Nobody wants to “drop the ball” or have to “throw in the towel” if they hear a phrase they’re not familiar with. Problem is, there are many, many idioms which might trip you up. In business, a lot of them are derived from sports, but as a non native speaker it would be very easy to be confused by them.
Here are 7 of the most common expressions you’ll hear in the business world that are derived from sports.
Call the shots
This idiom means to be in charge or to be the one making decisions. You might use it when describing a client, as in “He seems ready to buy our product, but I know it’s his supervisor who really calls the shots.”
“I don’t think he’s the one really calling the shots. We need to speak to his boss instead.”
This originated with the sport of Archery, whereby competitors would ‘call’ out the targets they were aiming for, before shooting.
Drop the ball
This means to make a costly, elementary mistake over something that you have responsibility for. A mistake that a) an experienced individual should not make and b) has dire consequences for the team.
“He forgot to get approval from the CEO. He’s really dropped the ball there. He’s embarrassed himself and cost us a big client.”
Dropping the ball in most sports (Football, Rugby etc) usually forfeits possession and hence favors the other team. In such sports, it is a very important and elementary skill that players should have, to not drop the ball.
Go back to square one
This means to go back to the start, having invested some time in an undertaking, in order to re-plan or re-design things. It is usually with a negative tone because it implies that some effort & time has been wasted.
“We’ve spent a lot of time on this already but we’ll have to go back to square one. This design just isn’t technically feasible.”
This comes more from board games than sports. “Square One” is, obviously, the starting point of the game.
Get the ball rolling
This just means “to get started” so will be commonly used at the outset of meetings or projects.
“Let’s get the ball rolling and start with discussing the staffing of this project.”
In many sports, the ball is stationary at the start and the minute it is moving it is ‘in play’ and hence, the game has started.Business English: Common Phrases From Sports, Part 2
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