Stephen M. Ross, an American sports team owner, says, “Sports is the common denominator in the world that brings everyone together. If there’s any one place in the world where there is equality, it is probably sports.” Sports bring people together across cultures regardless of language barriers. However, when it comes to understanding how to communicate using sports language or sports idioms varies greatly from one culture to the next.
For students who attend language schools in Washington DC, it can be very helpful to not only familiarize themselves with popular American sports but also to extend their knowledge to include sports idioms. Since sports bring us together naturally, using sports idioms is a natural way to engage in conversational English.
What is an Idiom?
According to Scholastic, “An idiom is a phrase or expression whose meaning can’t be understood from the ordinary meanings of the words in it.” For example, a common idiom is: “Get off my back!” This does not mean the speaker is literally asking the listener to get off his or her back physically. Instead, this is an idiom meaning “leave me alone!” Students who take an English class in DC want to learn popular idioms and slang because they will help them communicate with native speakers more effectively.
Why Sports Idioms are Great for Conversational English
Since watching sports and cheering on their favorite sports teams is a popular American pastime, it makes it natural for Americans to use sports idioms when speaking. This is because most Americans are familiar enough with popular sports to understand what the speaker means when he or she uses a sports idiom. Therefore, as you study English in Washington DC, you will also become familiar with American sports and will begin to understand these idioms or expressions into your conversations with native speakers.
30 Sports Idioms with Examples for Use
To help you build your English vocabulary, here are 30 of the most common sports idioms and examples for use.
- At this stage in the game– This means “at this time” but puts a sporty spin on it. For example: “At this stage in the game, we don’t know which school he will end up attending.”
- Ball is in your court– Coming from tennis, this means “it is your turn to make a decision.” For example: “What do you want for dinner? The ball is in your court.”
- Blind-sided– Coming from American football, this means “you didn’t see something coming.” For example: “I was blind-sided by his decision.”
- Blow the competition away– This means “win easily” with a competitive sports spin. For example: “Your presentation is going to blow the competition away.”
- Drop the ball– Coming from American football, this means you “mishandle or make a mistake” similar to a football player dropping the football. For example: “Johnny dropped the ball and ended up receiving an incomplete on the assignment.”
- Front runner– This means “the person most likely to win or succeed.” For example, “Susan is the frontrunner for the position.”
- Get a head start– In a sports race, this means to start before the other competitors. As an idiom, it means “having an advantage.” For example: “The teacher gave the younger students a head start on their test.”
- Get off the hook– From fishing, this saying means “to escape” as a fish gets off a hook. For example: “You’re not going to get off the hook when it comes to doing your chores.”
- Go to bat for someone– Coming from baseball, to “go to bat for someone” means you step in when someone needs it (or you defend someone). For example: “I’m willing to go to bat for Bill in this situation.”
- Hit a home run / Knock it out of the park– Coming from baseball, hitting a home run or knocking it out of the park means “to do something extraordinarily well.” For example: “Their group hit a home run with that project presentation.”
- Hit below the belt– Coming from martial arts, this saying means “to do something unfair or cruel.” For example: “When Jenny shared Sarah’s secret publicly, that hit below the belt.”
- Hit the bullseye– This idiom means “to get something exactly right” such as hitting the smallest part of a dartboard (the bullseye). For example: “When it comes to finances, you hit the bullseye.”
- Jump the gun– Coming from racing, to “jump the gun” means you “start too soon” or before the race has officially begun with the shot of the gun. For example: “Sarah jumped the gun with booking those tickets.”
- Learn the ropes– Coming from sailing, this refers to learning the ropes used in sailing. As an idiom, it means “learn new things.” For example: “You will spend the first week studying abroad learning the ropes.”
- Level playing field– For any sport, this means giving everyone the same chance. For example: “We offer a level playing field ensuring all employees have a chance for promotion.”
- Make the cut– To “make the cut” means “to make the team” or “get the job.” For example: “I didn’t make the cut.”
- Neck and neck– Coming from racing, this means the competition is close to a tie. For example: “The twins are neck and neck with heir grade point average.”
- On the ball– Coming from baseball, this means “ready and able.” For example: The students at the Washington language school inlingua are on the ball when it comes to mastering conversational English.”
- Out of left field– Coming from baseball, this means “unexpected or strange” since baseballs do not come from left field. For example: “Well, that idea came out of left field!”
- Out of someone’s league– This sports-like expression means “someone is better than you.” For example: “She’s out of my league.”
- Skating on thin ice– Coming from hockey, this means the person is “doing something risky or unwise.” For example: “Watch out. You are skating on thin ice!”
- Two strikes/ Strikeout– In baseball, you have three strikes, or you are out. If someone says, “That’s two strikes,” it is their way of saying you “only have one more chance.” If they say, “Three strikes, you are out,” it means “you are finished.” For example: “The school has a three strikes, and you’re out policy for truancy.”