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Covering youth sports

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Batman, Jan 14, 2015.

  1. Batman

    Batman Well-Known Member

    Our publisher has decided he wants us to put a new emphasis on youth sports. Starting next week, we have to have (in a section that averages three pages per day) at least two youth sports stories per week.
    So, when youth sports are inevitable, what's the best way to lay back and enjoy it? Besides putting a gun in my mouth?
    There's only so many features you can do on volunteers, games are damn near impossible to cover on their merits, and regular photo packages (my preferred method of handling it) aren't enough.
    Anybody have any ideas that go beyond the obvious? Anything you've done that worked or didn't work?
  2. Boom_70

    Boom_70 Well-Known Member

    List entire roster, say that they all hustled,ate
    oranges, cleaned up and went home.
  3. reformedhack

    reformedhack Active Member

    Yeah, you're in a pickle. Nobody wants to read a feature about a 12-year-old batting .300, besides the kid's immediate family.

    Could one of those weekly "stories" be an agate roundup of last week's scores (submitted by the leagues) with a calendar of next week's events (again, submitted by the league), plus maybe some standalone art? Quick, easy and it creates the illusion that you give a rat's ass about the kiddies.

    Maybe one of those stories could be a simple notes column ... just chunks and tidbits compiled from the (usually lame) press releases submitted from hither and yon. When I was a baby sportswriter, back in the 14th century, one of my duties was a weekly youth sports notebook for a neighborhood section of the big-city metro paper, and it was pretty easy to save up all of the submissions and run something once a week. It wasn't exactly reporting -- it was more like stenography -- but it filled space and took less than an hour to do. Once we started doing it, we started getting more submissions, so we were seldom at a loss for content. But, like I said, it wasn't journalism with a capital J. That could be a good job for an intern or freelancer.

    Also, what about localized big-picture stories, like concussions in youth soccer, or how Little League pitchers are blowing out their arms because their coaches don't know any better, or why basketball camps are really profit centers for corporations rather than actual showcases for college scouts, or kid golfers who play a sport with a dwindling participation rate? Could you pop a trend story once a month?

    Or, God forbid, a "kid on the street" question of the week, with local youth athletes. Take an hour, go to the local ball park or basketball court. One simple question, four mugshots and four replies, and done -- a 10-inch hole is filled. Again, good duty for an intern or freelancer.

    Just some ideas off the top of my head. Good luck, Batman.
  4. SnarkShark

    SnarkShark Well-Known Member

    I love the notebook idea proposed by reformedhack. That's a good way around actually covering youth games. Please, for the love of god, don't cover any youth games.

    That's how I would try to swing it. Notebooks and features.
  5. Boom_70

    Boom_70 Well-Known Member

    Do what our town paper does. Dedicate some space each week and require the coaches
    of respective teams write their own articles and submit them. Coaches typically delegate
    writing duty to hottest mom so it's a win win all around,
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2015
  6. PaperDoll

    PaperDoll Well-Known Member

    I don't think you'll have a problem getting material, particularly if you put a call out in the paper, online (and sent directly to the biggest leagues, if you're a glutton for punishment).

    During the summer, we request coaches submit results to a generic e-mail account and compile that into a twice-weekly roundup (mostly Little League-affiliated baseball and softball) with whatever gawdawful team photos are included. Our year-round twice-weekly, news-side "good news" notebook has no shortage of youth sports items, almost none of them actually fact-checked. That's where the sportswriters forward all the gymnastics, karate, fencing, and other non-varsity info during the high school season -- unless somebody is particularly interested in the sport or an individual involved.

    Try to make it as reader-friendly as possible, while consuming as little of your time as you can. Good luck!
  7. LongTimeListener

    LongTimeListener Well-Known Member

    Publisher has a little one who's that age now, huh?
    JackReacher likes this.
  8. NoOneLikesUs

    NoOneLikesUs Active Member

    Be sure to subtract two stories per week of preps/local college coverage to compensate.
  9. Doc Holliday

    Doc Holliday Well-Known Member

    What we've done is divide the youth sports stories into different categories by sports and then done notes packages on them. Basically, we have what you would call notes packages for golf, softball, baseball, soccer, tennis, bowling and swimming. What you do is call or email the director of each program, tell them what you're looking for (schedule of events, numbers of participation, growth rate of program, top performers each week, etc.) Normally, they'll flood you with information. At the very least, you'll come up with a schedule of events to which you can highlight the biggest event with a few extra paragraphs. It's always worked very well for us.
  10. LongTimeListener

    LongTimeListener Well-Known Member

    Batman --

    Since it appears you're stuck doing this, here is one idea that you could probably do something with, and this author is VERY into the publicity.



    The book is really taking root on social media, at least in my area (SF Bay Area). It was written by a man who coached elite soccer in Oregon. It's kind of a self-help book -- I don't personally go for all the list-making and "action items" in it -- but his attempt was to ask the question of just why it is that all of us parents are going along with this hypercompetitive early youth system that doesn't benefit our kids. I don't know if the book has gone anywhere in your circulation, but it is going viral a little bit. I see a post related to the book or website at least once a day.
  11. Starman

    Starman Well-Known Member

    You can't cover games in any conventional sense (i.e. full-length gamers with quotes, etc) because of the precedent it will set ("why did you cover THEIR game and not OUR game!!!!!") so notebooks and features are the way you will have to go. Unless your publisher wants to authorize sports staff members spending complete days covering midget league games, coach-submitted agate or capsule roundups (preferably E-mailed in a format you can copy and paste into the paper with minimal effort) are how game results should be handled.

    You also can't write any story in any way critical of any actual person, except maybe some ridiculously generalized strawman stories about "crazy parents who ruin things for everybody." Make sure your publisher understands this.
  12. Starman

    Starman Well-Known Member

    Involved as I have been in coaching kids in the past (mainly my siblings 20-some years ago) and now vicariously with nieces/nephews, the whole topic has been of interest to me.

    Although I haven't read the book cover-to-cover in great detail, one topic area the author likes to hammer is how awful the talent-development system is (he contends) in the U.S. in almost all sports, particularly soccer, and he implies things would be tremendously different if we adopted a system based on the prevailing European development programs.

    (Some of) The problems I have with this whole approach are:

    First, it assumes that the failure of the U. S. to develop top world-class soccer talent is some huge problem we really need to be concerned with as a society;

    Second, in order to remedy this problem we should greatly deemphasize team success at lower levels of competition in favor of skills drills and talent development;

    Third, he contends that coaches tend to ignore 'gritty, coachable players' at the lower levels in favor of kids with outstanding athletic talent.

    To which I would offer the following responses:

    1) I don't think there is any great level of public concern or even interest that the U.S. is not producing floods of world-class soccer talent -- certainly not enough to warrant wide-scale changes in our development systems.

    2) Kids at any level of competition like to win. Given abundant playing time for everybody, it is more fun to be on a winning team than a losing team. High-level skills drills and talent development are ultimately useless to the reasonably high percentage of players at each level who will not advance on to play at higher levels. For such players the 12-under soccer team will be the highest level of soccer they will experience in their lives.

    The most glaring example of this concept comes in basketball, in the near-hysterical insistence of most youth coaches and many leagues that the players must only play man-t0-man defense, never zone. This is certainly true in terms of a player aiming to eventually be a varsity starter in high school, but for a 7th grade kid who is a 5-6 forward, a little chunky, a little slow-footed, a little thick in the legs, etc etc, kids like this are almost always more effective playing zone defense to minimize lack of quickness and maximize the opportunity to use their bulk for good rebounding. This isn't because they are lazy or do not know what they are doing, it is because of their physical limitations. Utterly prohibiting them from playing zone defense forces them into game situations where they will hurt the team, in favor of additional development of the top-level prospects who have the physical tools to play M2M the entire game long.

    3) I would submit at almost EVERY level coaches tend to direct more attention to players with relatively outstanding physical skills for their age group, which tend to make them very valuable in the pursuit of winning. As players advance up the development ladder, the kids who were all-world studs at the lower levels on sheer talent become the gritty gutty coachable players at the next level.

    The book is interesting and I want to get around to reading the whole thing, but there are certainly some issues of disagreement.
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