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ESL Lesson Plan: Mastering Phrasal Verbs for Sports

Updated: Aug 13, 2023

Mastering Phrasal Verbs for SportsA Playful Approach Phrasal Verbs for Sports

If you're an ESL learner who loves sports, you might find the world of phrasal verbs as intriguing as a thrilling game. Just as a team works together to achieve victory, phrasal verbs work together to express actions more dynamically and vividly. In this article, we'll delve into the realm of phrasal verbs related to sports, exploring their meanings and providing exercises to help you master their usage.

What Are Phrasal Verbs?

Phrasal verbs are combinations of a main verb and one or more particles (prepositions or adverbs) that create a unique meaning. In the context of sports, phrasal verbs add color and energy to your descriptions of actions, making your language skills more dynamic and engaging.

Phrasal Verbs in Sports

1. Warm up:

  • Meaning: To prepare the body for physical activity through light exercises before engaging in a sport.

  • Examples:

    • "The team always takes time to warm up before a game."

    • "Make sure you warm up properly to avoid muscle strains."

  • Exercise: Complete the sentence: "Athletes often ____ before a competition to avoid injuries."

  • Exercise: Rephrase the sentence using the phrasal verb: "Before the marathon, the runners need to prepare their bodies for physical activity."

2. Gear up:

  • Meaning: To get ready by putting on necessary equipment or clothing for a sport.

  • Examples:

    • "The players are gearing up in the locker room before the match."

    • "He gears up with protective gear before skateboarding."

  • Exercise: Fill in the blank: "Before going cycling, make sure to ____ with your helmet and gloves."

  • Exercise: Reconstruct the sentence: "In preparation for the game, they put on all the necessary gear."

3. Work out:

  • Meaning: To exercise or train with the goal of improving one's physical fitness.

  • Examples:

    • "He works out at the gym to stay in shape during the off-season."

    • "She prefers to work out in the morning for an energy boost."

  • Exercise: Use the phrasal verb in a sentence: "She decided to ____ at home using online fitness videos."

  • Exercise: Fill in the blank: "Athletes need to ____ regularly to maintain their performance levels."

4. Play on:

  • Meaning: To continue participating in a game or match despite difficulties or injuries.

  • Examples:

    • "Despite his ankle injury, he decided to play on and help his team."

    • "The rain was heavy, but they decided to play on.

  • Exercise: Rewrite the sentence: "Even though she hurt her wrist, she continued to participate in the match."

  • Exercise: Complete the sentence: "The determined athlete chose to ____ despite the pain."

5. Step up:

  • Meaning: To increase one's efforts or performance, especially in crucial moments.

  • Examples:

    • "The team needs to step up their game in the second half."

    • "In the final minutes, he stepped up and made the winning shot."

  • Exercise: Use the phrase in a sentence: "They must ____ if they want to win this championship."

  • Exercise: Fill in the blank: "In the most critical moments, leaders are expected to ____ and take charge."

6. Hang in there:

  • Meaning: To persist or endure despite challenges or setbacks.

  • Examples:

    • "The team was losing, but they hung in there and managed to tie the score."

    • "Even though the race was tough, she hung in there and finished strong."

  • Exercise: Complete the sentence: "Despite the difficult conditions, the athletes were determined to ____ and finish the race."

  • Exercise: Rewrite the sentence using the phrasal verb: "They faced numerous obstacles, but they didn't give up."

7. Back up:

  • Meaning: To provide support or assistance to a teammate or player.

  • Examples:

    • "The backup goalkeeper was called in after the starting goalie got injured."

    • "Teammates should always be ready to back each other up on the field."

  • Exercise: Use the phrase in a sentence: "During the crucial penalty shootout, he was there to ____ the main striker."

  • Exercise: Fill in the blank: "It's important to ____ your team members both on and off the court."

8. Take on:

  • Meaning: To face a challenge or opponent.

  • Examples:

    • "They're ready to take on the reigning champions in the finals."

    • "She's determined to take on any opponent who comes her way."

  • Exercise: Rewrite the sentence: "They're prepared to face the best team in the league during the tournament's final match."

  • Exercise: Complete the sentence: "The athlete is always eager to ____ new challenges to test his skills."

9. Hold off:

  • Meaning: To delay or prevent something from happening, often used in the context of resisting opponents.

  • Examples:

    • "The defense managed to hold off the opposing team's attacks."

    • "They held off the opponent's attempts to score until the last minute."

  • Exercise: Fill in the blank: "The team was able to ____ their opponents' advances in the first half."

  • Exercise: Use the phrase in a sentence: "The determined goalie managed to ____ all of the shots from the rival team."

10. Cheer on:

  • Meaning: To support a team or player by shouting and showing enthusiasm.

  • Examples:

    • "The fans were cheering on their favorite player throughout the entire match."

    • "We'll be there to cheer you on during the marathon!"

  • Exercise: Complete the sentence: "During the final game, the crowd came together to ____ their team."

  • Exercise: Rewrite the sentence using the phrasal verb: "The supporters were loudly supporting their team throughout the game."

11. Go for it:

  • Meaning: To attempt something with determination and enthusiasm.

  • Examples:

    • "With only a few seconds left, he decided to go for it and take the shot."

    • "If you want to succeed, you have to be willing to go for it and take risks."

  • Exercise: Use the phrase in a sentence: "She knew the opportunity was rare, so she decided to ____ and try her best."

  • Exercise: Fill in the blank: "In the final quarter, the coach encouraged the team to ____ and give it their all."

12. Score off:

  • Meaning: To successfully make a point or score against an opponent.

  • Examples:

    • "She managed to score off the top-ranked player in a surprising upset."

    • "The underdog team scored off the favorites in a stunning victory."

  • Exercise: Complete the sentence: "In the final moments of the match, the striker ____ and secured the win."

  • Exercise: Rewrite the sentence using the phrasal verb: "Despite the odds, they managed to successfully score against the stronger team."

13. Hold onto:

  • Meaning: To keep possession of the ball or object, often against opposition.

  • Examples:

    • "He held onto the ball despite strong defense from the other team."

    • "The receiver managed to hold onto the football and make the catch."

  • Exercise: Use the phrase in a sentence: "The midfielder skillfully ____ the ball as he dribbled past the defenders."

  • Exercise: Fill in the blank: "In a tense match, they had to ____ their lead until the final whistle."

14. Catch up:

  • Meaning: To reach the same level as an opponent after falling behind.

  • Examples:

    • "The team worked hard to catch up and tie the game in the final minutes."

    • "After a slow start, he managed to catch up to the front-runners in the race."

  • Exercise: Complete the sentence: "Despite a slow beginning, they made a great effort to ____ with the leading team."

  • Exercise: Rewrite the sentence using the phrasal verb: "In the final stretch, the athlete sped up to match the pace of the leader."

15. Fall behind:

  • Meaning: To be in a losing position or to have a lower score than an opponent.

  • Examples:

    • "The team fell behind early in the first quarter."

    • "They need to step up their efforts to avoid falling behind in the game."

  • Exercise: Use the phrase in a sentence: "Due to a slow start, the team began to ____ in the first half."

  • Exercise: Fill in the blank: "The sudden change in momentum caused them to ____ in the match."

Practice Exercises

1. Match the Meanings: Match the phrasal verbs on the left with their meanings on the right.

a) Warm up

​i) Arrange a sports event

b) Gear up

ii) Retire from playing a sport

c) Go for (a record)

iii) Prepare with light exercises

d) Hang up (one's boots)

iv) Attempt to achieve a record

e) Knock out

v) Defeat an opponent

f) Set up (a match/game)

​vi) Get ready with necessary equipment

​g) Fall behind

vii) to lose position

2. Complete the Sentences: Choose the correct phrasal verb from the list to complete each sentence.

a) Before the marathon, the runners need to ____. (gear up / hang up / knock out)

b) She's been playing tennis professionally for years, but now she wants to ____ her boots. (warm up / set up / hang up)

c) The basketball team is aiming to ____ the championship title this year. (go for / set up / gear up)

d) The heavyweight boxer managed to ____ his opponent with a powerful uppercut. (knock out / warm up / gear up)

e) The sports club decided to ____ a charity soccer match to raise funds. (set up / go for / hang up)


Phrasal verbs are like the secret playbook of the English language. Incorporating them into your conversations about sports will make your expressions more dynamic and authentic. As you practice these phrasal verbs, you'll find yourself speaking about sports with newfound fluency and confidence. So, gear up for the challenge, go for the gold, and knock out those language barriers!

A Remarkable Comeback - A short story using the Phrasal Verbs in this lesson.

Once upon a time in the small town of Willowbrook, there was a local soccer team known as the Willowbrook Warriors. The team had been practicing tirelessly for the upcoming championship match against their arch-rivals, the Riverdale Rovers. As the day of the match dawned, the Warriors were ready to give it their all.

Before the match, the players gathered in the locker room to gear up for the intense game ahead. They knew they had to warm up properly to avoid injuries, so they followed their coach's instructions and performed a series of stretches and exercises. The coach reminded them that warming up was crucial to prevent muscle strains and to step up their performance during the match.

As the referee's whistle blew, the game began. The Warriors played on with great determination, despite the early lead the Rovers had gained. They held onto the ball fiercely, skillfully avoiding the Rovers' aggressive defense. The backup goalkeeper was called in when the starting goalie got injured, and he backed up the team admirably, making impressive saves.

In the second half, the Warriors found themselves falling behind by two goals. However, their captain, Sarah, refused to give up. "Hang in there, team!" she shouted, encouraging them to persist despite the setback. The fans cheered on their favorite players, shouting words of encouragement from the stands.

Sarah's words inspired the team to catch up. They increased their efforts and managed to score off a free kick, bringing them one goal closer to tying the game. With only minutes left on the clock, the Warriors intensified their attacks, determined to catch up to the Rovers' score.

In a remarkable turn of events, Sarah took on the challenge herself. She skillfully dribbled past the defenders and, with a burst of determination, scored the equalizing goal. The stadium erupted in cheers as the Warriors managed to catch up and tie the game. They had successfully held off the Rovers' lead and turned the game around.

The game continued into overtime, and both teams were exhausted. The Warriors' hard work and perseverance paid off when they managed to score the winning goal, securing their victory against all odds. As the final whistle blew, the fans cheered on their heroes, celebrating their remarkable comeback.

The Willowbrook Warriors' story was a true testament to the power of determination, teamwork, and the willingness to go for it, even in the face of challenges. They had hung in there, backed each other up, and ultimately caught up to the competition. With their victory, they proved that falling behind was only an opportunity to rise above and succeed.

And so, the Warriors returned to Willowbrook as champions, having held onto their dreams and cheered on by their supportive community. Their journey was a source of inspiration for everyone, a reminder that with hard work and resilience, anything is possible.


Daily walking turns out to keep you fit! Walking, HIT, and strength training are believed by some to make up the most effective types of exercise to keep fit.

1. What are your favorite ways to stay fit?

2. What are the best ways to keep in shape? How fit are you? What sports make up your top 3?

3. What is the most popular sport in your country? How fit do you need to be to play them?


Most-watched sporting event It is estimated that 3.5 billion viewers worldwide tune in to watch the Tour de France every year.

  1. What international and national sports events are coming up soon? Which will you follow?

  2. Do you prefer to watch sports or to play them? Why?


Sports debates It's debate time. Choose a side and debate with your tutor the following topics.

  1. Professional sports players get paid too much.

  2. Everyone should be forced to do at least 3 hours of exercise a week.


Sports at work Sports days at companies have turned out to be very popular as employees end up having a lot of fun!

  1. Do you think playing sports helps people work better as a team at work?

  2. Why do you think it is important to learn to win and lose gracefully?


Sports debates It's debate time. Choose a side and debate with your tutor the following topics.

  1. Professional sports players get paid too much.

  2. Everyone should be forced to do at least 3 hours of exercise a week.

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