Exploring Common Sports Idioms & What They Mean

sports idioms golf hole in one

English is full of phrases and sayings from sports, known as sports idioms. And although these phrases originated in specific sports, they are now used widely in everyday conversations.

Let’s look at some common sports idioms and explore what they mean in sports, and what they mean when used as idioms in day-to-day life.

Athletics idioms

In the long run

Original sports meaning: Particularly in distance running, ‘in the long run’ refers to races that require continual effort over a long distance.

Idiomatic meaning: Something that will become clear or have a certain outcome over a long period of time.

Example: “It might seem hard now, but studying every day will pay off in the long run.”

Home stretch

Original sports meaning: The final straight portion of the racetrack before the finish line.

Idiomatic meaning: The final part of an activity or event.

Example: “We’re in the home stretch of the project, only a few tasks left to complete.”

Going the distance

Original sports meaning: Completing a race, (especially a long one) from start to finish.

Idiomatic meaning: To complete something difficult or to continue with something until it is finished.

Example: “Even though the work is tough, she is going the distance to make sure she graduates.”

Golf idioms

Hole in one

Original sports meaning: Achieving a ‘hole in one’ means the player successfully gets the ball into the hole using only one shot from the starting point.

Idiomatic meaning: Achieving something significant on the first try, or a perfect achievement.

Example: “Landing his dream job straight out of university was a hole in one.”

Par for the course

Original sports meaning: The expected number of shots it should take an expert golfer to complete a hole or course.

Idiomatic meaning: Something that is normal or expected in any given circumstances.

Example: “Traffic jams during rush hour are par for the course in the city.”

Up to par

Original sports meaning: When a player’s performance meets the expected level of play.

Idiomatic meaning: Meeting a certain standard or expectation.

Example: “Your recent work hasn’t been up to par; is everything okay?”

Boxing idioms

Throw in the towel

Original sports meaning: When a boxer ‘throws in the towel,’ it means they have decided to give up the match, showing they agree to stop fighting as a sign of surrender.

Idiomatic meaning: To give up or admit defeat.

Example: “After several attempts to fix the issue himself, he threw in the towel and hired a professional.”

Hitting below the belt

Original sports meaning: Hitting an opponent ‘below the belt’ is considered an illegal move in boxing, often seen as unsportsmanlike or unfair.

Idiomatic meaning: Acting unfairly or saying something that is perhaps too personal or mean.

Example: “His comments about her family were really hitting below the belt.”

Punching above one’s weight

Original sports meaning: When a boxer competes against someone in a higher weight class, suggesting a challenge against a stronger opponent.

Idiomatic meaning: Being in a relationship with someone who is widely considered to be more attractive or desirable.

Example: “People think he’s punching above his weight by dating someone so popular and good-looking.”

Baseball idioms

Step up to the plate

Original sports meaning: ‘Stepping up to the plate’ refers to a batter approaching the home plate to take their turn to bat.

Idiomatic meaning: To take responsibility for something or to volunteer for a task.

Example: “When the team leader left suddenly, Anita stepped up to the plate to guide the project.”

A whole different ball game

Original sports meaning: A situation that is very different from another, as different as one type of ball game is from another.

Idiomatic meaning: A situation that is completely different from what one is used to or expecting.

Example: “Moving from a small town to a big city is a whole different ball game.”

Out of left field

Original sports meaning: A play made from ‘out of left field’ is unexpected because left field is considered a less likely place for a play or throw.

Idiomatic meaning: Something surprising or unexpected happening.

Example: “Her decision to move to another country came out of left field.”

Step up to the plate with British Council English Online

Now that you’ve warmed up with these sports idioms, it’s time to step up to the plate with British Council English Online.

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