Insights on coverage from a basketball coach

It’s always helpful when coaches speak to future sportswriters about their own profession. At EIU we are fortunate that many coaches are willing to share their expertise with our students. Ask coaches at your own schools if they can speak with your staffs or classes. I bet most will attempt to find the time, despite their hectic schedules.

Here are a few insights and suggestions offered by EIU women’s basketball coach Lee Buchanan (right).

  • Every game has a plan. Learn it.
  • After games, ask coaches whether they were able to execute their game plan. Before games, coaches are not as willing to share these plans, fearing an opposing coach will learn the team’s strategy. But, afterward, coaches are usually willing to offer most of the key details.
  • Learn tact and delete commentary when asking post-game questions. So, for example, do not ask: “Boy, those guys really took it to you today” – unless, of course, you want a coach to respond defensively, if at all. Better to ask coaches to analyze why and how a team ‘took it to them,’ by using specific stats to request further analysis. “Coach, Austin Peay scored more than half their points within five feet of the basket. Would you mind describing how they were able to do that tonight?”
  • After games, don’t twist the proverbial knife. Ask pointed questions, use tact, and rely on stats by saying something like this: “Coach, I know you’re down, but could you talk about Johnson going four-for-twenty?” Do not say something like this: “Why did you all miss so many shots?”
  • Coaches have faith in their players, believing they’ll make the right shot, pass or block when needed. So that’s why a coach set up a certain play or inserted a particular player.
  • Don’t toss out adjectives and adverbs while asking questions, using terms like ‘poorly’, ‘well’ or ‘confidently’ – whatever those vague terms mean. How do you, as a sportswriter, really know whether a team was confident unless they stated this? Better to stick with specifics.
  • Coaches face many challenges during a season. “We live a yo-yo life,” Buchanan said. “We’re really high or really low.” After losses, coaches are obviously going to be excited the same way they will be deflated after losses – not just because their careers might be on the line but because they have invested more than anyone into these games and their players, something to consider when writing about these teams. This is not to say you can’t ask tough questions. Fire away. Coaches are professionals and should respond in kind. Let’s make sure our comments and questions are also professional.
  • Show that you care about your beat by doing research before games and interviews. Coaches notice this. The better you prepare, the more likely a coach will share with you.
  • Coaching is about making adjustments, such as trapping or not trapping on defense in the second half. Look, ask about adjustments after games.
  • Talent dictates philosophy, not vice versa. A coach might like to run a fast-paced offense but that’s not as possible with taller, slower, physical players. Coaches look for the most talented players when recruiting, not necessarily players that fit into a system.
  • In journalism, reporters analyze others’ work in order to appropriate the best approaches. Coaches do the same thing. The best coaches are the best thieves, stealing plays they see in film or on TV.
  • As a reader, Buchanan is not as interested in synopsis or play by play. He wants to hear ‘a take’ on the game that can include perspectives from coaches and players.

Finally, do not complain about not having enough time to attend games, to prepare for interviews, or to speak with others. Keep these excuses to yourself when speaking with coaches who work 10 to 12 hours daily for six to seven days a week. Coaching on the sidelines, Buchanan says, is about five percent of what a coach does besides watching game film, recruiting, ordering equipment, scheduling buses, preparing camps, and talking with media, players, and people on campus. The smaller the school, the more likely coaches will do these duties, and more.

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About jgisondi

I covered sports and worked as a sports copy editor for more than 20 years at several newspapers in Florida, including the Fort Myers News-Press, Clearwater Sun, Florida Today and Orlando Sentinel. I started writing for a weekly sports publication in Coral Springs, Fla., at age 15. I have been hooked on sports journalism ever since. I was fortunate to have worked with some amazing editors along the way, journalists who took the time to help me even when my copy was not top-notch. Now, I teach journalism at Eastern Illinois University and work as an editor for Landof10.com, a vertical that focuses on Big Ten athletics. A second edition of the "Field Guide To Covering Sports" will be available sometime in February 2017. The book is a practical guide to preparing, observing, interviewing and writing about 20 different sports, from auto racing to wrestling. Chapters also address ways to cover high school sports, fantasy sports, to develop sports blogs. You can also learn how to cover games, to write features and to interview better. Fans can also learn basic rules of these sports, along with ways to better observe the action. New chapters in the second edition will address social media, advanced analytics, fantasy sports coverage and revised, expanded chapters address game coverage, features and columns, among other new sections.
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