Sports Idioms


Sports idioms and metaphors are one of the most common types of idioms in the English language. You can find them a lot in casual spoken English, and the business world. Often, these metaphors use the imagery of action or competition to add emphasis to a description. They are used so frequently that many English-speakers may not notice they are using metaphorical language. We use sports idioms and English metaphors all the time!

Here is our list of 11 English Sports Idioms and Metaphors

Sports Idiom or Metaphor Summary
A big hit be very popular
A curveball an unexpected problem
A false start an unsuccessful attempt
A hurdle an obstacle to overcome
To Kick off to begin a process
A knockout an extremely beautiful woman
An own goal a stupid mistake
To pitch an idea sharing an idea
To play ball cooperating with someone
A rookie a beginner
A slam dunk a great success

English sports idioms and metaphors are used all the time! | Denwasensei

Has a recent piece of shocking news thrown you a curveball? What has been a big hit with you recently? When you kick off this section you may be a rookie at using sports metaphors, but you mustn’t throw in the towel. Learning a language can be a challenge, but the ball’s in your court so don’t worry about false starts, it will be a slam dunk in the end!

Learn how to use English sports idioms and metaphors below! You will also find their common forms, and questions to practise and improve your English!

1. English sports idioms and metaphors: A big hit

a big hit:             

be very popular

Example 1:

The new song by Ed Sheeran is another big hit.

Example 2:

The company’s newest product was a big hit, and profits increased 67%

Example 3:

“My new girlfriend is a big hit with my parents. They think she’s great, so they’re taking her to dinner without me!”

Here are some questions for you:

a. What song is the latest big hit?

b. Who do you think will be the next big hit in the movie industry?

c. What product was supposed to be a big hit, but instead failed miserably?

Common forms 

When learning sports idioms and English metaphors, you should be aware of their common forms. What is a common form? A common form is the words and phrases that often go together with the idiom.

 For example, the idiom “a big hit with somebody.”

T0 be a big hit with + somebody     

The new Toy Story movie was a big hit with the critics.

The latest Ghibli movie is sure to be a big hit with anime fans.

hit it big                  

Did you know? A person can also hit it big. For example:

Muse’s first album was slightly successful, but it wasn’t until their incredible second album that they hit it big. 

2. A curveball

Woman in baseball | Denwasensei

a curveball:                                        

an unexpected problem

a surprising and unpleasant thing

throw (one) a curveball:                

to surprise someone with a difficult problem or question

Example 1:

“I asked my girlfriend to marry me, but she threw me a curveball and said she wants us to move to Canada first.”

Example 2:

The results of the survey was a real curveball for the government, as it revealed 75% of people were against the new legislation.

Example 3:

“Just when you think you have everything under control, life throws you a curveball and it all goes wrong.”

Questions for you:

a. When was the last time life threw you a curveball? How did you handle it?

b. Have you ever been sure you know how a movie or book is going to end, but then it throws you a curveball?

c. What was the last curveball you had to deal with?

3. A false start

a false start:                                      

an unsuccessful attempt

Example 1:

“I had a few false starts when writing my first novel, but eventually I found a story I could write.”

Example 2:

Jen’s acting career got off to a false start when her first role was cancelled at the last minute, but after another few months of searching she landed a different role, in a major Hollywood blockbuster, and she was soon one of the most famous faces in the world.

Example 3:

“Scott had a bit of a false start learning computer code, but he persevered and is now the chief engineer at his software firm.” 


 a. Have you ever had a false start when trying something new, but persevered and succeeded?

b. Were you quick at learning English, or did you have a false start or two?

c. Do you have a relationship now, romantic or platonic, that got off to a false start?

Common forms of this idiom:

get off to + a false start

Todd and I got off to a false start, but we’re good friends now.

4. Sports idioms and English metaphors: A hurdle

a hurdle:             

a problem that must be solved to continue

an obstacle to be overcome

Example 1:

“Our vacation was nearly over at the first hurdle – our plane was cancelled! Fortunately we found a cheap flight the same day.”

Example 2:

Business can face many hurdles when first expanding overseas.

Example 3:

“You don’t become successful without overcoming a few hurdles along the way: no one gets rich overnight.”

 Questions for you:

 a. What hurdles have you faced recently?

b. What are the hurdles you have encountered learning English?

c. Do you see problems as hurdles to overcome, or do you give up easily?

Common forms of this idiom:

 at the first hurdle

I tried to join the gym, but gave up at the first hurdle because they needed a credit card number and I don’t have one!

 face + hurdles

Tina faced many hurdles in her early life, but overcame them all.

5. To kick off 

to kick off:          

to start, to begin a process

Example 1:

“Let’s kick off this meeting by looking at last month’s sales.”

Example 2:

The Beatles kicked off their rise to fame playing clubs in Liverpool and Hamburg.

Example 3:

“Tonight’s party should kick off at about 19.30.”


 a. What’s the best way to kick off a business meeting?

b. How do you like to kick off the day? What do you do each morning?

c. How do you plan to kick off next year? Will you make any resolutions?

Caution: This idiom has an alternate meaning!

 to kick off: for someone/some people to become very angry and violent   (British slang)

“I got badly hurt when the crowd kicked off at the football last year.”

 to kick <someone> off: to force someone off a project or course                 

“Tim was kicked off his training course because he was absent three times.”


Interested in learning more English idioms and metaphors? Check out our other articles!

English Idioms for work

English Idioms of the body


6. English sports idioms and metaphors: A knockout

Boxing glove | Denwasensei

a knockout:      

an extremely beautiful woman

Example 1:

Elizabeth Hurley was a knockout from a young age.

Example 2:

“Remember Daphne, from school? I met her in the supermarket and she’s an absolute knockout now!”

Example 3:

“Your sister’s a total knockout!”


 What actresses do you consider knockouts?

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder: is there anyone you consider a knockout that other people don’t?

Sports idioms and English metaphors: Common forms of knockout:

absolute knockout

Charlotte is an absolute knockout!

knockout (adjective form)

Veronica is looking knockout today! 

7. An own goal

Playing soccer with own goal | Denwasensei

an own goal:                     

a careless failure

a stupid mistake

 score an own goal:         

make a stupid mistake that hurts your own interests

Example 1:

The software company’s switch from game design to online marketing looked like it would be an own goal at first but was instead a great success, doubling profits by 2014.

Example 2:

The President scored an own goal today when he was forgot to turn off his microphone, and was heard calling his own supporters ignorant.

Example 3:

“I got drunk at my promotion party last night and shouted at my boss. What a total own goal.”


 a. Have you ever scored an embarrassing own goal? What happened?

b. What was the last own goal you saw a politician make?

c. Have you ever watched someone do something you warned was an own goal, but they did it anyway and made problems for themselves?

8. To pitch an idea

pitch an idea:               To pitch an idea | Denwasensei

to tell a person or a group of people an idea and see their reaction

sharing an idea or proposal with someone in authority

This phrase is common in business. This means that when you are at work, you pitch ideas to your boss, managers, or team when you do not have the authority to carry out the idea without agreement or permission.

Example 1:

“As this is our first meeting on this project, why don’t we pitch a few ideas on how we should proceed?”

Example 2:

The Chairman was concerned about low employee morale, and sent an email requesting managers pitch ideas on how to improve the work environment.

Example 3:

“I pitched the idea of a new ordering process to increase efficiency, but the Director didn’t like it. Idiot.”


a. What’s the best way to pitch an idea to your boss? Do you need to prepare, or can your pitch be fairly impromptu?

b. Have you ever pitched an idea only to have it rejected?

c. If you could pitch one idea to a business investor, what would it be?

9. To play ball

 play ball:        

cooperating with someone

Example 1:

“Look, I know you wanted to do this differently, but I’m in charge of this project and I need you to play ball with me.”

Example 2:

If a prisoner plays ball with the prison authorities, they can often have their sentence reduced by two to three years.

Example 3:

“I thought this divorce would be quick and painless, but Ursula won’t play ball so now I have to hire a lawyer.”


 a. Are you a good employee who plays ball with your co-workers?

b. When was the last time you really needed someone to play ball with you, but they refused?

c. How can you encourage children to play ball with you when they don’t want to do their homework?

Common forms:

 play ball with <someone>           

You play ball with me, I’ll play ball with you.

refuse to play ball            

The newspaper refused to play ball with the celebrity’s demand

10. English sports idioms and metaphors: A rookie

a rookie:             

a beginner, inexperienced

someone new to a profession

Example 1:

“Let’s give this project to the rookie, and see what he can do.”

Example 2:

When Scarlett was a rookie police officer she solved more than 7 high-profile cases, bringing her to the attention of the FBI recruitment office.

Example 3:

“I totally forgot to bring my laptop for my business presentation! What a rookie mistake.”


 a. Are you a rookie at language learning, or have you learned a language before?

b. Have you ever had to train a rookie at work?

c. When was the last time you made a rookie mistake?

Common forms:

 a rookie mistake              

a stupid mistake that shouldn’t happen

“I made a rookie mistake when I forgot my wife’s birthday.”

11. A slam dunk

Sports idioms and metaphors in English involve all kinds of sports

a slam dunk                       

The phrase a slam dunk means a great success. It is something that will definitely succeed.

 Example 1:

“The new Marvel movie is sure to be a slam dunk for Disney.”

Example 2:

“Scott has more than enough experience to make this new game proposal a slam dunk.”

Example 3:

The government assumed the new legislation would be a slam dunk, so were shocked when it failed in the vote 79 – 181.


 a. What was your last slam dunk?

b. Have you ever thought something would be a slam dunk, but it then failed?

c. What new product do you think will be a definite slam dunk?

Learning natural English idioms and metaphors is vital to becoming a confident, fluent speaker. Explore more of our site to learn many more!


Interested in learning more English idioms and metaphors? Check out our other articles!

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