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Teaching Tips

We are collecting tips from high school newspaper advisers nationwide on how to run student publications and deal with the issues from administrators, students and parents.

10 tips for improving scholastic sportswriting

10 tips for improving scholastic newspaper sports writing
Steve Row, Journalism Education Coordinator, Richmond Newspapers Inc.

  1. Write about players and teams, not about games. When school papers come out once every four to six weeks, stories about individual games a month earlier serve little purpose and in fact are a waste of space. You can write about groups of games in one story, but look for trends or common threads: Strong defense? Injuries? Unexpected stars? EXCEPTION: The school’s biggest rivalry, or a regional or state championship match, could merit its own story, although not overly long.
  2. When writing about players, always identify them by class in school and position on team. Don’t say “John Smith” when you can say “senior tackle John Smith,” and don’t say “Sue Jones” when you can say “sophomore goalkeeper Sue Jones.” And don’t use double-digit numbers to refer to either grade in school or year of graduating class.
  3. Keep up with team statistics and use them frequently in stories. Find out who keeps the scorebooks for various sports, and review the stats often. Also, always know where your team ranks in the conference, district, region and state, based on records and/or local polls, but tell the reader when the ranking was noted (“As of late October…,” “With half the season in the books…”)
  4. Keep up with individual statistics and use them frequently in stories. If a player sets or ties a school or local record, note it in a story. Maybe highlight it as its own story. Be sure your coaches and/or athletic director inform you when an athlete or team ties or breaks a record.
  5. Know sports writing style: scores are numerals separated by hyphens (12-6, not 12 to 6); team records are numerals separated by hyphens (8-2, not 8 and 2); winning scores always come first, even if your school did not win the contest (your team lost 12-6, not 6-12). Spell your opponents’ school name and nickname or mascot correctly. Use sports terms that apply to specific sports occasionally. You do not have to define them. However, don’t use words or phrases that are obscure or not widely known.
  6. Make sure your sports stories are the last stories turned in before deadline. This is so the stories can contain the most up-to-date records, standings, etc. If you refer to a team’s record, always insert a disclaimer that indicates to the reader when the story was written (“The team’s record as of late October…,” “The conference record going into the final week of the season…”)
  7. If you are writing about a team, watch the team practice and watch the team play. You must be present to know what happened, and you must take notes on what you are watching. You cannot write a good sports story on the basis of what someone tells you from memory. And you must be willing to spend some time after the matches to talk to participants.
  8. If you are doing a profile on an athlete, watch that person at practice and watch that person in competition. See above.
  9. Look for opportunities to do sports feature stories that are not tied directly to games. These might include stories about student trainers, the pre-season tryout process, different coaching philosophies, different training regimens and typical practices, seniors playing in their last games, why benchwarmers persist in trying out for teams when they know they won’t get much playing time. Also, write about students who excel in outside sports (club soccer, AAU swimming, etc)
  10. Sports writing can be more flexible than news or feature writing, but remember that even in sports writing a clear distinction exists between reporting and commenting. If you are writing your own opinion about a team or a sport or a sports issue, that is commentary. If you are writing an article about how the team is doing, or a profile on an athlete, remain as objective as possible.

SPORTSWRITING RULE: NEVER NEVER be a cheerleader for your teams on the sports pages. Don’t write about “our” team, write about “the” team. NEVER NEVER congratulate a team or an athlete in your sports stories. NEVER NEVER end a story like this: “The Fighting Gnus will undoubtedly be the class of conference and will achieve anything they set out to do. So let’s all go out and support the Gnus!!”

(A version of this was published in the Summer 2001 edition of the Dow Jones Newspaper Fund Adviser Update.)