I am preparing for my next intensive Business English course with another Spanish client. This time my client works in the Banking Industry. He needs English to negotiate, give presentations and have meetings with both native and non-native speakers.

Whilst I was planning his course I thought about the number of idioms, phrases and metaphors we use in Business English that he probably hears especially from native speakers. He may also see them in written texts, such as, articles, emails and reports.

What is a metaphor? The Macmillan Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines the metaphor as “a word or phrase that means one thing and is used for referring to another thing in order to emphasize their similar qualities”.

Business English uses a lot of metaphorical imagery such as war (takeover battle), health (economic recovery), fire (heated debate), water (cash flow) and so on.

In this blog post, I’d like to explore the strong relationship that exists between sports and business. If you look at the qualities that sports and business share, you’ll begin to see why Business English has so many sporting metaphors.

Both Business and Sports:

  • require certain skills
  • are competitive
  • need self- confidence
  • take planning
  • use strategies and tactics
  • take concentration
  • teamwork may be important

Having established their similarities, let’s take a look at some of the metaphors we use, in what situations and what sport they relate to.


1. Kick off – to start

Ex: Good Morning everyone. Shall we kick off the meeting then?  (Football)


2. On target – making good progress and likely to achieve what has been planned

Ex: It looks like we are pretty much on target with this project. (Archery)


3. Up to scratch – to be of a good standard

Ex: I know we have a great team whose work is really up to scratch. (Track and Field)
4. Know the ropes – to be able to do something well

Ex: Our new Sales Director has a lot of experience and really knows all the ropes. Know all the ropes_image(Sailing)


5. In pole position – to be in the best possible position

Ex: We are in pole position to win the contract. (Motor Racing)


6. Jump the gun – to do something too soon, especially without thinking about it carefully

Ex: We still have some costs to factor in and I don’t want to jump the gun. (Track and Field)


7. Ballpark figure – a rough estimate

Ex: Can you give me a ballpark figure on the total sales costs? (Baseball)


8. Neck and neck – to have the same chance of winning as someone else

Ex: We are neck and neck with our competitors, so we really need to work hard to maintain our market share. (Horse Racing)


9. The ball in our court – to be in a position to make the next step

Ex: We have done what we can, the ball is in your court now. (Tennis)


10. Take our eye off the ball – to make a mistake, especially by doing something carelessly

Ex: We really cannot take our eye off the ball with this deal as it will be a real winner for us. (Football)


A great way for you to familiarise yourself with sports metaphors is to type a sports metaphor into a search engine.Try and find different ways it is used in a business context. You may find these in advertisements, articles or hear them. Decide which one you find most interesting and try to use them in a similar situation with English speakers.

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Source: One Stop English