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English Sports Idioms – Get the Ball Rolling

Native speakers use idioms all the time. Idiomatic expressions are an important part of everyday conversation and in order to speak English fluently, you need to get familiar and also understand some of the  most popular idioms. Everyone around the world likes to talk about sports, so today we will take a look at some English sports idioms that you can throw into conversation when discussing sports events.

English Sports Idioms. English idioms related to sport. Intermediate level English vocabulary. #learnenglish #englishlessons #englishteacher #ingles #aprenderingles

English Sports Idioms


to commence or to start something ( origins from any sport with a ball)

The teacher wanted the class to make individual presentations about their lives. She wanted a volunteer to stand up and get the ball rolling.


to be cooperative and to accept defeat with good grace ( origins from all sports)

Michael was well beaten by his opponent. He congratulated the winner as he was the better player that day. Michael was a good sport.


when someone starts acting much tougher than he did previously in an attempt to get something completed  (origins from any sport using gloves, hockey, boxing etc)

The teacher gave the students very little homework in the first two weeks of the new term. However the gloves came off after that and the homework increased dramatically.


when someone decides to quit/drop out of something. ( origins from boxing where a trainer would throw a towel into the ring if his boxer was getting badly beaten)

David had tried to get his car started for over an hour. Nothing he tried worked.He decided to throw in the towel and phoned a garage to come and fix his car for him.


To fail or succeed (origins from any sport connected with water)

Brendan and John decided to open a new shop selling mobile phones even though there was a competitor a short distance away. They would sink or swim  based on their ability to sell.

English Sports Idioms. English idioms related to sport. Intermediate level English vocabulary. #learnenglish #englishlessons #englishteacher #ingles #aprenderingles

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In boxing matches when someone is on the ropes it usually means that he/she is struggling and their opponent has the upperhand (advantage).

We can use this in other spheres also.

Business had been very slow recently and he was really on the ropes when his main client asked to see him to review their contract.


When you stop playing sport or football for good (retiring) you are said to hang up your boots. This applies also in a non sporting life.

Marty had been working as a journalist for over forty years. It was not getting any easier and with technology he believed he had done well to last as long as he had. He decided to hang up his boots in April and head to the country to fish.


Races are usually competitive whether two or more athletes or even horses or dogs racing. Everything is about the fastest time. However, when we have a race against time it usually refers to a race against the clock. We have to do something before a certain time otherwise there will be consequences.

Declan just had to finish the proposal before the client got back from his annual holidays. His annual bonus depended on him landing (getting) this contract. He had 2 days left but an awful lot to do. It was a real race against time but he was hopeful he would succeed.


Hurdles or jumps appear in lots of sports. Horse racing where horses must jump over hurdles. Athletic events when men and women jump hurdles over short distances like 110 metre or long distances like 300 metre steeplechase.The interesting hurdle is usually the last one when legs are tired and all energy is almost exhausted. So in life the final hurdle we have to cross could mean the difference between success and failure.

Daniel had one final hurdle to cross in his hope to get the new job. He had to present a business proposal to the management committee and hope that not only was it unique and meaningful but also a profitable venture for the business.


In water sports there are many interesting activities in kayaks and other canoe shaped boats.These can either be one man boats or suitable for 2 or more, To make progress the canoeists (competitors) can use an oar or paddle to build up speed or negotiate themselves and their craft through the water to finish the course. When you paddle your own canoe you are usually on your own without help from anyone. 

Mark likes to work on his own. He works better that way he performs better when he is left alone to paddle his own canoe.

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More Information

For more information in English Expressions, English Phrasal Verbs and English Grammar Rules, check ou the following links:

English Expressions about Success

How to warn someone in English

English Idioms about Decisions

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