Game stories can be difficult at first, especially when they have to be filed on deadline late at night. But you'll need to keep practicing if you are going to get better. Taking scores from coaches for nightly prep roundups is one of the best ways you can improve. You might have to write 10-20 leads in a single night, which will force you to find ways to briefly offer the key plays, key stat, or the significance of the game. To learn more, critique stories from the Associated Press, where experienced writers file solid gamers against all kinds of pressing deadlines. But also analyze game stories that offer an angle that is not connected to a key stat. These stories may focus on a key play, an unusual circumstance, or some other key angle in the lead before citing the result of the game.
Editors want tight, bright stories that include quotes from key players and that touch on key facts and emotions without omitting major factors. Says Jim Ruppert, sports editor for the Springfield (Ill.) State-Journal: "Game coverage is a necessary evil, and I'm not big on the 'featurized' game story. Cover the game or write a feature, but it's tough to do both at the same time."
Art Kabelowsky, prep editor for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, says he likes very little play by play in game stories. Do not just write a running commentary of plays, but do take note of key plays so you can briefly describe them to illustrate some analysis. "The game story should tell you a little about the status of each team and the thoughts and emotions of the coaches and key players who made tonight’s events happen," Kabelowsky says. "Anecdotes and good quotes are better than play by play."
Here are some elements you'll need to mix in for solid game stories.
1. Leads -- Focus on a key moment, unusual circumstance or stat that helps convey the most important part of this game.
2. Context -- Tell the reader what this game means. Has a team broken an eight-game losing streak, qualified for sectionals or lost its fourth straight five-set volleyball match?
3. Score - Make sure you put the score as early as possible. That could be in the second or third graph, if you are focusing on a key moment, or that could be the first graph, if you are filing a straightforward results story on deadline.
4. Analysis -- Watch the game carefully so you can break down the game into smaller parts. For example, you might notice that a basketball team played better with a smaller lineup, going on runs of 12-2 and 10-0 when the starting center was on the bench. Or you might notice that a soccer team dominated the middle of the field for most of the game, which will allow you to focus on the play of the center midfielders and backs, describing their efforts during 1-2 key moments.
5. Offer examples -- Show, don't just tell the reader how a team played. Always seek to offer a brief example. That means you need to take detailed notes throughout the game, because you'll never know when the notes will be needed. Notes also enable you to assess the game with some better perspective, allowing you to find some trend you may have overlooked.
6. Offer key stats only when they help support a main idea -- Do not just cite how many points several players scored or how many hits a softball player had. Cite the stats as they pertain to a focus in your story. Do not just write a story from the box score.
7. Focus on plays later in the game first -- Game stories are not written narratively, from beginning to end. You would focus on the final quarter of most football games, not the opening quarter -- unless something extraordinary happened in the opening minutes.
8. Include comments from both teams -- Do not just interview the home team. Those stories lack a wide perspective. Always try to get coaches and players from both sides.
9. Include quotes that offer thoughts and emotions from the game's key people -- And place these comments next to your description of the key plays.
10. Tell the reader what happens next -- Has the team advanced to the next level of a state playoff? Who does the team play next during the regular season?