Sports Terms Used In Business

Ever wonder why we so commonly use sports terms to describe events and situations in business?

It’s because the similarities between sport and business are so very often aligned; they both involve practice, goals, evaluation, achievement, and failure, among other things.

A figure of speech or phrase from sports can serve as a concise form of expression in business because it is easily understood and relatable.


    Common sports terms used in business – listed by sport

    Below you will find a list of idioms and sports terms commonly used in business, finance, investing, and other aspects of corporate culture. Each term is categorized by the sport from which it derives.

    1. Baseball – sports terms used in business

    Around The Horn – To go from person to person (in a meeting, for example). In baseball, when players throw the ball from one infield position to the next.

    On Deck – The next item or person to become the central focus. In baseball, the player who stands ready to step to the plate and bat next.

    Home Run – A major achievement. In baseball, a hit that clears the outfield fence, scoring the batter and anyone on base at the time.

    Knocked It Out Of The Park – Used as a compliment for a major achievement or job well done. In baseball, a home run (see above).

    Grand Slam – A major achievement. In baseball, a home run that takes place with the bases loaded.

    Batter Up – When it’s time to step up and take action. In baseball, when a player steps up to the plate to bat.

    Go To Bat – To take on a cause or mission. In baseball, when a player stands ready to bat the ball.

    In The Ballpark – A rough estimate or proximal guess, as in “a ballpark estimate.” In baseball, the ballpark consists of the stadium and the field of play.

    A Curveball – An unexpected event or question. In baseball, a pitched ball that changes planes as it travels through the strike zone.

    Pitch A Shutout – A complete and thorough achievement. In baseball, when a pitcher completes a game without any runs scored by the opponent.

    Baseball terms used in business

    More baseball idioms

    Keep Your Eye On The Ball – To maintain focus and concentration on your objective. In baseball, a reminder to the batter to stay focused at the plate.

    Pinch Hitter – A person who stands in for someone else. In baseball, a bench player who bats in place of a starter, usually for strategic advantage.

    Touch Base – To be in contact with someone. In baseball, when a base runner establishes or maintains contact with a base.

    Swing For The Fences – To take your best shot at something, hoping for a successful outcome. In baseball, hitting a home run.

    Out Of Left Field – When something unexpected happens. In baseball, most of the game action takes place in the infield.

    Wally Pipp – Be careful because your replacement may take your job, and do it better than you. In baseball, a reference to the player (Wally Pipp) who was a starter for the New York Yankees until his backup took over, the Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig.

    Inning – A reference to the stage of completion or point in time, as in “We’re only in the third inning.” In baseball, a normal game lasts nine innings.

    Off Base – To be incorrect or misplaced. In baseball, positioning a player away from the base.

    Two Strikes Against – To be near failure but have one more chance. In baseball, when a player has two strikes, they make an out on the next strike unless they get a hit.

    Step Up To The Plate – To try or attempt, a good-faith effort. In baseball, when a player steps to the plate to bat.

    Play Hardball – Negotiations without compromise. In baseball, the ball is known as a hardball since it is harder and smaller than a softball.

    More baseball phrases

    Bush League – Something or someone acting without high character or morals. In baseball, the minor leagues are known as bush leagues.

    Willing To Play Ball – When someone is willing to cooperate, discuss arrangements, or negotiate a deal. In baseball, the umpire declares to both teams “Play ball!” at the beginning of the game.

    Strike Out – When a deal collapses or is terminated. In baseball, the third strike in an at-bat is an out.

    Utility Player – Someone who can step in and cover for someone else without any loss. In baseball, a utility player is usually a bench player (non-starter) who is capable of playing and filling in at many positions.

    On The Bench – The personnel ready to take over when needed. In baseball, the players who are not starters wait on the bench until needed in the game.

    Rain Check – To delay or postpone an event or meeting with the promise of revisiting it at a later time. In baseball, a rain check is issued when a game is canceled because of rain or inclement weather and is to be played at a later date.

    Wheelhouse – One’s area of expertise and skill. In baseball, the area of the strike zone where the batter has the most success hitting the ball.

    2. Football – sports terms used in business

    Hail Mary – A last-ditch attempt to achieve a goal. In football, when a team tries to score by throwing a long pass into the end zone for a touchdown.

    Go The Extra Yard – To give extra effort. In football, when a rusher tries for extra yardage instead of yielding to oncoming tacklers.

    A Game Of Inches – A reference to the small details that matter for success. In football, a common reference by announcers about the huge difference a small distance can make in the success or failure of a team.

    End Run – An unexpected or unorthodox strategy to achieve a goal. In football, a run around the end of the offensive line instead of running directly ahead.

    Split The Uprights – Precision exhibited in an achievement. In football, when a field goal is made right down the middle.

    Cross The Goal Line – To finish your objective to the end. In football, a score is not made until the ball crosses the goal line.

    Take The Ball And Run – To be proactive in achieving your goals. In football, an aggressive approach to moving the ball down the field.

    Call An Audible – To change an approach or strategy. In football, when a quarterback changes the play at the line of scrimmage just before the ball is snapped.

    Kick-Off – The beginning of a project or event. In football, a kick-off starts the game.

    Football terminology used in business

    More football idioms

    Blitz – Make an aggressive move forward all together to achieve a goal. In football, defensive players rush towards the quarterback to force an error by the offense.

    Huddle – To gather the team together to discuss strategy. In football, when players gather before lining up to communicate the next play.

    Punt – To give up or cede power to another. In football, when a team has not achieved a first down after three downs, they sometimes punt the ball to put the opposition in worse field position.

    Blindsided – When something unexpected happens. In football, the area behind the quarterback is known as the blindside, where he is most vulnerable to oncoming tacklers.

    Focus On Blocking And Tackling – To pay attention to the small details and fundamentals. In football, the foundational elements of the game.

    Fumbled The Ball – To error or make a mistake. In football, to drop the ball, usually turning it over to the other team.

    Spike The Football – An overt celebration of an achievement. In football, a player often throws the ball to the ground with emphasis after scoring a touchdown.

    Next Man Up – Seamlessly stepping into place if someone can’t or is unable to perform their role. In football, the players on the sideline who spell the starters as needed.

    Move The Goalposts – To change the stated goals in-process to one’s benefit. In football, the goalposts are stationary and never change position.

    Monday Morning Quarterback – To challenge or question decisions after the fact. In football, someone who is critical of play calling after the game is over.

    3. Basketball phrases

    Full Court Press – To put all resources to work in pursuit of a goal. In basketball, when players aggressively defend an offensive possession for the full length of the court instead of just from half court.

    A Slam Dunk – A sure thing or guaranteed outcome. In basketball, when a player jumps with the basketball and throws it down through the hoop in one motion.

    Buzzer Beater – Achieving a goal at the very last moment. In basketball, a shot that scores just before the final buzzer is sounded.

    Give It Your Best Shot – To give an honest effort in achieving a goal. In basketball, putting your best effort into your game.

    4. Golf terms

    Hole In One – An unexpected and sometimes miraculous achievement. In golf, a ball that is hit with one stroke over the fairway and lands directly in the hole.

    Straight Down The Fairway – To take the conventional route to achieve a goal. In golf, a shot from the tee box that stays in the middle of the fairway.

    Par For The Course – Events or situations that are typical or entirely predictable. In golf, a score that equals par for that particular course.

    Tee It Up – To set up in preparation of a project or venture. In golf, to set the golf ball on a tee to begin play.

    The Leader Board – The generally-accepted leaders in the field of business. In a golf tournament, the current leaders are displayed on the leader board.

    Up To Par – A suitably acceptable level of performance. In golf, a score that equals par.

    5. Boxing – sports terms used in business

    On The Ropes – To be on the verge of defeat or failure. In boxing, when a boxer retreats against the ropes, taking blows from his opponent and nearing defeat.

    Down For The Count – Nearing failure or defeat. In boxing, when a boxer is knocked down and the referee begins a ten-second count.

    Rope-A-Dope – To feign submission in order to gain an advantage. In boxing, when a boxer pretends to be trapped against the ropes, taking punches that eventually wear out his opponent.

    Lost A Step – A slow down or misstep in process. In boxing, when a boxer shows a loss of skill, energy, or speed in his performance.

    Throw In The Towel – To end the process, admitting defeat. In boxing, throwing in the towel means conceding victory to the opponent.

    Beat Them To The Punch – Taking a tactical advantage of a situation before someone else. In boxing, taking advantage of the opponent’s defenses to score a punch.

    Come Out Swinging – An aggressive approach from the start. In boxing, the strategy of attacking the opponent right away.

    Heavy Hitter – A business person of significant power or standing in the corporate organization. In boxing, a boxer who punches hard against his opponent in the ring.

    Learning The Ropes – To learn and understand the nature of something before acting on it. In boxing, the ropes surround the ring on all sides. A boxer who negotiates with dexterity within the ropes holds the advantage.

    Boxing phrases used in business

    More boxing idioms

    Heavyweight – A power player, skilled veteran, or someone not to be trifled with. In boxing, the heaviest class of pugilists.

    Lightweight – An inconsequential person or newbie. In boxing, a fighter who is not heavy.

    Lead With Your Chin – To leave yourself vulnerable to attack. In boxing, leaving your chin exposed.

    One-Two Punch – A two-step approach to success. In boxing, two punches delivered sequentially, staggering the opponent.

    Bare Knuckle – Uncompromising dealmaking or negotiations (discarding all pleasantries). In boxing, fighting without gloves.

    Square Off – To ready oneself for a fight. In boxing, the beginning stance boxers take in the ring.

    Ringside Seat – Having a front-row view of things. In boxing, the seats immediately in front of the ring.

    A Glass Jaw – A sensitive or fragile demeanor. A boxer who is easily injured or defeated is said to have a glass jaw.

    In Your Corner – Assistance and support from your team. In boxing, the support team that assists a boxer between rounds.

    Blow-By-Blow – A detailed description of events. In boxing, a blow-by-blow is how the announcer describes the action in the ring.

    Punch Drunk – To feel overwhelmed or confused. In boxing, too many hits to the head will cause dazedness and confusion.

    Knock Out Blow (K.O.) – The final or decisive move or action that achieves success. In boxing, the knock-out blow is the punch that drops the opponent, achieving a win.

    More boxing phrases used in business

    Down And Out – To be destitute or without luck. A boxer who is down and out has been counted out and lost the match.

    Sucker Punch – An unfair and unexpected attack. In boxing, a sucker punch is when someone is hit with his guard down.

    Below The Belt – An unfair or unlawful attack. In boxing, no punches are allowed below the waistline or belt.

    Low Blow – (See ‘Below The Belt’ above.)

    Throw Your Hat In The Ring – To take part in something, participate. In boxing, an early tradition held that boxers signified their willingness to fight by tossing their hat in the ring.

    Roll With The Punches – To take adversity in stride. In boxing, success comes to the participant who can sustain himself through the match.

    Saved By The Bell – When the allotted time runs out before failure. In boxing, at the end of each round the bell in rung, giving a boxer time to regain composure.

    Take It On The Chin – Earning your lumps. In boxing, the ability to get hit and still stand and fight.

    Pull Your Punches – To hold back from delivering a devastating blow for strategic purposes. In boxing, the idea that not all blows are the same, introducing an element of surprise.

    6. Horse Racing – sports terms used in business

    Neck and Neck – Of equal value or position. In horse racing, two horses running side-by-side are said to be neck and neck.

    Front Runner – The person or company in the lead. In horse racing, the horse that is leading the pack and likely to win.

    Home Stretch – The final phase of a project or endeavor. In horse racing, the last section of track before the finish line.

    By A Nose – A close victory. In horse racing, a close win or photo finish.

    Cross The Finish Line – Completion of a project or goal. In horse racing, when horses reach the finish line to complete the race.

    Hands Down – Showing ease, without condition. In horse racing, the jockey drops his hands to his sides upon winning the race.

    Down To The Wire – To finish something at the very last second. In horse racing, an expression meaning the moment horses cross the finish line.

    Head Start – To gain advantage by starting early. In horse racing, a horse with a head start has the advantage over other horses in the starting gate.

    A Sprint To The Finish – Giving extra effort in the last stages to achieve victory or success. In horse racing, the sprint to the finish line determines the winner.

    A Two-Horse Race – When the contest is down to two contestants. In horse racing, a race often comes down to two horses vying to finish first.

    Sports terms used in business

    7. Tennis idioms

    The Ball Is In Your Court – The opportunity to act or not. In tennis, a player responds to the ball when it is played to their side of the court.

    Game, Set, Match – The ending or final action. In tennis, the final point of a match ends the contest.

    Aced It – A decisive, successful action. In tennis, a serve that is in-bounds and not returned is called an ace.

    Unforced Error – A mistake made of one’s own volition. In tennis, an unforced error leads to points for the opponent.

    8. Hockey

    Hat Trick – Three consecutive wins or scores. In hockey and cricket, three scores in a row or within a game constitute a hat trick.

    The Gloves Are Off (Drop The Gloves) – To cast all civil formalities aside. In hockey, the gloves come off in a fight on the ice.

    Light The Lamp – To score or win. In hockey, the red goal light is lit when a goal is scored.

    9. Olympics – sports terms used in business

    Go For Gold – To achieve greatness. In the Olympics, the highest award given to participants is the gold medal.

    A Marathon – A long and challenging endeavor. In the Olympics, the marathon is a long-distance running event.

    Dive Into – To immerse oneself into something. In the Olympics, competitive diving is a staple of the summer games.

    10. Track & Field

    Jump The Gun – To start too early. In track and field, jumping the gun to start the race can disqualify you.

    Cleared The Hurdle – To get past barriers in a process. In track and field, runners must leap over a series of hurdles to get to the finish line.

    Go The Distance – To see a project or goal through to completion. In track and field, long-distance runners must pace themselves to endure the race.

    Pass The Baton – To pass off responsibility to another. In track and field, relay runners are responsible for a section of the race before they hand the baton to the next runner.

    11. Wrestling

    Go To The Mat – To take a side in an argument or dispute. Wrestlers take on their opponent on the mat.

    No Holds Barred – When no restrictions are in place. In wrestling, sometimes certain holds are against the rules unless there are no restrictions.

    12. More sports terms used in business

    Here are a few more phrases you’ll often hear used in business conversations and meetings.

    Take One For The Team – A declaration of self-sacrifice. Giving of oneself for the greater good.

    On The Ball – Showing focus and skill.

    Dropped The Ball – Making an error or letting down the team.

    Get Your Head In The Game – Achieving focus and proper attention.

    MVP – The most valuable player on the team.

    Time Out – Taking time off or stopping action temporarily.

    Game Plan – The strategy for winning.

    Beat At Your Own Game – When someone uses your techniques against you to achieve victory.

    Team Player – All for one and one for all.

    Whole New Ball Game – When circumstances change for the better.

    Level Playing Field – To make sure the situation is fair to all players or individuals involved.

    Ahead Of The Game – To prepare ahead of time to achieve an advantage.

    Long Shot – An unlikely event or outcome.

    Wild Card – An outlier that has a chance to succeed.

    Make The Cut – The individuals or staff selected for a team or project.

    Get The Ball Rolling – The first moves to start a project or meeting.

    Take The Bull By The Horns – Make an aggressive move to gain an advantage.

    Thanks for reading these sports terms used in business. Check out these other interesting word lists:

    Where Does That Idiom Come From?

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    By Greg Johnson | Published 11/23/2021

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