So you’re passionate about sports. You know practically everything about your favourite team and could list the players’ names and positions in your sleep. That’s great, but it doesn’t make you any different than the millions of other men and women looking to make a reporting career out of their love for sports.
Becoming a paid sports journalist requires more than mere interest on your part – although that interest is definitely necessary. Why would anyone read your particular analysis on that athletes’ latest game or that team’s latest scandal, if you don’t offer a unique and entertaining insight? To make it as a sports writer, you’ll need to stand out. To do that, you’ll need immense dedication.
Step 1: Write at every opportunity you get
The first thing any aspiring sports writer should do is get themselves a blog. Decide on what you will write about and how often, then stick to this content schedule to practise discipline. Take your self-imposed deadlines as seriously as if you were delivering content to Sports Illustrated. Ideally, you’ll be writing an article each day – even if not all of these actually make it onto your blog.
Besides allowing you to practise your writing and hone your editorial style, the blog will function as a portfolio for when you apply to paying positions. If you’re confident enough, maybe mix up the content by uploading the occasional video blog or podcast. Before long, you will find yourself becoming savvy with other aspects of running a blog too. For example, you can work on useful skills like using WordPress, HTML, photo editing software and much more. These skills are desirable in the editing rooms of major publications – something to keep in mind when you want to impress prospective employers.
Your blog will also be a great way to get feedback on your writing from friends and family. This is extremely important. Nobody wants to hear that their story sucks, but sometimes harsh criticism is what we need before we can improve ourselves.
Step 2: Don’t turn down reporting gigs because they’re not relevant
Getting the opportunity to put your live reporting skills to use is invaluable – especially if it’s at a major or distinguished event. Anyone can turn up to a match and write an article about it, but few people get invited as official press to big events. Whether it’s related to sports or something else, the experience of live reporting will look great on your CV – not to mention offer a great learning opportunity. Conduct interviews, snap photos, do surveys – take the reporting gig as seriously as you can. You never know – you might end up making some important contacts.
Step 3: Be proactive and reach out to other writers and sports professionals
Looking for something with which to lure readers on to your blog? How about an exclusive interview with a star in your field? Reaching out to athletes is a lot easier than you might think – use Twitter, Linkedin and other social media to get hold of contact info, then politely request an interview – or just a few comments on a particular subject. The person in question doesn’t have to be famous – sometimes it can simply be interesting to read about the opinions of other professionals in the industry. You could for example interview a coach, medic, instructor or sports psychologist on a variety of issues related to your sport of interest. As for reaching out to other fans for surveys and vox populi – ask for volunteers on sites where such fans or amateur players would usually hang out. For example, if you write about professional poker, you could go looking for players on online poker sites. If you write about horse riding, you could visit relevant Facebook pages or horse riding forums.
Step 4: Read other (good) writers
No matter your craft, you should learn from the best to become the best. Read the work of the best writers in your field and compare it to your own. Identify what makes their writing so good. It might help you realize that your own writing is not sufficiently concise, or that the language isn’t sufficiently varied. A good writer doesn’t just state information – he or she tells a story and forms a narrative that is both convincing and engaging. Their passion for the subject of their writing should shine through. How do the best writers in your field achieve this? The only way to find out is to read their work – and often.
Step 5: Market yourself
Unfortunately, being good at what you do doesn’t guarantee getting discovered. Most probably, you will need to get your name out there with a bit of networking and self-promotion. Use LinkedIn to make contacts, promote your blog online, give business cards to the right people. This can be a time-consuming and difficult process which will put your dedication to the test.
Step 6: Be patient – success takes time
Don’t expect to become a professional sports writer overnight. This is a competitive field where patience is key. In all likelihood, you will be working for little to no money for a long time before you can make sports writing a full-time job. Stay optimistic, don’t get overwhelmed – and keep writing!
Though this is far from an exhaustive list of tips on how to become a successful sports writer, the best advice lies simply in honing your skills and having the right mentality. Hard work pays off – just ask the biggest sports stars!