Most beginning sports writers look forward to the day when they can cover professional sports, whether that is major-league baseball, professional football or a PGA event. There's a certain appeal to covering pro sports. We grow up as sports fans, admiring athletes on our favorite teams, so we want to be a part of it all. Some of us even dreamed of playing professional sports. So this is our shot at joining the sports fraternity. In time, we learn we are part of another brotherhood (sports journalists) and we find that it is just as good. We work side by side with hard-working, dedicated, sharp editors and writers to win battles against deadlines, to cajole reticent sources, and to fully capture the essence of a game, person or event. Journalism is also a team sport.
Eventually, we find we love it just as much. We no longer have an emptiness that drives us, or a need to hit the ball fields in the spring, our hands itching without a glove or bat in them. Instead, we are sated by keeping score and watching others enjoy the games we loved to play. We pull for the kids in high school and Little League games, and we wince when they make a mistake. These games are much less jaded than professional (and college) games, although there are other problems afoot (like hyperactive, pushy parents who scream at kids, coaches and umpires.) Or the parent who is suing her kid's coach and league for failing to show him how to slide. We watch these kids and recall days spent shagging fly balls, turning double plays and sinking last-second shots in the drive way. Or we played one-on-one wiffle ball, using our fave teams' lineup and emulating their stances and quirks at the plate (like Joe Morgan's hitch or Willie Stargell's looping windup.)
Now, we realize covering high school and recreation teams is just as much fun as covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or Florida State. We realize we just love to get out, to be a part of the experience, and to write. Not everybody gets a chance to write for a newspaper, though. Some kids get a chance to do some stringing at the local newspaper, some college students get a chance to work as interns, and some graduates land that first job quickly. Others, especially, younger sports journalists struggle to find a place to practice. Thanks to the Internet, that is possible for everybody. Create a blog.
Then, head out to the local ball fields where you can speak with coaches and players and report on your own web site. You can write stories and columns and gamers. Tell your friends, family and parents about the URL for your blog. After a while, you'll have readers -- and once you do, you'll realize that's why we write: for others.
Perhaps, you can even fill a need in your town. Most newspapers (especially bigger ones) do not cover recreation sports or Little League in depth. You can become the main source for this news, offering statistical break down, game stories, team and player notes, and feature stories. Eventually, you will become the expert. And maybe the local newspaper will take notice and hire you to cover these (and other) sports. Some newspapers, like Florida Today, have sites dedicated to Little League (more on that later.)
Finally, ask a local journalist to critique your site, a professional who can offer specific hands-on advice. Plus, read and critique your favorite writers by taking note of story angles, listing words and phrases you like, and analyzing leads. By the end of the summer, you will be better for the effort. Many people say they want to be a sports reporter (colleges are filled with hundreds of grads each year), but not everybody is willing to work to get there. So, if you are not currently working as a sports reporter this summer, start a blog or web page.
If you are covering kids, be gentler in your commentary and game coverage. After all, these are not paid athletes. These kids will make mistakes, just as we all do when we learn something new. Most are playing for the love of the game, just pleased to be out playing on a field or a court. That's something worth watching (and writing about.)