Sports writing can be its own entity. Die-hard sports fans are a whole different breed: we have our own language, a mile-long list of superstitions and traditions and we know how to pull a game apart.
How do you transcend the gap between those who breathe sports and those who may only have heard of a touchdown? The tips below are a starting point for any beginning sports writer.
Look around at other sportswriters and see what they’re doing. What seems to work for them? What sets them apart? Are they being creative? Don’t feel like you have to be all alone.
One book that is on my wish list for Christmas this year comes from the Associated Press. The AP Sports Writing Handbook by Steve Wilson is a fantastic guide to the world of sports writing.
The “…for Dummies” series also has great cheat sheets online as well as books on various sports.
2. Mix it up
If you’re describing a play-by-play, find other ways to use common terms. “Scored,” “passed” and “shot” become boring. Look to see what other writers have used to mix it up.
“Notched” is a common fill-in for “scored” while “shot” can be replaced with the type of shot that was used (wrist shot, slap shot, ect.).
Do not use words such as “kill” or “murder” to express a run-away game. Perhaps there was a crisis within an organization that would cause those terms to be a touchy subject. There are plenty of examples of athletes who have died within their careers.
You can, however, use “crush”, “rout” or “annihilate.”
3. Emotions are key
Play off the emotions of those you’re interviewing. The same way an emotional picture catches attention, an emotional story will, too.
Jerry Brewer’s article for the Seattle Times takes a game between the Seattle Seahawks and St. Louis Rams and finds a great story about Seattle’s wide receiver, Doug Baldwin.
4. Keep it simple. Don’t be too wordy.
Using four words to explain the way a football soared between the goalposts is more than unnecessary. Keep it short. This will also help with your total word count.
Saying, “The soaring kick flipped end-over-end as it drifted between the uprights” is unnecessary.
“The extra-point attempt gave the team the single point needed to take the lead” work as well as just saying, “The kick soared through the goalposts.”
5. You have to be objective
The way you write an impartial account in a news story is the same way you write a sports story. You might hate a team with everything you have, but you cannot let that show…even if they obliterate your favorite team.
6. The inverted pyramid counts for sports writers, too.
Don’t let what you’ve learned about news writing disappear. When you’re writing a recap make sure the important things (the score, who scored them and any potential records) are at the beginning.
Ex: “Sidney Crosby led the Penguins to a 5-0 win, scoring two goals and two assists in his first game back against the New York Islanders Monday night. Marc-Andre Fleury notched his 21st career shutout.”
7. Write for your audience
You might hope that your audience knows as much as you do, but you’re the expert. Be sure to make things easy to understand.
“One of the back four sent a chip down the pitch before a lofted cross from a forward resulted in a goal.”
Anyone who isn’t well versed in soccer will have no idea what you just said.
“A defenseman kicked a short pass down the field before a long pass from a forward resulted in a goal.”
8. Know what’s going on.
Even if you don’t understand the particular game you’re covering, at least look up common terms or penalties. You wouldn’t ask Ben Roethlisberger about his record-speed slap shot or Alexander Ovechkin how it felt to score a homerun.
A great place to start is to glance over the rules for the leagues. You’ll have a general understanding of what’s going on and you’ll be able to more accurately describe what’s going on.
Below are the rules for the big four major league sports. Other rulebooks (NCAA based on sport, Major League Lacross, ect.) can be found online by searching “[sport] rule book.” Make sure you find the rules on an official site run by the league as to not be led astray.
9. Find a way to interest non-sports fans
Try to pull in others, too. If there’s an angle you can take to a game recap that would interest others as well, do it.
I try not to use hockey too much, but there are such an abundance of stories in the game that it’s hard not to follow by example.
In order to make what would normally be an ordinary game recap interesting, The Canadian Press played off the excitement of something not so ordinary (three goals in six minutes) in a game against the Sharks and Stars.
10. Not every recap has to be a feature
You have a lead and a nut graf just as you would in a normal news story. You will have features, but they don’t belong in every single recap. Did something unusual happen in the game (a player comeback, a milestone, ect)? A feature would be great in that case.