Teaching Journal: Writing about live sports events

Through the semester, I’ll offer observations from my own sports (and sometimes news writing) classes that could prove helpful for both students and teachers.

Assignment: Students wrote stories based upon the football exercise in the second edition of the Field Guide To Covering Sports (pp. 365-367).

Observations: Students developed leads that were general, which is often the case since they are often taught to take this approach in essays by most teachers from K-12. As a result, my students focused on leads about “regulation ending in a scoreless tie” or merely that Cocoa defeated Tallahassee Godby, 7-6, in a state title game.

I reminded students to apply the lessons from Chapter 2, focusing on a reason one team defeated the other one, which usually means citing a key play, key performance, key statistic, key trend or some other unique element. In this assignment, students could have selected from several angles, but the one that makes the most sense involves a simple, pedestrian act – a kicker converting a PAT in overtime after having missed four field goals during regulation. … A few students also incorrectly used present tense but told them to save that for scripts broadcast on TV. … One student did not put the winning score first, instead writing that a team triumphed, 6-7. The higher score is cited first in every team sport except for cross country and team golf, where the lowest score wins.

Pedagogy: I do not grade these early assignments, knowing most student have never written a game story. But even students with some experience still require considerable development. I encourage students to write notes on their own stories, inserting feedback to others that applies to their own stories. Students can use these notated exercises when they develop successive game coverage. I also reference chapters dedicated to the sports being covered, which students can then use when writing these exercise-stories.

Final comment: Students often believe they know more about sports than they actually do. By watching and reading sports, they believe they can more easily offer game coverage. So a few students can get frustrated early on. These are a few reasons I discourage students from comparing themselves to professionals or to fellow students who are more advanced. Instead, they need to compare themselves to only themselves – in one month, one semester, one year. And each year students need to be better than the year before. It all starts with doing the work now.

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