Sports Idioms for the Office

Are you ready to hit the field (enter into) in the business world, equipped with the English language skills and vocabulary you’ll need to succeed? If so, you will also want to make sure and bring your A-game (do your very best) by learning some often-used idioms, like the ones above.

What’s an idiom, you ask? Idioms are commonly used expressions in which the word or phrase has a different meaning than the direct translation. In other words, idioms have a commonly understood second meaning that native speakers know.

Idioms have many origins, so to make learning these expressions even more fun, all the following all derived from sports, but are regularly used in the business world.

archery-782503_12801.Call the shots  

This idiom means to be in charge or to be the one making decisions. You might use it when describing a client, as in “He seems ready to buy our product, but I know it’s his supervisor who really calls the shots.”

Sports source: It is believe that this idiom comes from the sport of target practice (with a bow and arrow), in which people would “call,” or announce, what they were going to shoot.

basketball-885786_12802. Drop the ball  

Dropping the ball is something you don’t want to do, since it means to make a mistake or not do something you were supposed to do. If you said you’d bring doughnuts to the Friday sales meeting and you forgot, your colleagues will tell you that you really “dropped the ball!”

Sports source: It comes from sports like football, in which a player might literally drop the ball and disappoint the team.

football-606235_12803. Get the ball rolling  

This simply means to get things started. You might be asked to get the ball rolling on a new project, so you’ll get busy creating a timeline and assigning tasks to staff members.


Sports source: There a lots of sports, like soccer or bowling, that begin once the ball starts rolling on the field or down the lane.

board-game-529586_1280 4. Go back to square one  

This means to start all over again at the beginning. It usually has a slightly negative tone, as in “The customer did not accept my first proposal, so now I’ve got to go back to square one and try another approach.”

Sports source: This one comes more from games than sports, and refers to board games (like Monopoly) that have a starting square where all players begin.


5. In the home stretch

If you’re in the home stretch on a project, you’re almost finished! For example, if you’re asked about your progress on a long project, your boss will be happy to hear you say, “I’m in the home stretch.”

Sports source: In horse races, the home stretch refers to the last part of the track, when the race is almost finished.

athlete-676255_12806. Jump the gun  

Usually a negative expression, if you jump the gun on something, you begin too soon: “On her first day at the new job, Katie jumped the gun by presenting a PowerPoint about her ideas to reorganize the entire company.”

Sports source: In running sports, like track, a gun is shot to signal all runners to begin the race. If you start running before that gunshot, you are “jumping the gun.”

box-62867_12807. Throw in the towel

Simply put, if you throw in the towel, you give up. You might hear words of encouragement in the office, such as, “We can’t just throw in the towel on this account after all our hard work. Let’s follow up with the client again.”


Sports source: This probably derived from boxing, in which an opponent would throw a white towel into the ring to signal surrender.

Now when you hear a client tell you she’s ready to get the ball rolling and work with your company, you can be sure you’ll understand her meaning so that you don’t drop the ball!

Interested in studying more topics in Business English? Learn more about Business English classes in Denver, and about sports in the Mile-High City.