• Daniel Bullock

Top 25 Sports Idioms for Natural English

Updated: May 9

idiom, natural English, grammar, ball, soccer, player
He is on the ball

What are sports idioms and why do I need them?

Have you ever dropped the ball? As a learner of English you may get confused or misunderstand when people use idioms in English. Often what native speakers of English say is not literal, when idioms are concerned. That’s why it is good to expand your idiomatic vocabulary. How can you learn idioms you might ask? Read on to find out more about very common idioms in English, and how you can learn to use them in your daily English conversation. If you can use these idioms effectively, you will sound more natural, and closer to a native speaker of English.


  1. When do we use sports idioms or phrasal verbs?

  2. Table of top 25 sports idioms

  3. Idioms examples for students of English

When do we use sports idioms?

Sports Idioms are used when playing sports, right? Well, kind of. In reality, expressions about sports are used in all areas of modern life.

Idioms for business English

idiomatic phrases, business meeting, playing ball
Will he play ball?

Whether you are at the office, making a business deal or talking to coworkers, you may come across sports idioms. If your boss asks if he can touch base with you, what does he mean? You may come across this idiom at work, and if you do not know it, there may be a misunderstanding! To touch base means to be updated on your news, or work progress.

Idioms for general English conversation

In general social situations too, you will encounter sports terminology. How would you respond if your friend said: “Jack is really staying ahead of the game with his website” What we mean by this is he has made a great website, which is modern and ready to take advantage of new trends.

Idioms to use at school

tennis, ball, court, crowd of people, idioms and their meaning
The ball is in your court now

Just as in regular social situations, students will encounter sports idioms during your school life. What do you say if your classmate said: “The ball is in your court now” But, you are not playing tennis? What they mean is, it”s your turn to do something, or to respond. A teacher could assign homework, and say to you: “The ball is in your court now” and what they mean is, I have done my job, now you need to do yours and complete this homework!

Idioms are everywhere in English

Today we are checking out expressions related to sports to help you with your English vocabulary. But idioms in English cover all areas of conversation. If you would like to know the meanings of other idiom topics and see examples in sentences, along with how to use them, why not check out another of our posts here at Daniel’s English Club?

Table of 25 top sports idioms with definitions

Play fair - to follow the rules

On the ball - to be wide awake and aware

On form - in great condition and performing well

The ball is in your court - it is now your turn to respond

Stay ahead of the game - plan well and be prepared, innovate

Set the pace - you set and example or speed of a process

Touch base - to meet someone to be updated on their news or progress.

A game of two halves - optimistic attitude. We still have chance to win.

Down to the wire - the final result is won't be know until the end

A clash of heads - strong minded people compete or discuss powerfully

Throw in the towel - to give up

Neck and neck - a very close competition or rivalry

Two left feet - clumsy or unskillfull

Head and shoulders above the rest - far superior to others

Skating on thin ice - risky behavior, might result in trouble

The gloves are off- something will be done uncompromisingy

Saved by the bell - lucky timing, you almost lost!

Par for the course - usual or expected behaviour

Below the belt - an unfair action

A hat trick - 3 quick wins

(Win) hands down - to win easily

Not up to par - the work or performance is not good enough

On target - the work or project looks like it will succeed.

Make the cut - someone or something is good enough

Neck and neck - very close competition between people or companies

Idioms examples for students of English

english idiom meanings, how to say, example, sentence
What does hat trick mean in football?

1. An example of play fair in a sentence.

The company did not play fair when they bought out the competition

2. An example of the idiom on the ball in a sentence.

Takahiro is the best student in the esl (English as a Second Language) class, he is on the ball every day. You will have to work hard to catch him up.

3. An example of the idiomatic expression on form in a sentence.

Arsenal were on form against Liverpool in the game last night, they won 3-0.

4. An example of the ball is in your court.

I finally asked my boss for a raise, and I have done all I can. The ball is in her court now!

5. An example of stay ahead of the game in a sentence.

The smartphone manufacturer always manages to stay ahead of the game and release even more sophisticated models.

mobile phone, telephone, gadget, everyday carry, social media
The smartphone maker has managed to stay ahead of the game

6. An example of the idiom set the pace in a sentence.

Our English teacher set a hard pace this week. He assigned us four grammar drills and three listening exercises to improve our English!

7. An example of the English phrase touch base in a sentence.

Our supervisor called me on Saturday just to touch base and find out what I had been doing.

8. What does the idiomatic expression a game of two halves mean and how do you use it in a sentence? It means we may be losing but we should remain positive.

It’s a game of two halves. In the next six months our company will rebound!

9. An example of down to the wire in a sentence.

The efl (English as a Foreign Language) speech contest went down to the wire, with 3 people in the final.

10. An example of the phrase a clash of heads in a sentence.

The disagreement between Tom and Tina was a real clash of heads. They both think they are right.

beautiful lady, argue, clash, phrase
The argument between these two was a real clash of heads

11. An example of the idiom throw in the towel in a sentence.

The pro gamer decided to throw in the towel after losing 5 tournaments in a row. He will now try to become a Youtuber!

12. How do you use neck and neck in a sentence?

The 2 Olympic athletes were neck and neck, but then suddenly Usain Bolt overtook them both.

13. How do you use the idiom two left feet in a sentence?

Seriously, Markus has 2 left feet, he even fell over when he was jogging, would you believe?

14. An example of head and shoulders above the rest in a sentence.

We should pick Mark for the job. He is head and shoulders above the rest.

15. What is an example of the idiom skating on thin ice in a sentence?

She is skating on thin ice with her work attitude. If she keeps coming to work late, she will be fired!

how to use this idiom? man, late, checking watch, work problems
His is skating on thin ice. If he is late again, we will dismiss him.

16. What is an example of the gloves are off in a sentence?

The gloves are off between those two, they had a fierce row!

17. What’s an example of the expression saved by the bell in a sentence?

I was saved by the bell! The teacher didn’t ask me a question because the class had ended! Relief!

18. How do you use par for the course in a sentence?

Studying grammar and vocabulary is par for the course if you want to improve your English!

19. What does below the belt mean and how do you use it in a sentence?

It is where some uses underhand or mean methods.

His comment about Julia’s weight was a little below the belt, don’t you think?

20. Here’s an example of a hat-trick in a sentence

Ronaldo scored a hat-trick against his former club, Manchester United


I scored a hat-trick with my promotion. I not only got a company car and a pay rise, but also a new office!

21. What does the slang expression hands down mean in a sentence?

It means to easily win or out compete somebody or something.

That is hands down the best episode of Suits I have ever seen!

22. An example of not up to par in a sentence

Her English ability is not up to par. I think she needs to study articles more.

Photo of Girl Smiling, studying english, esl, efl, grammar, articles
Her English grammar is not quite up to par just yet

23. What’s an example of on target in a sentence?

The company is on target to reach its profit goals this quarter.

24. What would be an example of make the cut?

I do not think that David Beckham would make the cut in the England team nowadays!

25. How do you use the expression neck and neck in a sentence?

The two teams were neck and neck until the second half, and then Chelsea went into the lead.

how to use the idiom neck and neck, examples, exercises, table, activities for English
They are neck and neck

As you can see, English speakers use idioms in a wide variety of situations, and sports idioms are no different to other types of idiomatic phrase. The reason for using idioms is simply to sound natural and make an impact in our speech. We can say a phrase like “make the cut” in far fewer words than “his performance is not satisfactory for my requirements. Use idioms in the same way you use other verbs or nouns - make note of tense and word order, and you shouldn’t have any problems!