American football is a popular team sport primarily played in the United States and Canada. It’s a physically demanding game that involves two teams of eleven players each, competing to move an oval-shaped ball down the field and score points. You can either carry the ball into the opposing team’s end zone (to score a touchdown) or kick it through the opponent’s goalposts (a field goal).


The game is typically divided into four quarters, each lasting 15 minutes. Teams advance by running with the ball, or passing it to teammates, while the opposing team tries to stop their progress by tackling the ball carriers or intercepting passes.


It has become deeply ingrained in American culture, with traditions such as the annual Super Bowl championship game capturing the nation’s attention.


HOT TIP – American football is different to English football, which is known as ‘soccer’ in the United States.

American football idioms and phrases list

Welcome to the exciting world of American football idioms and phrases! Whether you’re a newcomer to the sport or a seasoned fan looking to deepen your understanding of its linguistic nuances, this beginner’s guide is your ticket to unlocking the secrets of football-inspired idioms.


Join me on this journey, where every idiom tells a story, and every phrase paints a vivid picture of the game. With picture examples to illustrate each expression, you’ll soon be speaking the language of football like a pro. So, grab your helmet and get ready to dive into the world of American football idioms like never before!

sports idioms and sayings - american football idioms and phrases

a game plan

meaning – “A game plan” is like having a strategy or roadmap for what you’re going to do. Just like a coach plans out plays for a team, having a game plan means you’ve thought ahead about how to tackle a situation. It’s about having a plan of action to help you reach your goals or handle challenges effectively.


  • I want to ask Sasha to the prom but there are 4 other guys wanting to take her. I need a game plan!
  • I need a game plan for my interview as there is 1 job and 36 applicants.
  • My game plan is…Buy her flowers, take her for a posh meal, then ask her to be my girlfriend.
a game plan meaning and example


meaning – “Blindside” is when something sneaks up on you, like getting tapped on the shoulder from behind. In everyday talk, it’s when you’re caught off guard or surprised by something unexpected. It’s like being totally focused on one thing and then suddenly getting blindsided by something you didn’t see coming.


  • We were all blindsided by his decision to quit the panel.
  • After years of loyal service, Mark was blindsided when he was suddenly laid off.
  • I was blindsided when I arrived home and 30 of my friends jumped out saying ‘surprise’.
blindside meaning and example

drop back

meaning – “Drop back” is like taking a step back, whether it’s in a game or in life. Picture a quarterback in football. They drop back to get a better view before throwing the ball. In everyday talk, it means taking a pause or stepping back to think before making a decision or taking action.


  • Richards dropped back and waited for the pass from McDonough.
  • John decided to drop back and take some time to decide on the best candidate for the role.
  • I won’t be at work over the weekend, I need to drop back think about my future.
drop back meaning and example

drop the ball

meaning – “Dropping the ball” means messing up or failing to do something you were supposed to do. It’s like fumbling the ball in a game, losing control, and letting your team down. So, if you forget an important task or make a mistake, you’ve dropped the ball


  • I was working too much, and I dropped the ball, now she’s left me for another man.
  • Rangers dropped the ball in the final minute of the game, City swooped in and scored the winning point.
  • Tilly dropped the ball; she was on course for top marks, but her home life got in the way.
drop the ball meaning and example

kick into touch

meaning – “Kick into touch” means putting a stop to something or abandon it, sometimes to avoid further trouble. It’s like intentionally kicking a ball out of bounds to stop the play. So, if you decide to “kick something into touch,” you’re putting a stop to it.


  • Our plans for a new home have been kicked into touch now I’m unemployed.
  • Debbie is marrying Jonah over my dead body. I’ll kick that idea into touch.
  • The council have kicked into touch plans for a new playground.
kick into touch meaning and example

kick off

meaning – “Kick off” means to start or initiate something. This is often an event, activity, or an argument/fight. It’s like kicking a ball to start a sports game. So, when you “kick off” something, you’re getting it underway or beginning it.

examples –

  • I’m leaving work at 6, so I’ll be back in time for kick off.
  • We’ll kick off today’s meeting with a quick review of this week’s progress.
  • Our team kicked off but were 1-0 down in under 30 seconds.
kick off meaning and example

move the goalposts

meaning – “Move the goalposts” means changing the rules or criteria for something, often to make it harder to achieve success. It’s like making the goal smaller in a game, making it more challenging to score. So, when someone “moves the goalposts,” they’re altering the requirements or expectations unfairly.

 examples –

  • I met the conditions, but they refused my proposal. They can’t keep moving the goalposts.
  • We were meant to be told if our offer was accepted today, but we won’t get an answer until next week now.
  • My ex keeps moving the goalposts, she said if I get job, I can see my son. I got one but she still wont let me see him.
move the goalposts meaning and example

on the sidelines

meaning – “On the sidelines” means being inactive or not being directly involved in a situation. It’s like sitting on the bench in a sports game and not participating. So, when someone is “on the sidelines,” they’re observing or waiting while others are actively involved or making decisions.

examples –

  • Thomas has hurt his knee, so he’ll be on the sidelines today.
  • I hate being on the sidelines whilst some other bloke brings up my kids.
  • Lia never joins in the class debates; she always stays on the sidelines until the lesson is up.
American football idioms - on the sidelines meaning and example

run with


“Run with” means to accept and act upon an idea or suggestion enthusiastically. It’s like grabbing a ball and running with it in a game, showing initiative. So, when someone encourages you to “run with” an idea, they’re urging you to take it forward and make it happen.

examples –

  • Do you think I can trust Ryan to run with the case while I’m away?
  • When you have a good opportunity, you should run with it and make the most of it.
  • The boss always choses Liam to run with the new projects.
run with meaning and example

tackle something

meaning –

“Tackle something” means to deal with or address a problem or task, often with determination or effort. It’s like facing a challenge head-on and taking action to overcome it. So, when you “tackle something,” you’re actively working to solve or accomplish it.

example –

  • The headmaster is going to tackle the bullying problem pronto.
  • Let’s tackle the cleaning together so we can finish quickly and enjoy the rest of the day.
  • I’m going to tackle my fear of heights by doing a skydive.
American football phrases - tackle something meaning and example


meaning –
“Touchdown” is score in American football and a metaphor for a big success or achievement. So, when someone “scores a touchdown,” they accomplish something significant or achieve a goal.


In aviation, a “touchdown” refers to the moment when an aircraft makes contact with the runway during landing.

examples –

  • I scored a touchdown in the last minute to win us the game.
  • The pilot executed a smooth touchdown, bringing the plane safely to the ground.
  • I got down on one knee and asked her to marry me. She said yes! Touchdown!
American football idioms - touchdown meaning and example

You can download a table of American football idioms and phrases below.

If you’ve enjoyed these American football idioms and phrases, why not learn some more of the thousands of idioms we have in English? How about some business idioms? A lot of sports idioms are also business idioms too.