It’s the Olympics! Let’s talk sports idioms

Last week we talked about a few American football idioms, and in honor of the Olympics, let’s keep the ball rolling (continue) with more sports-related idioms!

Read the idiom / phrase, followed by the example. See if you can guess the meaning of the idiom before moving on to reading the definion.


1. neck and neck

I’m not sure which company we will hire. In terms of cost, the two of them are neck and neck, but we like the selection from Company A.

“Neck and neck” refers to when a competition of some kind is equal or even. There is no clear winner. It refers to when runners stretch their necks out over the finish line to “inch out” their competitors and win.


2. bat(ting) a thousand

He got every question right on the test. He’s really batting a thousand.

If you are “batting a thousand,” it means you are doing very well or performing almost perfectly. It comes from baseball; a perfect batting average (which is impossible) is 1,000.


3. (to clear) a hurdle

You have to take a big test before entering graduate school. Once you clear that hurdle, you can see what schools you can get into.

A hurdle is a problem or difficulty. To clear a hurdle is to overcome or “figure out” or solve your problem. It some from track and field; a hurdle is an obstacle that a runner jumps over.


4. to throw a curveball

My boss really threw me a curveball yesterday when she had me give the presentation instead of Lisa. I was so surprised and nervous, but I did ok.

A “curveball” is something surprising and unexpected and usually, something not welcomed. A common way to express this is when you are the receiver of the curveball (surprise): [He/she] threw me a curveball. It’s another baseball idiom. A curveball is a type of pitch that is surprisingly deceiving and hard to hit.


5. to tackle (something)

I have 4 loads of laundry to fold! Can you help me tackle this?

In American football (and perhaps other sports around the world), players tackle each other – bring each other to the ground – so that the other team does not score. To tackle something is to try and solve it (usually a problem), or to undertake something.


6. to jump the gun

Don’t jump the gun! We need to talk before we start the project.

To rush; to begin too quickly. It comes from the beginning of a race, when the runners start when they hear a gun shot. Players who “jump” before the gun are penalized.


7. to throw in the towel

She could not figure out the the problem and threw in the towel after three hours of trying.

To quit; to stop an activity. It comes from boxing, where, when someone throws a towel in the ring, the match is stopped.


8. (in the) home stretch

There’s only 10 minutes left of class – be strong! We’re in the home stretch.

The final or last part of an activity. The last part of a runner’s race just before the finish line is called the home stretch.


9. the ball is in your court

You can choose what restaurant we go to. just let me know what you want to do. The ball is in your court.

It’s your turn; it’s your move, and you need to take action. From tennis.

10. (keep your) eye on the ball

You’re almost finished with your homework, so don’t turn on the TV yet. Keep your eye on the ball and you’ll get done quicker.

Stay focused; don’t “lose sight” of what you should be doing. Another one from baseball, where the batter must keep his eye on the pitcher in order to hit the ball.


11. to drop the ball

She really dropped the ball at the meeting. She was not prepared and the boss was upset.

To fail / not succeed; to not complete your responsibilities.

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