Sports terminologies color life lessons | Nandell Palmer

Recently, I spoke to two of speedskater Apolo Ohno’s former teachers. Both are currently teaching in the Federal Way School District. They recalled the Olympic gold medalist as just another regular kid under their guidance.

One teacher used to give him rides to Pattison’s West for his skating practices after school. When he was in the seventh grade, he looked the other teacher straight in her eyes and told her that someday he was going to win a gold medal for ice skating. All she could do then was to encourage him to follow his dream. And some dream that was!

Could she have used a nice sport idiom that day to help bolster her celebrated student’s ambition? I doubt it. All she gave him was her assent, believing with him that it was indeed possible to bag a big gold one. And that seemed to have been enough.

I am wondering, how much would it cost or what would it take to get Ohno to come back to a Federal Way school and help motivate other students who feel that they, too, can win a gold medal in their field of endeavors?

Ohno’s giving even a five-minute speech on goal setting to his young admirers, using sports analogies, can fire up a roomful of hopefuls like nothing else. I cannot wait to see such a day come to fruition.

I can hardly think of one other pastime that brings people together, or divides them, like sports. I have heard some of the nastiest remarks said about a particular sport or team, and yet I have heard some of the best stories told around sports. Love it or hate it, all of us have come to depend on sports in one way or the other.

Some of us would stop at nothing to get a 3-point shot, a home run or a touchdown, while die-hard fans will spend hours sitting in the bleachers cheering on their favorite teams.

Still, others neither watch sports on TV nor engage in their machinations. But make no mistake, their language is laced with sport idioms without being conscious of it.

Nobody knows for sure how many sports there are in the world, but the estimated number is more than 8,000. There are more than 13,000 athletes that compete at the Summer and Winter Olympics in 53 different sports and nearly 400 events.

Some of these sports are archery, badminton, equestrian, fencing, football, sailing, tennis, taekwondo, triathlon, wrestling, bobsleigh, cross-country skiing, figure skating and luge.

What I like best about sports is the leveraging factor. When we were growing up, if we didn’t like something about a particular sport, we would tweak the rules or combine other sports principles to make up a new sport altogether. That’s how rugby started – from soccer – by sheer mistake and breaking the rules.

Some people believe that the sports world is made up of a bunch of uneducated, monosyllabic jocks whose longest sentence is “Show me the money!”

Contrary to that stereotype, sport does have a language of its own. Its language is novel, exciting, titillating and to the point. It is technical yet colorful, a language for those inside of sports, and at the same time an important part of the general cultural vocabulary. Nevertheless, sometimes you will feel lost as you try to fathom some of those erstwhile terminologies.

One thing is for certain, you can always find a sport terminology to suit a marital problem or a business deal, or to settle a political score.

In fact, many of its words and phrases are so clearly descriptive of the situation that they are heard as often in the board room as the locker room. Politicians and businessmen who engage in tough infighting are said to be “playing hardball.”

Political campaigns are “in the homestretch” some months after the candidates “burst from the starting gate.” Pollsters often expect a “photo finish.” A corporation that starts the fiscal year without a “game plan” will find itself “behind the eight ball” 12 months later.

For both men and women, sometimes sports lingo makes no sense to us outside of the designated sports we play or admire. But sports analogies are a favorite among people in every echelon of society.

Even the apostle Paul used sports lingo in summing up his life: “I have fought the good fight; I have finished my course. I have kept the faith.”

Because of the constant state of flux in all languages, new words and expressions are constantly being formed, which no doubt will someday find acceptance and popular use inside and outside the sports arenas.

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