Sports Idioms: Sound Like a Native Professional

Jessica Beck
Ten idioms with definitions and example sentences that can be used at work, so students can sound more like a native and less like a textbook.

Have you ever studied business English? If so, you’ve likely learned very formal vocabulary and structures. 

Perhaps you’ve tried to take those lessons out into the world and use them with native speakers. However, before you got the chance to open your mouth, you noticed something: the English-speaking professionals around you DO NOT SOUND LIKE A TEXTBOOK!

The fact is that in many professional contexts, natives will tend to be more informal — with coworkers, long-term clients, peers at networking events, and even new connections at industry conferences. 

One very specific way you can sound more natural and informal, just like a native, is by using sports idioms. These phrases abound in the business world, from the top of the corporate ladder to the new intern on his or her first day. Thus, if you are unfamiliar with these idioms and their meaning, you may not be able to connect to others and build stronger professional relationships.

You may look at this list and wonder, “Hey, aren’t these mainly American idioms?” The answer is yes, but, although many of these sports idioms are American in origin, they have become more and more common all over the world. 

Yet another reason to learn today’s vocabulary is that using idioms is an effective way to get your point across in a way that is more memorable than literal language. These phrases paint an image for the listener, and this person will be more likely to want to listen and engage with you.

Sports Idioms for the Business World

hit it out of the park– Do or perform something extremely well

  • Wow, Tom, you really hit that presentation out of the park. Everyone loved it!

down for the count– Unable to continue

  • I heard that company had to declare bankruptcy. It seems they’re down for the count and will close very soon.

throw a Hail Mary– Try something, out of desperation, that has almost no chance at success

  • I could not find anyone to create the website I wanted. Finally, I just threw a Hail Mary and called my cousin, who’s into computers. I got lucky on that one, and our new site looks great! 

benched– Taken out of something, like a team or project 

  • If you show up to work late more than twice, the boss will bench you. You’ll get no new client referrals after that. 

in my/your wheelhouse– Within one’s area of expertise or talent

  • Sales is not really in my wheelhouse, but if no one else is willing to try, I’ll meet with Mr. Johnson about the new products.

minor league / major league– (Minor) Having little influence or power; (Major) Having a lot of influence or power

  • I think selling to individuals is real minor league stuff. If you want to make real money, you need to be selling to other businesses.

drop the ball– Make a mistake; Not take care of one’s responsibilities

  • Sorry, guys, I dropped the ball on that one. I was supposed to get Miss Plinth to sign the contract before today, and I completely forgot.

a slam-dunk– Something that is certain

  • Charles is a slam-dunk for VP. I know for a fact that the big boss has wanted to promote him for months.

throw a curveball– To surprise or introduce something unexpected

  • She really threw me a curveball when she wanted the documents all translated into Chinese and Japanese. Good thing it’s so easy to hire translators these days!

the ball’s in their/your court– It’s their / your responsibility now

  • Listen, I already sent them a counteroffer. I’m not going any lower than that price. The ball’s in their court to decide.
  • Choose four idioms that you want to use from today’s lesson.
  • Write them down, with their definitions.
  • Then, write your own sentence using each of the idioms.
  • Read these sentences out loud.

Recommended reading and listening:

Photo courtesy Biser Todorov (adapted)

Written by Jessica Beck for EnglishClub December 2020
Jessica Beck is a proud member of the All Ears English team. At AEE, we focus on teaching REAL English, not textbook English. Listen to the All Ears English podcast for free.

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