Sports Idioms That Will Explain Everything

Sports idioms

Big deadline you and the design team have to meet? No worries. Huddle up, make a game plan, keep your eyes downfield, then hit it out of the park. Go for the gold, even.

The boss loves it? Of course she does because you know your idea lit the lamp, and no stinking deadline was gonna KO you. Wait, you ask, what are we talking about here?

Well, what was a work project now reads like a sports page column because over the years, sports idioms have become an accepted part of the colloquial lexicon on and off the field. Listed here are some of our favorites, (sure they may be little cliche), but using them adds some color to your vocabulary. And frankly, we think that’s a win.

WATCH: Can You Correct These Idioms?

Par for the course

Ever had a day that was just, well, meh. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good either. You spilled coffee on your shirt. Traffic was snarled. Work was the same as yesterday. The printer jammed, and your boss asked you to take more responsibility for the same amount of money. In other words, your day was par for the course.

It’s a phrase brought to us from golf, par being the average number of strokes it takes to complete any particular hole, and par for the course being the average number of strokes it takes to complete all eighteen holes.

Go under par stroke and you’re doing well. Go a couple strokes over par, on the other hand, and you’re ready to send your five iron into the lake by fairway nine. Shooting par on the other hand is just the happy (or meh) median.

Hail Mary

Your English term paper is due at 9am tomorrow. It’s supposed to be about the implicit themes in Beowulf, but there’s a hitch. You, like the rest of the sane world outside the stodgy English Department, have never read Beowulf, and you’re not about to start now. But, you’re going to wing this thing. In other words, you’re tossing up a Hail Mary.

The term Hail Mary is used in American football (first coined by a devout Catholic Dallas Cowboys quarterback), and it’s derived from a scenario in which, with time for a single play remaining, one final hopeful sling toward the end zone is made. Typically, the play results in an incomplete pass, the pigskin falling harmlessly to the ground. In some instances, however, a Hail Mary has been known to work, and in those rare cases, you’ve managed to emerge victorious by the narrowest of margins.

Our advice: Count your blessings, and next semester when Paradise Lost is assigned, avoid the Hail Mary and just read the book.

Drop the gloves

So, the wife reminds you of Saturday brunch with her family. But, there’s a game on, your dirty sweatpants are comfortable, and frankly you just don’t feel like getting dressed. She replies too bad, brunch with her family is what you do on Saturdays now. You say no. She says yes. You’re both spoiling for a fight. What to do? Looks like it’s time to drop the gloves (in a verbal, non-physical manner please).

The term drop the gloves comes from hockey, and when that happens, things on the ice are about to get interesting. When a player drops the gloves, they are ready to fight it out (their big gloves get in the way). You see, hockey remains unique among major North American sports as the only one allowing fights within the course of a game, punishable by five minutes in the sin bin of course.

And, though we aren’t supposed to condone fighting, we admit, a good on-ice donnybrook is pretty entertaining, as long as its within the confines of the rules (an important thing to remember when considering dropping the gloves with your better half over Saturday brunch).

Dropped the ball

We all screw up. Sometimes our infractions are small: forgetting to take out the trash or not washing the dishes, for instance. Sometimes, they’re much larger: like say forgetting your spouse’s birthday. But, whether they be large, small, or somewhere in the middle, you’ve dropped the ball no matter which way you spin it.

This term also comes to us from American football. And, if it sounds simple that’s because it is. The ball was thrown to you. You dropped it, and that’s on you. The important thing in all this is to remember not to drop the ball again. The best thing to do afterward: go back to the huddle, apologize, and make the catch next time.

Have the upper hand

On the other side of the coin, say it’s your birthday that they forgot. Well, now you have the upper hand. Having the upper hand is an idiom that comes to us from poker, and essentially it means you’ve been dealt a winner. Yes, we know what you’re thinking: Is poker really a sport? To that we say: hey, it’s on ESPN, so we’re just gonna assume it is. (That being said, the National Spelling Bee is on ESPN too, and that is a sport we can get behind!)

Regardless, that friend or spouse who forgot your birthday is feeling pretty low right now. So remember, up the ante as much as you want. Your opponent on the other end of the table doesn’t have the cards to beat you.

Slam dunk

“Do you want me to shoot it? No!!! Do you want me to pass it? No!!! Do you want me to slam it? Yeah!!!”

This is the hook from Shaquille O’Neal’s aptly titled song “Shoot, Pass, Slam” from his 1993 album Shaq Diesel. We understand if you haven’t heard it, nobody has. But, bear with us because it’s the perfect metaphor for our next sports idiom: slam dunk.

In the traditional parlance, slam dunk is when a player drives a basketball down the lane, leaps into the air, rises above the rim, and slams it through the hoop with menace. In common usage, the term has come to mean easily accomplishing an action or a task with little effort.

In both cases, Shaq himself was particularly adept. Being nearly seven feet tall, the man could slam dunk a basketball with aplomb. (And, as seen by the lyrics above, his pursuits off the basketball court were a slam dunk, as well.)

Jump the gun

The runners set themselves in the blocks beneath the line. It’s the finals, the medal round in the 100-meter, the most prestigious track-and-field event. Anticipation in the arena builds. The starting pistol cracks. The runners are out quick. A roar erupts from the crowd. Then, it happens. Everyone stops. The moment is ruined. Somebody jumped the gun.Jumping the gun means starting a task too early, usually culminating in a disappointing outcome, or worse having to start over. Obviously, the term originated in track and field—back in the days when starting pistols were still a thing.

Colloquially, however, it has come to be used for just about any situation in which an individual has acted before the appropriate time. Published an article without verifying your sources? Yup, jumped the gun and contributed to the ongoing epidemic of fake news while you were at it. Remember, patience is a virtue.

Down for the count

Your nose starts running, joints are a little achy, head feels like a balloon detached from your body. Yup, it’s the flu. But, what can you do, you’re (as the sports idiom goes) down for the count.

The term comes to us from boxing, and typically, it is used when one boxer takes a mean shot to the jaw and goes down for the ten count, thus ending the bout. Outside of the ring, however, it’s connotation is far less violent, simply meaning somebody is out of working order for a little while.

It’s not all bad though, like the boxer you’ll get back up again.


So, it’s date night. You got all dressed up. You think you’re going somewhere special: the steakhouse, probably. You can practically taste the ribeye now. The car slows and hits an offramp, but there’s a problem. That particular offramp is three exits short of downtown and leads to an Applebees in the strip mall. Well, that was unexpected. In other words, you just got tossed a curveball.

Curveball is an idiom from baseball, and in baseball it is a particular type of pitch that generates enough spin on the baseball causing it to curve from high to low. Typically, it’s an off-speed pitch, and it’s used to keep batters off balance.

For those not on a baseball diamond, however, a curveball is anything unexpected. Life has a way of doing that on occasion.

On the ropes

Ok, we get it . . . maybe you’re on the ropes by the end of this slideshow, but hang on for one more!

On the ropes is another idiom that comes to us from the boxing ring, and it is understood as an instance when one fighter has another trapped against the ropes and proceeds to administer punishing blows, typically leading to a knockout.

For the rest of us, however, on the ropes means you’ve simply had enough. Could be you had enough turkey at Thanksgiving dinner and now you’re fighting getting sick. Could mean you’ve been up all night cramming for that exam and you can’t keep your eyes open any longer. Could simply be you’ve read one too many slides on your favorite reference book’s website. Whatever the case, you’re over it and on the ropes. And, that’s why this list is now over!

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