Thursday, February 22, 2007

Swimming -- covering meets

Covering sports can be daunting at first -- watching the action, keeping score, writing effective notes and then talking with coaches and players. Then, you must organize and understand these notes before writing a story under deadline pressure. This entry is the third in a series created to help reporters focus on key information and statistics, both before and during the game.

Swimming is a much more individual sport, unlike basketball, football and baseball. Reporters frequently focus on team results in game stories for team sports. In sports like swimming, tennis, and track & field, reporters should focus more on individual results. The team winner is not typically significant in dual and tri-meets. Instead, you should focus on the top individual and relay performances. Even in meets where a team winner is significant, reporters can first focus on individual performances. If the school from your area wins the regional or state titles, place that information higher in the story. But local results typically trump all other results. That’s what readers care most about. So, if you are covering a meet where no swimmer from your area finished higher than third, that should still be your angle. Focus on your local swimmer’s performance, describing how she kicked it in, or faltered, at the end to take third. You should still cite the overall team winners, but it should not be your main angle.

Here are several ways to find a lead angle for your story:
■ A single performance (someone who broke a long-standing record).
“Kevin Boyle set a national record in the 100-breaststroke …”

■ An individual’s performance (someone who won several events in a dual meet or invitational)
“Patrick Vitt won three individual events and anchored another to lead …”

■ A key match-up (a final race or relay that yielded the overall team winner)
“Dan Renick kicked it in during the final 20 meters in the final event to hand
Eastern its fourth consecutive Ohio Valley Conference title …”
■ Put a face on the event by featuring one or two swimmers.
“When Dan Woike’s right leg was ripped off by a bull shark, he was certain his life was about to end.
When a lifeguard rescued him, he knew he’d never walk or swim again.
At best, he figured he would be able to relax in a shallow pool.
Nine months later, Woike never dreamed he would win compete in a state high school swimming title, but that’s exactly what he did Friday night, finishing eighth in a 100-meter breaststroke prelim race.
Jacksonville Bolles, meanwhile, captured the boys high school title for the
ninth year, compiling 49 points to edge Miami Lakes (45) and Sarasota
Riverview (42) in the Florida High School Swimming and Diving

■ You should also cite how the team fared somewhere in the opening paragraphs. That could mean revealing whether a team or individual advanced to the next level of competition, meaning a swimmer at the district meet advanced to the regional meet; or, that could mean simply citing the key scores in a dual meet or invitational.
■ You can cite dual-meet records somewhere in the story, but there is rarely a reason to lead with this record, unless a team has a lengthy winning streak.
“Eight different EIU swimmers took first to lead the Panthers to an easy victory in the Big Blue Invitational.”
Don’t forget to include some of the following information in the introductory paragraphs
■ Team names/nicknames
■ Score
■ Meet's significance. Does any individual performance clinch a postseason berth? Is this a conference or district victory? Does the team have a chance to win at the next level, based upon the number of swimmers who just advanced?

■ Is the pool a fast or slow pool? Ask the coaches, check the times.
■ Focus on the finals unless someone set a significant record during qualifying. There are many types of records, so don’t lead with a record time for that facility or pool or a team record. Those are not nearly as interested as a state or national record.
■ How many swimmers advanced to the next level of competition for the postseason.
■ Check on a swimmer’s splits for race more than 50 meters. Did a swimmer go faster in the second half of the 100-meter breaststroke or 1,000 freestyle?
■ Look for races that were the most competitive, which typically means the races where the times were the closest.

■ The events should be referred to in lowercase, thus the 500-meter freestyle, 100-meter breaststroke, 200-meter butterfly or 50-meter backstroke.
■ All races should be run in meters.
■ Individual Medley relay – consists of the following races in this order: butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, freestyle. Referred to as the IM in second reference.
■ Medley Relay – four different swimmers compete over one-fourth of the prescribed distance in the following order: backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly, freestyle.
■ Swim meets are often held in natatoriums, enclosed swimming facilities.
■ Compare a team and individual results to previous year and to earlier in the season to find interesting angles
■ Swimmers train so they have their best performance at the end of the season. A swimmer wants to peak in the postseason, not during early-season dual meets. Dual meets are often competitive practices.
■ Cite diving heights in numerals. For example, Erin Miller captured first in the 3-meter diving competition by earning 345 points.

■ Dual meets: Relays go 11-4-2-0 points. Individual events go 9-4-3-2-1-0 with only the best three for each team eligible to score.
■ Tri-meets: same scoring system except only the top two for each team eligible to score.
■ Championship meets (6 lanes): Relays go 14-10-8-6-4-2; individual events go 7-5-4-3-2-1
■ Championship meets (8 lanes): Relays go 18-14-12-10-8-6-4-2; individual events go 9-7-6-5-4-3-2-1.
■ Scoring varies for championship events using 12 and 16 lanes.
■ False starts – A swimmer who starts before the gun sounds to start a race. As in track, a swimmer is typically disqualified after prematurely starting twice in a row.
■ Qualifying – At the HS level, swimmers typically qualify for the state meets by finishing in the top four or six across several postseason meets, which can mean districts, regionals, and, sometimes sectionals. At the college level, swimmers qualify for the national championships by recording a certain time prescribed by the NCAA the beginning of the year. But these are still only provisional times. If too many swimmers record the provisional times, the NCAA will adjust the times to limit the number of swimmers competing at the national meets.
■ Typically, athletes must compete in qualifying heats before they can compete in the finals. Usually, the top eight racers compete in the finals.

■ You need to spell out minutes and seconds the first time you cite raced times. Afterwards, can rely upon using just numerals.
• For example, you would write that someone won the 1,000-meter free in 6 minutes, 12.45 seconds. But the second-place swimmer finished in 6:18.25.
• Franklin notched her ninth provisional time of the season by clocking 1 minute, 5.2 seconds in the butterfly, good for second place.
• Samantha Jordan finished strongly in the 100 fly, touching the wall .04 seconds ahead of Brittany Johnson in 1 minute, 12.8 seconds.

■ After you focus on the main stories of the meet, you can list several other interesting results by bulleting them.
Eastern also fared well in several other events:
•Ryan Terrell clocked in at 53.4 seconds to take second in the 50-meter freestyle.
•Dori Niemann took third in the 200-meter fly in 2:01.2.
•Chris Sobut anchored a 200-meter medley squad that finished third. Dan Woike, Laura Griffith and Matt Stevens teamed up with Sobut to finish in 1:43.9.

■ Citing team scoring. Don’t list every team’s scores in the story for bigger meets. Let the agate reveal all 21 team scores in a district, regional or invitational meet – and post key teams in a fact box. You should cite the top team scores somewhere in an earlier paragraph, unless you are writing a feature story on the event.
Eastern had clinched the invitational about half-way through the meet, compiling 729 points, 98 more than runner-up Valparaiso. Evansville took third with 411 points, followed by Lincoln College (321), Bradley (298), and Marquette (245).


■ Arrive early for the meets to get programs, speak to officials, and verify factual information with coaches and officials. In longer meets, you can arrive during the prelims to give yourself perspective on leaders and to determine which finals races will be most significant or interesting.
■ Read as much as you can on the teams involved so you can find interesting angles and so you do not just repeat what has already been written.
■ Go to and click on swimming for records, provisional times and rules, among other things.
■ How many swimmers returned?
■ How many swimmer graduated the previous year? Who were the top swimmers/divers lost?
■ What were their accomplishment the previous year?
■ Who are the leaders on the team? How is that revealed? Try to get a story that illustrates that. Feel free to put that story in your own words.
■ Swimmers might say that they felt especially strong in the event or meet. Ask them how they know that? Did they feel they were breathing easier, or that their strokes were stronger? Get specific reasons and details.
■ How many times did this team win this meet? “Florida captured its seventh straight Southeastern Conference title.”
■ When was the last time this team won this meet?
■ Make sure you speak to several coaches and athletes, but do not wait until the end of the meet to do so. Interview swimmers and divers as they complete their competition in order to compile a list of possible story angles and a longer list of solid quotes, insights and stories.
■ Interview opposing coaches as well. Readers will appreciate this additional, and typically new, perspective.
■ Ask what the athletes were thinking during their specific swimming events or right before they made a key dive.
■ Ask divers to explain their dives and to cite which dives they thought were the most difficult. Cite reasons for their comments.
■ Cite career-bests for athletes, when this is significant.

PHOTO CREDIT: Eric J. Hiltner/Daily Eastern News



John said...

Thanks. Most swimming articles down here are written by coaches or parents and then submitted. The local reporters rarely show up at a meet.

Katie H said...

Sweet. I'm in a HS Journalism class and that helped a lot. I have to write a story about how our swimming team's practice was cut by 30 minutes to 1 hour, how the heck do I make this interesting?!

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