With the FIFA World Cup behind us, I’d like to turn your attention to the sports metaphors that pop up again and again in all types of business communications. These are often misused or misunderstood in presentations and company newsletters or mailings alike, often because the recipient does not follow organized sports or grew up in a country outside the U.S., where different sports may be popular.

I’ve found a few in particular tend to be especially problematic

Behind the 8-ball

From billiards, this refers to a difficult position from which there is little hope of escape.

Hail Mary

A last-minute act of desperation with little chance of success. The most well-known Hail Mary is probably the Doug Flutie “Hail Mary”: In 1984, as a Boston College quarterback, Flutie threw a “Hail Mary” – a desperation pass of 50 yards or more into the end zone – in the last seconds of the game, and a receiver from his team was there to catch the ball and score.


From golf, a second chance to hit the ball — a do-over


That’s a layup

From basketball, this means something is an easy shot.

3rd and long

If the offensive team has fallen back rather than moved ahead over the first two downs, then they are in a desperate position – third and long, meaning they are on the 3rd down and have more than 10 yards to go.

To bat 1000

From baseball, to have perfect performance.

Play ball vs play hardball

Not to be confused with each other, “play ball” means to cooperate or be a team player, whereas “play hardball” means to compete fiercely.

In the red zone

It’s probably best to avoid this one altogether, since it conjures up images of financial difficulties (“in the red”) or a car overheating. When used as a football metaphor, it means “ready to score.”


What sports metaphors do you find to be effective in getting your point across in the business setting?