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Sports Idioms: 45+ Useful Sport Idioms & Phrases


Sports Idioms and Sayings! List of commonly used sport idioms in English with meaning and examples. Learn these sports phrases (baseball idioms, football idioms, tennis idioms…) with ESL pictures to improve your English.

Sports Idioms and Phrases

List of Sports Idioms and Sayings

  • (The) Ball’s in Your Court
  • (To Not Have) a Horse in This Race
  • (To Throw Someone a) Curveball
  • Against The Run Of Play
  • Ballpark Figure
  • Come Out Swinging
  • 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
  • Jump Through Hoops
  • Kick Ass, Kick Butt (1)
  • Kick Ass, Kick Butt (2)
  • Monday Morning Quarterback
  • Nail-Biter
  • No Holds Barred (usually adj., often hyphenated)
  • On Deck
  • One-Two Punch
  • Out of Left Field
  • Par for the Course
  • Pick Up the Slack
  • Pipped to the Post
  • Play Ball
  • Play Hardball
  • Raise the Bar
  • Roll With the Punches
  • Rookie Mistake
  • Second Wind
  • Set the Bar (Too) High
  • Sink or Swim
  • Slam Dunk
  • Step Up One’s Game
  • Step Up to the Plate
  • Sticky Wicket
  • Take a Deep Dive (Into)
  • Take a Hike
  • Take the Gloves Off
  • Throw in the Towel
  • Toe the Line
  • Touch Base
  • Tough Sledding
  • Up to Scratch
  • Victory Lap

Sports Idioms with Meaning and Examples

Baseball Idioms

List of baseball idioms and sayings with meaning and examples.

Ballpark Figure

  • Meaning: A rough estimate
  • Exampleballpark 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.

Hit It Out of the Park

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

Note: The expression comes from baseball.

Touch Base

  • Meaning: Meet briefly with someone
  • ExampleLet’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.

Football Idioms

List of football idioms and sayings with meaning and examples.

Hat Trick

  • Meaning: Scoring three goals in hockey or soccer (football), or accomplishing three of anything.
  • ExampleThe striker scored a hat trick in the first five minutes, and after that the match was never close.

Against The Run Of Play

  • Meaning: Atypical of the way a game has been going
  • ExampleMan 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 suspenseful event
  • ExampleLast night’s soccer (football) match was a real nail-biter, finally decided by a shootout.

Sports Idioms & Phrases

(The) Ball’s in Your Court

  • Meaning: It’s your turn to make an offer or decision.
  • ExampleWe’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
  • ExampleI’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
  • ExampleThe boss really threw me a curveball when he told me I’d have to work through my vacation.

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

Sports Idioms & Phrases (C-G)

list of sports idioms and sayings that start with C and G.

Come Out Swinging

  • Meaning: Respond to something very aggressively
  • ExampleThe 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
  • ExampleI’d like to get the ball rolling by offering $2.3 million for the building. We can negotiate from there.

Give Someone a Run for Their Money

  • Meaning: Compete effectively with the leader in a particular field
  • ExampleToyota 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.

Sports Idioms & Phrases (H)

list of sports idioms and sayings that start with H.

Hang Tough

  • Meaning: Maintain one’s resolve
  • ExampleWhen I asked my boss for a raise, I told myself I should hang tough. But I agreed to keep working for the same salary.

Heavy Hitter

  • Meaning: A powerful, influential person
  • ExampleSwedish producer Max Martin has been one of the heavy hitters in the music industry for more than 20 years.

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.

Sports Idioms & Phrases (J-K)

list of sports idioms and sayings that start with J and K.

Jump Through Hoops

  • Meaning: Complete a series of tasks in order to satisfy someone
  • ExampleThe 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.

Sports Idioms & Phrases (M-N)

list of sports idioms and sayings that start with M and N.

Monday Morning Quarterback

  • Meaning: Someone who offers criticisms or comments after already knowing the outcome of something
  • ExampleIt’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.

No Holds Barred (usually adj., often hyphenated)

  • Meaning: Unrestricted, without rules
  • ExampleAt 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.

Sports Idioms & Phrases (O)

list of sports idioms and sayings that start with O.

On Deck

  • Meaning: Next; having the next turn
  • ExampleI’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
  • ExampleThe 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
  • ExampleThe 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.

Sports Idioms & Phrases (P)

list of sports idioms and sayings that start with P.

Par for the Course

  • Meaning: What would normally be expected. This has a negative connotation.
  • ExamplePatricia 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
  • ExampleI’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
  • ExampleThe 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.

Play Ball

  • Meaning: Cooperate, agree to participate
  • ExampleWe’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
  • ExampleRailroad officials are expected to play hardball in the upcoming round of contract negotiations with trade unions.

Sports Idioms & Phrases (R)

list of sports idioms and sayings that start with R.

Raise the Bar

  • Meaning: Increase standards in a certain competition or area of endeavor
  • ExampleThe Tesla cars have raised the bar for all makers of electric cars.

Roll With the Punches

  • Meaning: Deal with problems by being flexible
  • ExampleThe 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
  • ExampleTrying to put in too many subplots is a common rookie mistake among first-time novelists.

Sports Idioms & Phrases (S)

list of sports idioms and sayings that start with S.

Second Wind

  • Meaning: Renewed energy
  • ExampleI 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
  • ExampleThe 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
  • ExampleI’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
  • ExampleI 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
  • ExampleYou 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
  • ExampleWe 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
  • ExampleThere 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.

Sports Idioms & Phrases (T)

list of sports idioms and sayings that start with T.

Take a Deep Dive (Into)

  • Meaning: Explore something extensively
  • ExampleIn 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
  • ExampleMaybe 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
  • ExampleWe’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
  • ExampleAfter 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
  • ExampleThere’s room for debate about the new sales program, but we need everyone to toe the line in presenting it consistently.

Tough Sledding

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

Sports Idioms & Phrases (U-V)

list of sports idioms and sayings that start with U and V.

Up to Scratch

  • Meaning: Meeting a basic standard of competence or quality
  • ExampleI’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
  • ExampleThe president has been taking a victory lap, appearing on numerous talk shows after his re-election.

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