Learn commonly used Sport Idioms in English with meaning and examples.
List of 45+ useful Sport Idioms in English.
You can jump to any section of this lesson:
- 1 (The) Ball’s in Your Court
- 2 (To Not Have) a Horse in This Race
- 3 (To Throw Someone a) Curveball
- 4 Against The Run Of Play
- 5 Ballpark Figure
- 6 Come Out Swinging
- 7 Get in Shape
- 8 Get the Ball Rolling
- 9 Give Someone a Run for Their Money
- 10 Hang Tough
- 11 Hat Trick
- 12 Heavy Hitter
- 13 Hit It Out of the Park
- 14 Hit the Ground Running
- 15 Jump Through Hoops
- 16 Kick Ass, Kick Butt (1)
- 17 Kick Ass, Kick Butt (2)
- 18 Monday Morning Quarterback
- 19 Nail-Biter
- 20 No Holds Barred (usually adj., often hyphenated)
- 21 On Deck
- 22 One-Two Punch
- 23 Out of Left Field
- 24 Par for the Course
- 25 Pick Up the Slack
- 26 Pipped to the Post
- 27 Play Ball
- 28 Play Hardball
- 29 Raise the Bar
- 30 Roll With the Punches
- 31 Rookie Mistake
- 32 Second Wind
- 33 Set the Bar (Too) High
- 34 Sink or Swim
- 35 Slam Dunk
- 36 Step Up One’s Game
- 37 Step Up to the Plate
- 38 Sticky Wicket
- 39 Take a Deep Dive (Into)
- 40 Take a Hike
- 41 Take the Gloves Off
- 42 Throw in the Towel
- 43 Toe the Line
- 44 Touch Base
- 45 Tough Sledding
- 46 Up to Scratch
- 47 Victory Lap
(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).
- 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
… 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.
- 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.
- 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: 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
- Example: Madrid 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)
- Example: That 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.
- 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.
- 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
… Sport Idioms in English …
- 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: 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.
- 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: 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 …
- (The) Ball's in Your Court
- (To Not Have) a Horse in This Race
- basketball idioms
- Come Out Swinging
- english idioms: sport
- Get in Shape
- Get the Ball Rolling
- Give Someone a Run for Their Money
- Hang Tough
- Hat Trick
- Heavy Hitter
- Hit It Out of the Park
- Hit the Ground Running
- idioms about sport
- idioms for kids
- idioms related to sport
- Jump Through Hoops
- Kick Ass
- Kick Butt
- list of idioms
- Monday Morning Quarterback
- Slam Dunk
- sport idioms
- sports idioms for winning
- sports idioms in business
- Take a Deep Dive (Into)
- tennis idioms
- Tough Sledding
- useful idioms about sport