitor’s model dominates the market, so ours is facing tough sledding.

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.

Victory Lap

  • 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.

… Sport Idioms in English …

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