Ask follow-up questions


Athletes do not practice speaking in cliches any more than sportswriters attempt to write them. But, you know, sometimes a good cliche is worth a thousand words. You can take that to the bank. But cliches can also be confusing — even to a hard-nosed fan, someone who is a gamer, a serious student of the game and a go-to guy for sports trivia.

Cliches are not any one’s friend, despite what Crash Davis says in Bull Durham (perhaps, the funniest movie ever produced on sports.)

Crash Davis: It’s time to work on your interviews.
Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: My interviews? What do I gotta do?
Crash Davis: You’re gonna have to learn your clichés. You’re gonna have to study them, you’re gonna have to know them. They’re your friends. Write this down: “We gotta play it one day at a time.”
Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: Got to play… it’s pretty boring.
Crash Davis: ‘Course it’s boring, that’s the point. Write it down.

We should not interview athletes and coaches for quotes. Instead, we need to speak with them to get a better understanding of a game or play, to get explanations for decisions, and to add a little flavor to a story. Quotes should answer questions, not create them. That means asking the all-important follow-up question if an athlete or coach offers a statement that is vague or unclear.

For example, what does this quote mean? “Once we have balance, we will be a very deadly force.” In what ways does this team need balance? How will the team be deadly? Ask this coach to explain. I know sports reporters, especially newer journalists, are uncomfortable asking these follow-up questions, feeling this either challenges an authority figure or makes the reporter look like a dope. Actually, reporters look foolish when they fail to fully understand everything about a story, game, or profiled person. Ultimately, coaches and players will appreciate that you want to get it right.

Here are a few more quotes that could use some clarification.
“We are extremely eager to get back at them, to avenge our first loss of the season.”
• What particularly has this person upset about the loss? Teams lose all the time, so why is he so upset?

“Everyone is working hard to help the team win. You want to do well because you want your team to do well.”
• How hard are these players willing to work? Get some details regarding this training. Show, don’t just tell. Then offer these details to a reader who can determine if these players are really working hard.

“Winning is always the goal,” she said. “But on the way to winning, the goal is to just play our game. We will need to play together as a team and do our jobs individually to be successful.”
• In what specific ways does this team need to play together better? Ask f0r some examples.

“We have a lot of chemistry,” she said. “One would think it would have been difficult to develop with more new players than returning players on the team. But I actually think it’s turned out better. We all get along great and are definitely ready to start the season. We have a lot of confidence.”
• Get some examples that reveal that the team has chemistry. In what ways are the players getting along? Ask for a story or two.

“My bat isn’t as hot as it was a couple weeks ago, but I’m just focusing on staying consistent day in and day out. If I keep bringing energy every day, I think it will only [help] continue my success.”

• How is this baseball player trying to stay focused? Is he doing yoga (or just reading hitting tips from Yogi?) Is this player taking an extra 30 minutes or 100 pitches each day? Get the details.

The Griz swept the three doubles matches, picking up their sixth doubles point in seven matches. “We’ve had a pretty good doubles streak,” said freshman Danni Paulson. “We lost against (MSU) but prior to that we won most of our doubles points this year, which I know they didn’t do last year, so our doubles is definitely strong.”
• How is this doubles team particularly strong? Is one player great at the net and the other a terrific server? Are the players psychic? How is this team winning most of its double points? Ask.

“I think it’s going to give us some good momentum going into conference,” she said.
• This is as cliched as it gets. It says nothing when it appears to say everything. How does a victory or good performance help a team in its next game? Is this team now confident it can rally from behind in the fourth quarter? Did a point guard start making some tough passes inside? Ask for particular details so the reader can understand how this one game might assist the team in the future.


4 Responses to “Ask follow-up questions”

  1. Chet Piotrowski Jr. Says:

    This may be cliched, but as an EIU grad and one who considers Philadelphia home, I’m needing advice on how to root for a fellow EIU grad who plays for the most reviled team in America – the Dallas Cowboys. Please notify me of your counciling services, scheduling, and pricing.

  2. Joe Gisondi Says:

    Yes, I too, faced this dilemma the other night. I rooted for the Giants while my daughter squinted her eyes in disbelief and said, ‘but Tony Romo is from Eastern Illinois.’ I root for Tony in all other situations, but that clearly is not acceptable to my daughter.

  3. While fun to say, avoid cliches that diminish sports writing – Sports Field Guide Says:

    […] show  or a pithy segue on “SportsCenter” than in a game story or profile piece. In cliche-ese, writers need to step up their game for more reflective audiences who prefer to read than […]

  4. watch movie Says:

    Great information. Lucky me I came across your blog by chance (stumbleupon).
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