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Sports Idioms

English speakers often use phrases taken from sports as metaphors in business and everyday situations. This can be a bit difficult to understand for those who speak English as a second language, and especially so when the expressions are taken from such particularly US American sports as baseball and American football. Let's take a look today at the way some sports expressions are used in other contexts. 


I've been workin' on my game plan perfectly!

Caption 16, David Haye - Video Blog June 2011

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A "game plan" is a general sports term that is often applied to any kind of project, and thus means the plan for implementing a project.


But, yeah, we've been scoring surf...

Caption 42, Naish Kiteboarding TV - Meet Team Naish

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The verb "to score" is derived from scoring a goal in sports or scoring points in a game, but in slang usage also means "to get" something that isn't just taken for granted or to get a good deal, such as "I scored a new computer for 50 dollars!" 


Been here for eight years. Tips are good, call my own shots...

Caption 12, Drivers Wanted - Pizza Delivery - Part 4

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A person who "calls the shots" originates from the team captain in sports, but is used to mean a person who is in charge ("Who calls the shots around here?") or has control of a situation.


Applicants often use buzzwords such as "hard-working," "motivated" or "team player"

Caption 50, Business English - Curriculum Vitae - Part 2

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The term "team player" comes from team sports, but in a business sense it means somebody who works well with other people, not just independently.


Here are some other commonly used sports terms you may hear in non-sports contexts: 


— to fumble This term originates from American football, and means "to drop the ball", or in a figurative sense, "to make a mistake" or "to perform poorly."


—to hit a home run This is an American baseball term, and in non-sports contexts it means "be be successful."


—in the home stretch This is a horse racing term, where it means the horse is in the last part of the racecourse between the last turn and the finish line. In other contexts it means "nearly finished" or "in the last stages" of a project.


—to jockey into position Another horse racing term, otherwise meaning "to find one's place" or "to maneuver" or "to manipulate" as a means of gaining advantage.


—to pitch The verb "to pitch" originates from American baseball, but in a business sense it means "to make a proposal" or "to try to sell" something. The noun "pitch" is often used in the business sense as a "sales pitch", which is a business proposal.


—to play ball This general sports term means, in other contexts, "to participate" or "to follow the rules."


—to play with a full deck This card game term means that somebody is well-informed or well-prepared, whereas "not playing with a full deck" suggests that somebody is mentally unstable or not intelligent.


—second stringer This American football term refers to players who are not the best on the team and are the second choice in playing on the field, usually only appearing if a "first stringer" has been injured or if winning the game is already a foregone conclusion. In business parlance, it means that the person is not the first choice to fulfill a designated task.


—to strike out Much like the American football term "to fumble", this term is from American baseball and means the batter fails to hit the ball completely or fouls out. In a non-sports context, it means "to perform poorly" or "to fail" at an assigned task.


Further Learning
Look online for the above terms used in non-sports contexts, and see if you can formulate some sentences using the terms in a similar fashion. 


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