How to Sports (It’s Not That Hard)

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In the past four years, I have covered football, basketball, hockey, baseball, softball, lacrosse, track and field, volleyball, beach volleyball, skiing, snowboarding, wrestling, figure skating and triathlon. One of the most frequent questions I get concerning my reporting is, “How did/do you learn so much about so many sports?”

Learning sports isn’t really that hard. It takes some time and mental energy, but that’s about it.

This past weekend, I was assigned to sideline report my first field hockey game. Guess how much I knew about field hockey? Nothing. Like, no, seriously — nothing.

So, three days out from the game, I learned it. And while I did, I figured I might as well put together a post about how others can do the same. Ready? Ready.

HOW TO SPORTS:

1. Go to the Wikipedia page for the sport. No joke. This is always where I start. Go to Wikipedia, search “field hockey” and read the page. You get a great overview with plenty of helpful links to related pages — generally all my big, overarching questions have been answered by the time I’ve scrolled to the bottom.

2. Read the official rule book. This is the most boring part of learning any sport, but it’s important. Find the governing body for whatever sport you’re covering — it will vary depending on sport and level —and search for the rules and regulations of the sport at hand. In my case, NCAA Division I field hockey goes by International Hockey Federation guidelines. If you can’t find them on the site of your respective governing body, try a google search. Then read them.

3. YouTube search “______ basics.” Insert the name of whatever sport you’re learning into that blank space. Watch a few videos. Get a feel for how those rules you just read about look in motion.

4. Watch a game broadcast. Or two, or three, or however many you need. Find a full game if you can, or just YouTube search for highlights and partial clips. This is how you learn the particular phrasing and lingo of whatever sport you’re covering — don’t go overboard with it, obviously, but take notes on unfamiliar terms used by play-by-play announcers, figure out what they mean, and note any language you should incorporate into your own writing or reporting. When I first got into hockey a couple years ago, I can’t tell you how many hours I spent listening to NHL radio just to pick up the jargon. Even if I never use the phrase “top cheese” in a game report, knowing slang automatically gives you a foot inside the world of a sport and allows you to blend better. Fake it till you make it, eh.

5. Research the teams or individual you’re covering. This is the last (and what I hope would be the most obvious) step for me — researching the particular story I’m covering. For games, know the rosters and records of both teams as best you can, watch recent interviews with players and coaches, read up on their latest games and give yourself a chance to gather information on their strengths, weaknesses and personalities. You’ll ask more informed questions and have a good basis for what to watch for when reporting.

That’s it — basically, just use the resources readily available to you to arm yourself with as much information as possible. It’s uncomplicated and only takes a little thought and motivation, but for me it’s the difference between covering a story confidently or covering it timidly.

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