Behind the Mic

“Sideline” Advice

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The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

A few weeks back, I was surprised and thoroughly enjoyed a blog entry written by RCN’s Gary Laubach here on our website giving advice for broadcasters based on his years in the announcing business.

It was ironic to me because I had just come from a meeting involving some people who are relatively new to the broadcasting profession and I was sharing with them some of my own experiences and things I have learned.

At the risk of repeating some of Gary’s sage advice (and I would suggest any future broadcaster go back and read his article if you have not done so already), I wanted to focus on one aspect of broadcasting that I actually have a little more experience doing…that of sideline reporting.

Reporting from the sidelines (or “courtside” for basketball, “mat-side” for wrestling, et al), involves some distinct differences from broadcasting from a press box or a scorer’s table.

One big difference is paperwork. I have a reputation for bringing “the kitchen sink” when it comes to information, stats and stories for our broadcast. When I was roaming the sidelines, I didn’t have the luxury of carrying a bunch of papers or even putting a ton of information down on a cell phone, because often there wasn’t time to “page” through everything while giving reports.

Another big difference is being flexible. You can have several reports all lined up, prepared and ready to go when you have your opportunity, then an injury occurs, a fight breaks out, a couple quick turnovers and scores occur, and everything that you thought you were going to talk about just goes right out the proverbial window.

One’s personality also has a lot to do with sideline reporting. Because you are down on the field and are more visible to everyone at the arena, you, by nature, are interacting with people throughout the game. It’s important to be personable both while on-camera and while talking with coaches, players, athletic trainers, officials and anyone else who happens to be there (and you never do know who may show up from time to time!)

So without being overly preachy, here are a few of my general recommendations for new sideline reporters–with one important caveat.

It’s important to develop your own style! Go into a broadcast with a game plan, but mix in your own thoughts, opinions, suggestions, and also experiment a little from time to time. Re-evaluation is also important in ALL aspects of broadcasting, and going back to re-examine what works and what doesn’t is an absolute necessity.

Things to do pregame:
1) Develop a couple storylines and things to watch for (this may change during the game, but it’s always good to have something prepared going into the broadcast)
2) Talk to the head coach, assistant coaches, players (if available) and athletic trainer (more on this person later)
3) Go over your first couple talking points with the announcing team. Nothing is more frustrating than to be all ready for your first report only to hear exactly what you were just about to say coming in through your headsets just moments before the camera turns to you–TRUST ME!

During the game:
1) Follow your own storylines and keys to victory. Analyze appropriately as the game evolves. If you’re correct–say it–but don’t go overboard praising yourself. If you’re wrong or something changes, don’t be afraid to talk about why something changed–even die-sports fans might learn something from a perceived “mistake” on your part.

2) Give a brief and accurate but considerate injury report — if possible — and try to be very sympathetic to the players. Some trainers will be very accommodating, helpful and have told me they think it’s wonderful to highlight that aspect of sports. Others in more emergency situations will frankly tell you to get out of the way (which is why you try to set up a nice rapport with them BEFORE the game starts!). You’re not a doctor, but just give a few basics and let people know the playing status that the trainer gives you without giving your own speculation in this particular area. One of the most frequent types of emails I have received throughout my career is from the injured players’ parents, expressing thanks for my genuine concern talking about their child’s condition–sometimes if they’re watching from home, YOU will be the first person to give them news!

3) Look for emerging storylines, unique efforts and other positives for both teams.

4) At half-time ask the coach who is leading for a few thoughts on the first half going into the locker room. Then get to the trailing coach coming out of his half-time locker room and ask for a few things he’s looking to improve upon in the second half. When ready early in the third quarter, report your findings from both coaches. Anyone who has played any sport knows that the coach who is losing will not be in a better mood than the coach who is winning, and experience has told me you’ll get a much better response (and sometimes a more therapeutic experience for the coaches themselves) by talking with them in this order.

5) At the end of the game, interview the winning head coach with two or three questions about his team’s performance. Asking more takes away from the “moment” and most coaches are anxious to talk with the players, so limiting yourself to the most important and relevant questions works best (unless you’re talking about a championship game-which is a completely different experience.) Also, don’t get too bogged down in talking strategy at this moment and devote at least one question to focus on outstanding and/or underrated performances by his/her players.

6) Have fun! Nothing translates quicker to an audience if you are not having a good time–and this is even more evident when you are working the “sidelines.” Enjoy the experience and the audience will enjoy hearing/being with you, too!!