Californians are known as being outdoor and sports-loving people, so while you are studying at CISL San Diego or San Francisco, you can expect to have plenty of opportunities to break a sweat! The love of sports continues long after the game, however: English is full of sports idioms! Do you know some of these common idioms related to sports? We have broken them into sections that use the words BALL, PLAY, HIT, and SCORE. How many of these do you know?

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Idioms related to sports

Idioms with BALL

To be on the ball

Definition: to be quick to understand and to react to things

Example: You were really on the ball during the meeting. Your answers to their questions were great!

To drop the ball

Definition: to make a blunder; to fail in some way (figurative)

Example: I can’t believe I forgot my roommate’s birthday. I really dropped the ball.

Get the ball rolling

Definition: to get a process started

Example: We have created our business plan and we have the funding. Let’s get the ball rolling!

Keep your eye on the ball

Definition: to focus on the goal or end result

Example: My PhD is challenging, but I just have to keep my eye on the ball. I will be done in two years.

The ball is in your court

Definition: it is your turn to make a move or decision

Example: I’ve presented to the company, and now, we wait. The ball is in their court.

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Idioms with PLAY

Fair play

Definition: playing by the rules

Example: I expect nothing but fair play from my competition.

Foul play

Definition: not playing by the rules

Example: He called foul play when he realized that they were cheating.

To level the playing field

Definition: to make things fair for everyone involved

Example: To level the playing field a little, we decided to let the new students use their notes on the test. The third year students could not.

Play in the big leagues

Definition:An area, echelon, or sphere of great competition, success, power, achievement, etc. Refers to major (i.e., “big”) leagues of sports teams

Example: When I was working at a small company, I had more free time. Now I’m playing in the big leagues and I never seem to take vacations!

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Idioms with HIT

Heavy hitter

Definition: someone who is powerful and has achieved a lot

Example: We are looking for a heavy hitter for this job.

Hit or miss

Definition: without concern for correctness or detail; haphazardly

Example: It’s hit or miss with the weather in April: sometimes it’s beautiful and sometimes it rains for days and days.

CISL is proud to organize soccer games against other schools . . . and proud to say that we always win!

Idioms with SCORE

Settle a score

Definition: to harm someone who has harmed you in the past

Example: The best way to settle a score is to move on and forget the past. Revenge is never a good idea.

Score with 

Definition: to please someone or a group

Example: Sarah really scored with the executives after she gave such a great presentation!

To be in scoring position

Definition: About to succeed. This term comes from sports, where it signifies being in a spot where scoring is likely. In baseball it refers to a situation in which a runner is on second or third base. The figurative use of the term dates from the second half of the 1900s.

Example: We are in scoring position with this new contract.


Definitions adapted from this source.