sports idioms

12 English Sports Idioms for Office Talk, Casual Conversation and More

Native English speakers use all kinds of sports idioms, but it wasn’t until I was teaching in Korea that I realized how frequently we use them.

A Korean colleague, who spoke English very well, approached me after watching American TV with a list of phrases he didn’t fully understand. He knew all the words and their meanings, but couldn’t work out what they meant when put together.

When I looked through his list, I saw that many of the idioms related to baseball.

Understanding sports idioms will help you keep up with casual conversations in English — whether they’re about sports or not.


12 Powerful Sports Idioms for Speaking English with Confidence

1. On the home stretch

In racing, the “home stretch” means the last part of the track. When an athlete sees the home stretch, they know the race is nearly finished.

This idiom is used when something is nearing completion.

“It’s been a long year of hard work on this project, but we are on the home stretch now. I’m relying on you, Tim. Don’t mess this up.”

2. Front runner

The front runner (as you may be able to guess) is the athlete who is in the lead during a race. This person is in front, but hasn’t won yet.

A front runner means the favorite or the person who is considered most likely to get or win something.

“I’ve applied for that new management role. What do you think my chances are of getting it?”

“Between you and me, your chances are very good. You are the front runner. Tim applied, too, but he doesn’t have a chance.”

3. The ball is in your court

In tennis, when the ball is on your side of the court, it is your turn to hit the ball. This is used to mean that it is someone’s turn to take action or make the next move.

“That hot new client has been flirting with me all morning. He just asked me what I’m doing later. Do you think I should meet up with him?”

“I don’t know, Tim. I’m working now. The ball is in your court.”

4. Par for the course

On a golf course, each hole has a number known as the “par“. This is the number of strokes that a player should need to finish a hole.

This is the standard by which other golfers’ scores are measured. The phrase “par for the course” describes something that is normal or to be expected.

“Tim walked into the office 20 minutes late today.”

“That doesn’t surprise me. That’s par for the course with Tim.”

5. Out of someone’s league 

The “league” here is in reference to baseball leagues, where teams are grouped by their skill and performance.

When we talk about a person being out of someone’s league, we mean that the person is too good for them.

“Did you meet Tim’s new boyfriend? He’s so good-looking AND rich. He is way out of Tim’s league.”

6. Two Strikes

In baseball, the batter gets only three chances to hit the ball, each miss is called a “strike”.

So if a player has two strikes, they know that they are on their final chance.

This is often used to talk about someone’s track record (or their past performance).

“Tim missed the deadline again. That’s two strikes now.”

7. Three strikes and you’re out 

When a player is batting in a baseball game and they get three strikes, their turn is over and the team earns an “out” for that inning.

Once someone makes three strikes, then you are no longer willing to give them more chances.

“This is the third time Tim has missed the deadline, so that’s it. Three strikes and he’s out.”

8. Drop the ball 

In baseball, when a fielder drops the ball, the other team can gain an advantage by running through the bases.

To drop the ball is to make a mistake or to make a mess of something, often through carelessness.

“I needed Tim to send me those files for my presentation today, but he didn’t. He’s really dropped the ball on this one.”

9. Hit a home run 

A home run is where a player runs through all four bases and scores for their team.

To “hit a home run” means to do a fantastic job on something.

“Tim could learn a thing or two from you. I haven’t seen him hit a home run like that in a long time.”

10. Knock it out of the park 

Knocking it out of the park is when the batter hits a home run with so much power that it leaves the park. This is usually considered even more impressive than a regular home run.

To “knock it out of the park” means doing a really exceptional job on something.

“Well done on that sales pitch, Bill. You knocked it out of the park.” 

11. Strike out

To strike out in baseball is to have three failed attempts at batting, which means you are then out. To strike out is to fail at something.

“Tim tried to ask the new guy on a date but he got turned down. Looks like he struck out.”

“But Tim already has a boyfriend. He’s pretty rich and good-looking, too.”

“Yeah, Tim is a jerk.”

12. Out of left field 

In the game of baseball, this literally refers to the area covered by the left fielder. The left fielder is the farthest away from the first base and has longer to throw.

When you say an event “came out of left field” it’s similar to saying it “came out of nowhere”. The phrase describes something that is very surprising or unexpected.

“Did you hear that Tim had a heart attack? He’s only 35. Seemed like a healthy guy, too. That came way out of left field.”

Ideas for Studying Sports Idioms

Reading and understanding definitions is helpful. But the key to improving your fluency is to keep these things in mind: exposure (how often you see and hear English), motivation and practice!

The more you are exposed to idioms by hearing them used, the more understanding and using them will come naturally to you.

Here are some sources to get you exposed to the right kind of language for recognizing sports idioms. Using fun sources will keep you motivated and help you keep practicing the phrases you hear.

If you are a sports fan, you may already be reading and watching sports news in English. But if you’re just starting, BBC Sport and other sports news websites can be good sources.

YouTube is also useful for clips with sports language. You can find everything from sports commentary shows to sports highlights.

You can even find sports-related comedy shows (note: those ones often use rude language). Watch a few and see how many new phrases you can pick out.

Later on, you may hear these phrases being used in other situations as idioms.

You could also use a virtual immersion program. FluentU, for example, has annotated captions on all of its videos, which will make it easier to learn the meanings of various idioms.

Follow up on what you have learned by checking out the links above, and try to put a few of these idioms to use.

The ball is in your court!

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