Sports, Additional Subthemes
The preceding sections consider concepts of Sports that arise from a painting of race horses, a movie about Olympic exploits, a song with a boxer metaphor, and a poem about the death of a young champion. Other subthemes don’t fit closely to any of those works of art.
Games vs. Sports: The website Steemit claims that roughly 200 sports have an international governing body and that an estimated 8,000 sports are played worldwide. Still, what is a “sport” as compared to a “game”? Both terms refer to a pleasure, an entertainment for participants, spectators, and followers. My sense is that the basic elements that define a “sport” rest on a significant physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes for pleasure, entertainment, or gain.
It follows from the emphasis on physical fitness and sustained exertion that sitting to do something entertaining falls short of “sports.” Hence, no gambling activity would be a sport. Nor would activities that place a premium on mental exertion, such as chess, checkers, backgammon, poker and bridge, because they lack the constitutive requirement of physical rigor, even though it wears a person down to compete for hours at a high level. Sports as I think of them make you sweat profusely, suck in oxygen, and tire you out.
But what about darts, shuffleboard, cornhole, skeet shooting, miniature golf, billiards, and Frisbee golf? They and many other activities certainly call for skill and mental concentration, but not much physical exertion. Contestants may sweat from heat or stress, but do their muscles ache at the end? In the end, the term “sports” encompasses more than one continuum on multiple dimensions (competitive, metabolically tough, difficult to master). It defies crisp definition. Here are a few hard-to-categorize activities that many consider to be a “sport”: archery, auto racing, bowling, cheerleading, diving (yet we honor All-Americans), hiking, fly-fishing, scuba diving (competitive?), sky diving, target shooting, and trampolining.
Many sports match a person (or team) against a person (or team); others pit a person against nature (e.g., hunting, fishing, mountain climbing, rock climbing, surfing, and white-water canoeing). In the major global sports, humans compete only against humans, but other activities that would generally be deemed sports involve animals, such as the Iditarod dogsled trek or horse races. Finally, physical “games” appeal to children: hopscotch, tag, hide and seek, jump rope, capture the flag, and blind man’s bluff are not complex, challenging, or physically demanding; children love them, but from the teen years on they fall aside.
Esports: In the last decade, tens of millions around the world have enjoyed playing online games such as League of Legends. Players undergo grueling, intense preparation to reach the top flights. Teams compete for millions of dollars of prize money, in arenas crammed with thousands of paying viewers in person and countless others watching the contest stream online. College teams compete against each other and award scholarships.
Expressions in General Use: Phrases that originated in sports have been adopted in English for widespread use. From my own efforts as well as from Grammarly, Lingoda, My English Teacher, English Live, 7ESL as well as Phrases, here are more than 110 sayings from a sport that have entered general use outside the sports’ setting. I have organized them alphabetically by the sport that originated the expression and offer a brief definition.
American Football - “back to square one” (start from the beginning), “cross the goal line” (finish a project), “Hail Mary pass” (last second, low-odds attempt to prevail), “Monday morning quarterback” (someone with 20/20 hindsight second-guessing another person’s decision), “punt” (delay, fall back and hope to win another chance later)
Archery - “hit your target” (succeed), “point-blank range” (up close)
Baseball - “ a can of corn” (easy task to complete), “ballpark figure” (a very rough estimate of some amount), “bat a thousand” (be successful all the time), “came out of left field” (totally unexpected), “cover all the bases” (explain something fully), “hit a home run” (achieve a big success), “hit it out of the park” (have enormous success), “in full swing” (at the peak of an activity, moving fast and efficiently), “knocked it out of the park” (a huge success, a homerun), “struck out” (completely failed to accomplish a goal), “minor league/major league” (developmental period, or not ready for prime time [the major leagues]), “off base” (acted improperly), “on deck” (the next person ready to perform), “play hardball“ (resort to rough tactics), “step up to the plate” (take on the primary role), “swing for the fences” (go for broke, all or nothing), “threw a curve ball” (surprised with their unexpected action), “touch base with someone” (briefly make contact with someone, usually to update each other), “utility player” (a versatile player, but not a starter, who can do well at multiple positions), “whiffed” (failed completely to do something expected of a person)
Basketball - “full-court press” (intense pressure on the competitor or other side), “jump ball” (one or more people try to seize an opportunity at the same time), “run out the clock” (delay until it’s too late for the other side to act), “slam dunk” (an easy opportunity to succeed)
Boxing - “come out swinging“ (start an activity aggressively), “down for the count” (done, finished, knocked out), “glass jaw” (a person susceptible to losing, vulnerable), “go the distance” (stick to the effort until the end), “have someone in your corner” (a mentor, backer, or guide), “heavy hitter“ (important person, usually in business), “hit below the belt” (do or say something unfair with the intention of hurting someone), “lost a step” (skills have deteriorated), “one-two punch“ (effective combination of two tactics), “punch above one’s weight” (do better than expected against stronger competition), “roll with the punches” (lessen the impact of the other party’s actions), “saved by the bell” (when in trouble, something stops the trouble), “she’s a real knock out” (so pretty you ‘hit the mat’), “sucker punch” (hitting someone when it’s not fair), “tale of the tape” (numerical comparisons), “throw in the towel” (give up), “throw your hat into the ring” (challenge someone), “took a body blow” (suffered a major setback), “up to scratch” (ready to begin)
Bull Fighting - “take the bull by the horns” (confront an unpleasant situation (or person) directly and with courage), “wave the red flag” (goad someone)
Cricket – “hit for six” (a major success), “sticky wicket” (a tricky situation)
Darts - “be on target” (express the key point or answer)
Golf - “par for the course” (doing well with the proficiency expected for the task), “rub of the green” (the influence of luck), “tee it up” (start a process or discussion)
Hockey - “hat trick” (three successes at nearly the same time), “take off the gloves” (get serious, go all out to win aggressively)
Horse Racing - “across the board” (equal treatment for everyone), “down to the wire” (to the last minute or end), “give someone a run for their money” (stay in the effort, not withdraw), “have a horse in the race” (care about the outcome of an argument or process), “a horse race/ neck and neck” (close contest between competitors), “near the finish line/ in the home stretch” (near the end), “under wraps”(conceal or hold back an advantage), “win hands down” (easy victory)
Pool/Billiards/Snooker - “behind the eight ball” (in a tricky, challenging situation), “call the shots” (be in charge and predict the next shot)
Rowing/Crew - “catch a crab” (err when doing something repetitious)
Sailing - “plain sailing” (a straightforward task that presents no problems, easy to complete)
Shooting - “a long shot” (you might prevail, but it’s improbable), “give it your best shot (try your hardest)
Soccer - “against the run of play“ (do well despite other side playing well), “own goal” (blunder that significantly helps the opposition)
Tennis – “ace the test” (do spectacularly), “the ball’s in their court” (the other side ought to take the next step)
Track and Field - “clear a hurdle” (overcome an obstacle), “front runner” (the person expected to win or succeed), “it’s not a race, it’s a marathon” (success usually takes a long time to achieve, not a short burst), “jump the gun” (act prematurely), “off to a running (or flying) start” (begin something well), “pass the baton” (hand off your portion of a project for a teammate to carry on), “quick out of the blocks” (a person who starts fast), “raise the bar“ (set a higher standard of expected performance), “set the bar (too) high“ (ask for too much from an employee or other person), “set the pace” (establish the pace or speed of something), “under the gun” (must continue urgently, can’t back out)
Wrestling - “no holds barred“ (any moves or responses may be done)
Multiple Sports - “a whole new ball game” (changed circumstances), “booby prize” (what the worst performer gets), “dropped the ball” (made a major mistake), “out of your league” (someone far above you socially or financially), “blind-sided” (didn’t see something bad coming), “game face” (look determined and don’t give away feelings), “in a league of one’s own” (someone who is much better than the rest), “kick off something” (begin it), “make the cut” (avoid elimination in the next phase of a competition), “a game of inches” (the difference between success and mediocrity or failure is a tiny margin), “keep your eye on the ball” (remain alert and attend to the task at hand), “level playing field” (equal conditions for all), “meet one’s match” (encounter an equal or better), “move the goalposts” (change the rules after a process begins), “not by a long shot” (nowhere close), “on the ball” (fully aware and in control of a situation), “next man up” (work must go on, so someone steps in to fill a departure), “play ball“ (start a project), “pipped to the post“ (someone almost wins but loses at the very end), “rookie mistake” (a poor judgement or error by an inexperienced person), “set the pace (for something)” (represent the best at something, lead the pack), “stay ahead of the game” (be prepared and act proficiently before others expect you to), “step up one’s game” (do better), “take a time out” (stop what you are doing to rest, pause or collect your thoughts), “take a victory lap” (bask in praise after a big success), “take one for the team” (sacrificing yourself for the better fortunes of your team), “team player” (a colleague who works well with others)