Sports Idioms

Sports generally originate from a specific sport such as baseball or sailing. Over time these phrases have come to mean something that can be used in everyday life. While most sports idioms can still be used when discussing sports, they are even more common in other areas of life, especially the business world. You can study these idioms just as you would any other vocabulary:


**a ballpark figure | a ballpark estimate**
If you give a ballpark figure or a ballpark estimate, you give a number which you think is fairly close to the actual one.

**across the board**
If something is across the board, it relates to all without exception.

**ahead of the game**
You are ahead of the game if you have an advantage over your competitors in any activity in which you try to do better than others, such as in business, academia, sports, etc.

**another string to your bow**
If you have another string to your bow, you have another way of making a living.

**behind the eight ball**
If you're behind the eight ball, you're in a difficult or dangerous position.

**get off on the wrong foot**
If you get off on the wrong foot, you start something poorly, or begin with a mistake.

**jump the gun**
If you jump the gun, you start doing something too soon.

**jump through hoops | go through hoops**
You can say you had to "jump through hoops" or "go through hoops" if you had to complete a lot of tasks before being permitted to do something.

**no holds barred**
If something is done with no holds barred, it's done without restriction, rules or restraint.

**off your own bat**
If you do something off your own bat, you do it without being asked to or told to.

**on the ball**
If you're on the ball, you're alert and you know what's going on around you.

**par for the course**
If something is par for the course, it's what you'd expect it to be.

**plain sailing**
If something is plain sailing, it's very easy to do and there are no problems to overcome.

**quick off the mark**
If you are quick off the mark, you are quick to react to an event or an opportunity.

**run rings around | run circles around**
If you run rings around someone, or run circles around them, you do something much better than they do.

skate on the ice
If you're skating on thin ice, you're doing something risky, or you're in a situation that could
quickly become dangerous.

**the ball's in your court**
If someone you're negotiating with says "the ball's in your court", they think it's your turn to make a move or make an offer.

**the name of the game**
You can say something is the name of the game if it's the most important thing you need to know or to have in order to succeed at something.

**wide of the mark**
If something is wide of the mark, it isn't true or accurate, or it misses the target.

**You can't win them all.**
Something you can say after you, or someone else, loses a contest or fails to achieve something (said to make losing seem not so bad).

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Sports Vocabulary

Sport is one of the most popular topics for conversation. To learn the words you need for conversations about sport, study this sports vocabulary lists:

Example sentence
The arena was full of excited spectators cheering on their team.
a level area for holding sports events, surrounded by seats for spectators
The Olympic Games were originally for amateur athletes only.
engaged in something, like playing sports, without payment; non-professional
Most professional athletes spend hours every day in training.
a person who trains for and competes in a sport
There are some very good runners on our athletics team.
'track and field' events of running, jumping, throwing, etc.
All the members of the winning team were awarded a gold medal.
to give someone something as a reward for high achievement
Italy beat France to win the 2006 FIFA World Cup.
to defeat someone in a game or a competition
The captain usually leads his or her team onto the field.
the leader of a team
A wicketkeeper in cricket must be very good at catching the ball.
to grab and hold something that has been thrown
The boxer Muhammad Ali was World Heavyweight Champion three times.
a top-rated, highly successful player
cheer on
The fans made a lot of noise cheering on their team.
to shout encouragement to a team or a player
Players should carry out their coach's instructions during a game.
a person who trains and directs an athlete or a sports team
Over 10,000 athletes will compete in the Olympic Games.
to take part in a contest or a competition
The English Premiership League is one of the world's top football competitions.
an organized event in which people compete to win
Each competitor in a golf tournament must record his or her own score.
a person who takes part in a competition or a sporting contest
Do you know who won this year's figure skating contest?
a game or event in which people compete to win
The tennis courts at Wimbledon in London have a grass surface.
a quadrangular area on which ball games are played, such as tennis or basketball
A golf course usually has eighteen holes.
an area of land prepared for racing, golf, or other sports
After they won the final game, the winners were awarded the Championship Cup.
a cup-shaped trophy, awarded as a prize in a contest
Our players were very happy after they defeated their opponents in the final game.
to win a victory over opponents in a game or contest; to beat
The team attacked and scored two goals, then spent the rest of the game defending the lead.
to protect one's goal rather than attempt to score against one's opponents
The score was 1-0, but the losing team got a late goal and the game ended in a 1-1 draw.
to finish a contest or game with an even score; tie
The 100 metres run is one of the most exciting events in athletics.
a particular contest in a sporting programme
Sometimes the umpire of a tennis match has to tell noisy fans to be quiet.
a person who supports a particular sport, team or player
How many players are allowed on the field during a baseball game?
a piece of land marked out for a sports contest e.g. hockey field
final score
Today's basketball game was very close. The final score was 84 to 82.
the score at the end of a game
I exercise at the gym every day for fitness and good health.
the condition of being physically fit and healthy
Jimmy got the ball, ran down the pitch, and then scored the best goal of the game.
an instance of scoring in a ball game by getting the ball into a target such as between goal-posts, through a hoop, or into a net.
gym / gymnasium
Our gym has a lot of new exercise equipment, including running machines and cycling machines.
a room or building equipped for physical exercise
The players went into the rooms at half-time and listened to their coach.
the interval between the first and second halves of a game
In sports like diving and gymnastics, judges score each performance in a contest.
a person who rates the quality of a sporting performance, usually by awarding points
Nearly every town in the U.S. has teams in a local baseball league.
a group of sports clubs that play each other over a period for a championship
It's good for kids to spend some of their leisure time playing sports.
free time, or the use of free time for enjoyment
Her lob flew high into the air and dropped into the back of the court, just inside the baseline.
a shot that is hit in a high arc, usually over the opponent's head
Liverpool sacked their manager after they lost eight of their previous ten games.
the person in charge of a sports team
Every athlete's dream is to win a gold medal at the Olympic Games.
a piece of engraved metal given to signify an achievement or an honor
The object of the game of football is to score more goals than the opponents.
the thing you want to get or achieve; what you aim to do
Forwards have to learn how to avoid being caught in an offside position.
In an illegal position ahead of the ball (in football, rugby, hockey, etc.)
Roger Federer's opponent in the Wimbledon final was Rafael Nadal.
the person one competes against in a contest or a game; rival
A defender tries to pass the ball to a forward in a good position to score.
to throw or kick the ball to another player on one's own team
The penalty for abusing a referee is usually a one-match suspension.
a punishment imposed on a player or team for breaking the rules of a sport
All the athletes will do their best to perform well in the Olympic Games.
to carry out a practised activity, such a play a sport
Venus Williams put in one the best performances of her life to win the tournament.
an instance of competing in a sports event in public
Rugby players work hard in the gym to build up their physiques.
the form or shape of a person's body
pitch (1)
The fans cheered as the players ran onto the pitch.
a playing field (British)
pitch (2)
Our pitcher threw one of the best pitches of his life to win the game.
a throw of the ball, esp. in baseball and softball
How many players are on the court during a doubles match in tennis?
a person who plays a sport

(U.S. spelling; practice)
Professional golfers spend hours every day practising their shots.
to repeatedly do something in order to develop one's skill
Tiger Woods has been a professional golfer since he was 20 years old.
a person whose paid occupation is playing a sport
Do you know who holds the world record for the men's 100 metres?
the best performance that has been officially measured and noted
The referee saw a foul, blew his whistle and awarded a free kick.
a sports official with authority to make rulings during a contest
In several sports there is an offside rule, and it's often difficult to explain.
the laws or regulations that govern how a game or sport is played
Do you know how to keep score in badminton?
the number of points a competitor or team earns during a game
Serving the ball is one of the most important skills in sports like tennis.
to hit the ball to begin play (in tennis, table tennis, squash, volleyball, etc.)
In basketball, players try shoot from outside the 3-point line to score the extra points.
to kick, hit, or throw the ball in an attempt to score a goal (in soccer, hockey, basketball, etc.)
Ken has gone to a boxing camp to improve his boxing skills.
the ability to do something well
Spectators can add a lot to sporting events by creating an exciting atmosphere.
a person who watches an event
Good managers know how to teach their players sportsmanship.
an attitude of fairness, respect for opponents, and graciousness in winning or losing
The stadium was built for sports, but it's sometimes used for concerts as well.
a sports arena with tiered seating for spectators
One of the jobs of the manager or coach is to develop a strategy for winning each game.
a plan to achieve an objective
Rugby players have to learn how to tackle an opponent strongly but fairly.
to challenge an opponent who has the ball
Players use tactics such as attacking their opponent's weaknesses in order to win.
an action or strategy planned to achieve an objective
Our daughter's basketball coach says she has a lot of natural talent for the game.
a natural aptitude or skill
The team wins because the players are always looking for their teammates.
a fellow member of a sports team
The best teams spend a lot of time on the training ground working on teamwork.
the combined action of a group of people
The score was very close throughout the game, and it ended in a tie with 89 points each.
a result in a game in which teams have the same final score; a draw
The four major tennis tournaments form what is known as the 'Grand Slam'.
a series of contests between a number of competitors, who compete for an overall prize
Some players are a bit lazy and need a strict trainer to make them work hard.
a person who helps athletes develop their skills and fitness
The hockey team trains every Tuesday and Thursday after school.
to teach a skill over time through instruction; to practise a skill
The players carried the trophy over their heads as they ran around the stadium.
a decorative object awarded as a prize in a contest or a tournament
In a game of cricket, there are two umpires on the field during play.
a sports official with authority to make rulings during a contest
The players had worked very hard, and they deserved their victory.
the act of winning a game or contest
The referee blew his whistle twice to signal the end of the match.
a small instrument that makes a high-pitched noise when blown

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Contributor: Mahshid Safavian
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