How to Write About Sports

Sports WritingWriting about sports might sound difficult at first, but it’s actually surprisingly easy once you settle into a routine and begin to apply some basic techniques.

I’ve written scores of sports articles over the years and, while I’m no Hemingway (although there’s an app for that), I’ve been generally pleased with the overall results.

On this site, I’ll share a few of the lessons I’ve learned over the last decade. Some may seem like common sense, while others might qualify as actual nuggets of wisdom. In either case, they should help you polish your overall content and sound like a sports guru.

Know Your Sport

If you’re writing about a specific sport, try to learn as much as you can about it. What are the rules of the game? What are the positions called? Who are some of the more notable players?

While being an expert on the subject is always helpful, a basic understanding is all that’s required. Reading the Wikipedia entry for a sport is a good way to get started (here’s one for American Football), and there’s no substitute for watching some actual games (or YouTube highlights).

Get the Names Right

Whether you’re writing a player’s given name or nickname, it’s important to get it right. Nobody is likely to compliment you if you’re on target, but they’ll certainly notice if you make mistakes.
I used to work at a television station years ago, and we had a sports reporter who often flubbed the names of players. One time, for example, she referred to the nickname of pitcher Orlando Hernandez as “El Dookie” instead of “El Duque.” In the mind of your audience, such mistakes can be a devastating blow to your credibility.

The Importance of Lingo

No matter what sport you’re writing about, there should be plenty of unique lingo to choose from. I suggest sprinkling in these terms on occasion, as they add spice to the article and make you sound knowledgeable about the subject matter.

For example, a baseball player who hit a home run is said to have “went yard.” This lends a certain authenticity to the narrative, and it’s also more colorful than using the same term repeatedly.
Be careful, however, not to overdo it with sports lingo. Using a slang term in every sentence can be overwhelming to the reader, and it also makes it sound as though you’re desperate to be taken seriously. (Baseball writers can start with MLB.com.)

What’s Interesting

Pay attention to what stands out! Everyone and their grandmother reports the latest results, so perhaps you should go beyond that and cover something that others haven’t written on? Sometimes it helps to be new to a sport because it helps you to look at the sport from a different perspective and pick-up things that regulars might have gotten used to.

There are plenty of interesting stories in every sport. If you look deep enough, or from a perspective that’s different from others’, you’ll find great stories and attract readers.

Check the Stats

There’s nothing more embarrassing than being called out on incorrect stats. Before you reference a player’s touchdowns or balls on base, make certain that the numbers are right. The best way to do this is to find a sports site that you trust and refer to it anytime you’re in doubt (or even when you’re not). (If I were looking for basketball stats, for example, I would start with Basketball-Reference and NBA.com.)

Adding stats into an article is another way to make it more interesting, and there are plenty of sports fans who absolutely adore the crunchiness of numbers. As always, just make sure not to overdo it.

Spell Check is Your Friend

This advice applies to any sort of article, whether you’re writing about sports or how to grow a garden. Before you submit an article for public consumption, always make sure to check it for spelling and grammatical errors (and there’s an app for that, too).

While the spell check function is the easiest way to do this, keep in mind that it’s not perfect. A word can be spelled correctly and still used improperly, and it’ll slip right through the cracks.

The best method is to use the spell check and then proofread the article the old-fashioned way. I suggest starting at the bottom of the article and reading upwards, since you’re less likely to get lost in the flow of words and overlook a mistake.

Conclusion

While learning how to write about sports may be more difficult for some, I’m convinced that even the most casual fan can crank out a respectable article on the subject by following the advice listed above. Patience and repetition are two of the main ingredients for success, which means your 80th article on football should be obviously superior to your first.

Once you’ve mastered the basic formula for success, it’s just a matter of plugging in the necessary names, stats, and details. Throw in a dash of appropriate lingo, and you’ve got yourself a serviceable sports article. While this might not lead to fame or wealth, it’s better than producing a sub-standard work that’ll be the subject of ridicule by Internet smart alecks.