The 6 best Business English idioms which come from sport

Below I have put together the 6 most common business idioms which come from the world of sport.  Enjoy, and don’t be afraid to use them!

#1 To be in the right ballpark

To be in the right ballpark means to be close to the right amount when you are estimating something.  It is very common in business when predicting sales figures, profits, staff turnover etc.:

‘Do you think it is possible that we can afford to open around 50 new branches in the next 2 years?’

‘You’re in the right ballpark, I think 30-50 branches is realistic.’

It can also be used negatively:

‘I estimate that we will see an increase in sales of around 5% in the next quarter’

‘You are not even in the right ballpark‘  – meaning that your estimate is completely wrong.

It is most likely that this phrase comes from baseball.  In baseball, the ballpark is the pitch or park on which baseball is played.  So you can hit the ball quite a long way in any direction and it will still stay within the area of the ballpark.  That is why ‘ballpark’ in this idiom means something like ‘approximate’.

#2 a ballpark figure

Another baseball phrase here directly related to the first one.  A ballpark figure is an approximate estimate.  Again, this can be used in business to talk about approximate sales figures, profits, losses, percentage increases etc.:

‘Could you give me a ballpark figure of the projected sales figures for 2017?’

‘We should aim for an increase in profits of around 2 million Euros in the next quarter, just as a ballpark figure.‘ 

‘If I am going to invest in your company, I need at least a ballpark figure of your projected annual turnover.’

#3 get the ball rolling

This means to get something started.  It is very often used at the beginning of meetings and presentations, to begin the real topic of the meeting after all the small talk.

One of the most common phrases in business English is: ‘Let’s get the ball rolling’:

‘Let’s get the ball rolling with our first item on the agenda’

Here is another example taken from a brainstorming session:

‘I’m going to get the ball rolling by giving you a few suggestions of my own’

I sometimes use this phrase in my Skype English lessons:

‘So, to get the ball rolling, let’s look again at the vocabulary from last week’

Similarly, we also use the phrase keep the ball rolling, meaning to continue at the same speed.

Again this is good to use as part of a brainstorming session:

‘Ok, the ideas so far are great, let’s keep the ball rolling with some more.’

This idiom is a very old phrase which dates back to the 1700s, and it comes from general ball games played at the time.

#4 in-fighting / infighting

In-fighting or infighting means disagreements or conflict within an organisation, often now known by people outside the organisation.

‘The level of infighting at the company is affecting profits’

‘There is a lot of infighting at this company, we need to resolve our differences and pull together in the same direction’

This phrase originally comes from the sport of boxing.  In boxing it means fighting where the two boxers are very close to each other, so it is difficult for the spectators to see it.

#5 play ball

This is probably my favourite idiom of all of them here.  It means to co-operate, and agree with what someone wants you to do.

In business, this is most classically used when describing negotiation situations with other companies,  or indeed any negotiation situation where you would like another person or organisation to co-operate:

‘We want them to accept our offer but they are not playing ball.’ – The other company are not accepting and agreeing with our offer which we want them to take.

‘We have tried to explain the advantages of a merger between ourselves and our rival company, but they don’t want to play ball– The rival company don’t want to co-operate and don’t agree with a merger.

‘The government wants to pass a new law, but some members of parliament are refusing to play ball‘ – Some members of parliament are refusing to co-operate and agree with the new law.

This is another phrase which comes from baseball.  At the beginning of a baseball game, the person in charge of the game (known as the umpire) used to shout ‘Play ball!’ to get the game started.

#6 take something on the chin

To take something on the chin means to accept defeat or difficult times, without allowing it to have a negative effect on you.

‘The company has had a difficult year with some heavy losses, but we need to take it on the chin and move on’

‘We didn’t secure the deal, but we need to take it on the chin and learn from our mistakes’

‘I didn’t manage to get my promotion, but I’m not going to let it affect my confidence.  I’m just going to take it on the chin and keep working hard’

This is another phrase which comes from boxing, meaning to physically suffer a hit on the chin from your opponent.

Business English also has a huge number of idioms which come from football, Britain’s national sport, check them out here!

I hope you enjoyed these idioms.  The key with idioms is to say them with complete confidence, and you will always be understood.
If you would like to have any of these words explained further, or if you would like to see some more examples, feel free to email me at [email protected], or message me on Skype at live:fluencyspace!

Back to more useful business vocabulary.


 David Cox

 Fluency Space

 Make the world your fluency space. Business English for career and life success

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