I have heard some football commentators using the expression "on the volley" and of course I know what it means in that context, but are there other contexts where we can use the expressions "on the fly" or "on the volley"? Is there a difference between them? In which contexts should I use one rather than the other?

In football (soccer), shooting on the volley means that you cannot stop the ball before shooting it or that the ball cannot fall before you shoot, so you have to be fast. On the fly has a similar meaning, you do something quickly.

  • Not sure if/why you think they are related. As for on the fly, it is commonly used and has several idiomatic meanings - on the fly. If you could elaborate in your question that would be great. At least I am not aware of any similarity.
    – user3169
    Aug 26, 2014 at 3:55

2 Answers 2


On the fly is a fairly common expressions, but does not have any relation to football/soccer. Instead, it comes from flying an airplane based on what you see ahead of you: you need to make decisions quickly as obstacles come into sight. Idiomatically, it means something is done hurriedly, often while also doing something else. For example, if you are driving on the highway, and hear a report that there’s a 10 mile backup starting just ahead of you, you have to decide on the fly whether you want to sit through the backup, or get off the road now and take a different route. If you wait until you hit the backup to make a choice, it’s no longer on the fly because you’ve got plenty of time to consider your choices.

I’ve never heard ‘on the volley.’ In the US, at least, it is not commonly outside of sports. And as an American who’s not a soccer fan, I’d assume the term referred to volleying the ball in volleyball.

  • 2
    While the parts concerning current usage are accurate, the description of etymology (history) are inaccurate and unsupported. I would suggest either cutting the comments about the origination of the term, or providing some backup of your conclusions.
    – Mark G B
    Feb 21, 2016 at 2:59
  • The sense I get from "on the fly" is not so much hurriedly, but ad hoc: you aren't planning things out ahead of time, but waiting to see what comes up and making decisions based on what you see. This does result in things being more time sensitive, but it's not (to me) the main sense. Mar 1, 2019 at 16:04

"On the volley" means kicking the ball before it touches the ground (just like a volley in tennis, where the ball doesn't bounce, or indeed in volleyball, where the whole point is that it never touches the ground so is always volleyed). See sense 2 here. It doesn't really have anything to do with speed; you could volley a ball that was travelling slowly. I've never heard it used in the sense of making a decision.

"On the fly" is used in the sense of making an impromptu or on the spot decision. The other phrase you could use in the same situation is "off the cuff", which allegedly came from — presumably disorganised! — speakers making quick notes on the cuffs of their shirts before they gave a speech.

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