Sports are not just for our entertainment. They’re a great microcosm for many areas of life. Sports are defined by their competitiveness: for something to be a sport, there must be a winner and a loser. That’s why chess is considered a sport but ballet isn’t. There are plenty of phrases and sayings from sports that have crossed over into daily life and particularly the business world. These analogies are useful shorthands for some complex situations that everyone encounters out in the world.


There are plenty of common examples of sports terms that have made it into the workplace as metaphors. For example, everyone understands that a slam dunk refers to a sure thing in the business world. This term originates in basketball, where a player dunks the ball directly into the basket from above. A slam dunk requires great control and an ability to put the ball exactly where the player wants it. Slam dunks are also known for providing great entertainment value. Players who dunk are able to show a lot of personality, and the legalization of this shot helped expand basketball’s popularity around the world. In business, then, a slam dunk is something that is done with incredible skill and with great success, warranting acknowledgement.


Other analogies that come from sports can have negative connotations. If something is “bush league,” it’s shady, underhanded, or not in line with professional standards. This phrase comes from the old terminology for minor league teams in baseball. Major league teams are located in big, metropolitan population centers. Cities like Boston, Chicago and New York were home to major league teams. Minor league teams, by contrast, were out in the bushes. They had smaller budgets and less skilled staff, meaning they operated in a less refined, less professional way.


There are plenty of analogies about timing that come from the sports world, too. If something is down to the wire, that means time is running out and the deadline is approaching. This term comes from the world of horse racing. In the past, horses passed under a “wire” during races. If a race went down to the wire, that meant that the winner wasn’t determined until the very end of the event. This horse racing situation also provided the term “under the wire.” In life and business, getting something in under the wire means accomplishing it at the last moment.


Even for individuals who are not sports fans, terminology from various sports has entered our professional and personal lives in the forms of metaphors. While it isn’t necessary to know the origins of these terms to understand their implications, doing so can provide some additional context.