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Tips for reporting on high school athletics

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by newinthefield, Jul 14, 2010.

  1. newinthefield

    newinthefield Member

    I am a recent college graduate with no experience covering high school athletics (though I did cover colleges for four years). I'm sure that's what I'll end up covering once I start working, so does anyone have any general tips on covering high school athletics (especially football and basketball)? I've heard a lot of different advice from people and am always trying to gain more tips and tricks.

  2. Simon

    Simon Active Member

    Don't flirt with the coaches hot MILF wife.
  3. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    1. Scout out a place with wi-fi to send from beforehand.

    2. Learn to take play-by-play and keep stats and practice it.

    3. Don't believe the kid in the stands keeping stats for the home team when he says he'll share his stats with you. He'll be gone.

    4. In football, grab the players/coaches quickly after the game, especially if they are on the road. They may just get on the bus and go.

    5. Doublecheck the roster. Don't just go with what they hand out. (You don't want write that #20 John Doe rushed for 300 yards and 6 TDs and find out later that was really Steve Smith.)

    6. High schools are a lot harder than colleges. You're not getting stats sheets, quote sheets, pre-arranged interviews and a press room. You've got to keep it together.

    7. Don't try to be fancy at first. Keep it straight.

    8. Don't write in chronological order. No one wants to read that play by play. Hit the highlights.

    9. Make sure the guy you quote as the coach is really the head coach. Don't know how many times that stringers have interviewed an assistant they assumed was the head coach but never asked.

    10. Eat before you go. You don't want to wait in line at halftime to get a hot dog. You'll need that time to get your notes straight.
  4. Hoos3725

    Hoos3725 Member

    All great tips. And in the right order of importance. I can't emphasize enough knowing where you're going to file before the game. If there's a panera, you can usually pick up wireless from their parking lot, if the game ends late.
  5. Batman

    Batman Well-Known Member

    1) For football and basketball, add your stats up at halftime. Makes things easier after the game, when you might have less than an hour to get quotes, add everything up, find a place to write, come up with a coherent lead and story, and then put it all together.

    2) For football, try to grab whatever players you need before they hit the postgame huddle -- especially if it's the road team. Like Ace said, a lot of teams hit the bus and go. One of our local schools, whenever we cover them on the road I'm usually talking to the coach as he's walking to the bus -- about five minutes after the final whistle.

    3) Again, to mirror Ace, always always ALWAYS keep your own stats. You can doublecheck with the kid or parent doing it for the team if you're not sure, but most of them are pretty clueless.

    4) You're a young guy. Don't be afraid to use that to your advantage (in a non-sleazy way). Go to baseball practice and, if the team is just taking BP on a slow day, bring your glove and shag some flies in the outfield. Take a round of BP if they'll let you. Show up 30 minutes before basketball practice starts and shoot around with a few of the guys while you chit-chat.
    High schools are fun to cover because they're much more accessible than college or the pros. There's times you can go sit down with a coach and just shoot the shit for 30 or 40 minutes, or even take part in practice. That stuff pays off big-time later on.
    Reporting, especially on this level, is all about letting people get to know you and vice versa. If players and coaches see you're not a pretentious dick who only shows up to ferret out a story they'll be more likely to open up when you ARE trying to ferret out a story.

    5) Basically, put down the notebook and talk to people. Especially when you're starting in a new job, don't be afraid to spend a few hours a week just being a fly on the wall. Not everything you see and hear has to be a story right now. A lot of high schoolers play more than one sport. You might hear a nugget about a backup on the football team, then use it six months later for a feature when he has a breakout season in baseball.

    6) Get to know parents as well as players and coaches. On an individual level they'll often know more -- and tell more -- about what's going on with some of the players than coaches do. Or, at least, they're more willing to tip you off about it even if they don't realize they're doing it. People love to talk about their kids, especially if they're helicopter parents. It might mean getting trapped in a boring 30-minute, one-sided conversation from time to time, but you can pick up a lot once you learn to separate the bullshit from the important stuff.
  6. CR19

    CR19 Member

    Learning how to take accurate notes is one of the most important things. High-school teams usually don't keep accurate tracks of statistics. If you live in a rainy area, such as New England, carry a pencil to every game you go to. Most places don't have press boxes, so you'll be stuck in the open weather. Pens tend to run with the rain, and it can ruin your notes. Also, make sure you get to know the athletic directors of your schools. They're some of the most important people that you'll meet on the beat.
  7. Batman

    Batman Well-Known Member

    Another good tip. Rain is the enemy during football season. Forget the pen/pencil debate. If your notebook gets wet you're screwed. I haven't met the writing utensil yet that can do its job on a sheet of wet notebook paper. Protect it like it's made of sugar.
    If you live in a rainy area it might not be a bad idea to invest in a recorder for that very reason.
  8. TrooperBari

    TrooperBari Active Member

    If you go down through the JTO forum archives, you'll find similar threads like this. It will be worth your while. In brief:

    Get there early, talk to people (not just players and coaches), make sure you have rosters, ask about number changes, take multiple pens (the four-color ones are great) as well as a mechanical pencil should the pens freeze/dry up, bring a big plastic bag to cover your clipboard or notebook if it rains or snows, know your deadline and approximate length (if available) before you leave the office, and don't miss deadline.
  9. TrooperBari

    TrooperBari Active Member

    That's a good idea regardless of where you live, especially if your handwriting -- like mine -- is the bastard child of cursive and shorthand. It's much easier to rewind and play again than interpret chicken scratchings a month down the line.

    Whether it's in the OP's budget is another matter, of course.
  10. RickStain

    RickStain Well-Known Member

    Let me third the recorder option. I always thought I didn't need one. Then I borrowed one, and I couldn't believe how much more I could get out of an interview.
  11. 93Devil

    93Devil Well-Known Member

    Once you get good enough with notes and stats, walk the sidelines during high school football season. It's heaven. This has been highly debated here, but I loved it when I was in the biz.

    Be sure you know the colors of the teams before you go so you can avoid those colors in your clothing choice.

    Oh, get a four-colored pen.
  12. newinthefield

    newinthefield Member

    Thanks everyone for the tips. I have been using a recorder ever since I started reporting in college. I typically go with recorder/notes just to be safe though.

    Is walking the sidelines of a HS football game an accepted practice or is that something to ask the coach if you can do?
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