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How to win at the office with sports metaphors

If all else fails, make a “hashtag” symbol, say “We the North” —and walk away

Workish: Corporate culture. Career advancement. Welcome to the office.

Workish 4 - 5 Ways to Ace Sports Metaphors stock bit SM

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review analyzed the time-honoured tradition of drawing connections between business and sports. Stating that sports “are a terrible metaphor for business,” the author concluded that referencing team sports in a corporate leadership context doesn’t actually correlate with high performance, team dynamics, talent or success.

Actually, the opposite is true.

Since the world’s first recorded company surfaced in 578 A.D., managers have motivated workers during challenging times through inspirational messages in Javelins: Spearhead Leadership and Moneyball. Surviving workplace culture requires more than just knowing the Unspoken Rule of Dress Codes (never clip a swipe card to your belt), and if you’re not up to speed on the most recent lingo, you might whiff your next presentation like a point guard in the penalty box.

Use this guide to enhance your ability to speak the language of sports in today’s corporate world, and your team will stick to you like pine tar…I mean glue…no, wait. Pine tar. George Brett.

Look it up.

Though the origins of baseball seemed unclear in that one article I think I remember reading on Wikipedia, the modern-day game was first invented in the early 1800s by Abner Doubleday’s father, Ken Burns. Designed as an individual and team sport, baseball isn’t bound by a clock and involves a lot of standing around, drawing suitable comparisons to modern-day agencies. Employ minor-league phrases like “Let’s hit a home run!” and gain status by naming 1980s players like Willie McGee or Kent Hrbeck in regular conversations. Refer to all of them as “sluggers” with “great glove work.” Confidential to emerging leaders: join an inter-office Fantasy Baseball league where top-secret mergers are finalized through coded infielder stats from the AL East.


Since first debuting in Al Pacino’s Any Given Sunday, “The Game of Inches” has grown in worldwide popularity thanks to the advent of 30-second television commercials and an unfair narrative about Joe Buck, King of Bias and Prince of Nepotism. Football’s rules can be confusing; even Sir Isaac Newton once said “I figured out motion, but remind me why you can’t you clip on defense?” While common football metaphors like “Don’t sit on the sideline” can be useful, your best bet is to focus conversations around your excitement for the annual “Super Bowl Squares,” a betting pool operated by the Super Bowl Square Manager, wherein an employee with the least amount of football knowledge wins the most money. In case of emergency: if pressed for your favourite team, just say “Anyone but the Patriots” and walk away.

Invented in the 1950s by Indiana legends Gene Hackman and Dennis Hopper, popular basketball games are played in college divisions built on hope and excitement, and professional leagues built on Nike and the Lakers. Score a 3-pointer by mentioning that “Things haven’t been the same since Dean Smith coached the Jayhawks.” Help your team drill for the big pitch by reminding them that “The height of the goal is the same regardless of the size of the stadium,” and “Boston is the sports town’s sports town.” If all else fails, make a “hashtag” symbol with your hands and say “We the North” while slowly walking away.

Hockey, which means “more expensive than a CRV,” is a winter sport followed obsessively by the combined populations of Canada and the University of Minnesota. Much like navigating legal approvals for an enterprise CRM, procuring tickets for hockey games is close to impossible. Instead, follow the sport through the eyes of Don Cherry, the impeccably-dressed Guy Who Wears Those Weird Suits on TV.  At the office, remind co-workers not to “Squeeze the Stick” (i.e. see diminishing results by exerting too much force) and to “Score a Hat Trick” (i.e. distract a hesitant client with an offer to purchase a limited-edition Bruins hat, signed by Don Cherry).


Watching a golf tournament on television isn’t quite as boring as a movie directed by Clint Eastwood, but it’s a “Birdie,” or close second. The sport of the reverse metaphors, golf terms are actually based on old-world business phrases from Scotland. “I like Wallace, but his goldsmith work is par for the course,” and “Argyle’s gonna tee-up that taxation meeting with the Burgh Commissioners on Tuesday” were common turns of phrase until the 1721 publication of The Rules of Golf by Sean Connery.

The most important rule to remember is that everyone plays golf, so if you don’t play golf, take a leave of absence, learn golf, then go back to work. If all else fails, Tin Cup is on Netflix.

Sandy Marshall is the proud owner of Ernie Whitt’s ’78 rookie card, and can be unfollowed on Twitter at @MarshallSandy.