Nine tips for crafting engaging sports feature articles

Nine tips for crafting engaging sports feature articles

Sports feature writing is an often overlooked niche in the world of journalism. While news reports present facts and details of the game, sports feature writing dives beneath the surface to explore the drama and emotions that happen off the field.

Sports feature writing paints vivid pictures of the game, the players, and the pivotal moments of the sport. It also shows moments, like the personal struggles behind an athlete’s success on the field or the compelling back story of a new coach. In essence, sports feature writers give readers all the behind-the-scenes juice of their favorite sport.

These writers must be able to craft engaging narratives that transcend the score the game ended with. They must also have a knack for storytelling, a deep understanding of the sport, and a close connection with the emotions and interests of the audience.

St. Bonaventure University’s exploration of the future of sports journalism shows that a sports journalist provides readers with rich, nuanced stories that are more than general sports knowledge. These journalists can tell sports stories through several mediums, courtesy of technological advancement. Through their online programs, students can develop skills and knowledge to thrive in this environment and begin successful sports journalism careers.

Sports journalists are also adept at fostering deeper connections between the sport, its athletes, and the audience. How do sports journalists craft superb pieces? This article will discuss nine tips on the best way to prepare engaging feature pieces.

Unearth the unique

The exciting part about sports is that you cannot always predict what will happen. You don’t know who will score the touchdown or which team will go home with the prize at the end of the season. Each player, team, and event have a distinct narrative and elements that make them stand out. You should unearth these unique aspects and bring them to the spotlight.

Of course, this means you must go beyond the obvious things—the wins, the losses, and the stats—and dive deeper into the lesser-known aspects that can make great stories. How do you do this?

Take writing about an athlete, for instance. Rather than focusing on their athletic performance, the number of goals they’ve scored and when they started professional sport, you should talk about their upbringing, struggles, what motivated them to be athletes, or even their quirks.

Imagine profiling a football player who, despite his impressive athletic prowess, is more interested in discussing his love for painting. Painting for this athlete may be an activity he uses for relaxation, but it could help audiences understand him better off the field. These kinds of unique angles can make sports features intriguing and memorable.

To unearth unique elements, you need to do more than surface-level research. You may interview athletes, coaches, and people close to them. You may also need to check background materials, like their past interviews, social media profiles, and biographies. The goal is to find nuggets of information that people don’t know much about or explore familiar information from a fresh angle.

For example, rather than covering a major sports event, like the Olympics, from the perspective of popular teams, you may focus on small country teams that no one is focusing on. You may discuss the challenges they’ve overcome, especially with their unpopularity, to be where they are and the unique training methods that set them apart from the other teams. You may even discuss the impact of their participation on their community back home.

This strategy gives depth to athletes and teams, making your narrative more engaging and relatable. It also encourages readers to connect with sports on a deeper, more personal level. It is what elevates sports journalism from mere reporting to the realm of storytelling.

Humanize the players

Athletes often seem larger than life, especially when performing impressive athletic feats that most people can’t do. However, these professionals are humans, like their audiences, with their passions, dreams, fears, and challenges. One of your key roles as a sports feature writer is to humanize these athletes. One way to do this is to peel away their public persona and talk about the person behind the player.

An excellent example of this is Serena Williams, the famous tennis player. While her prowess on the tennis court is awe-inspiring, her off-court life adds a layer of relatability and human interest to her story. Serena’s role as a mother and a businesswoman and her advocacy for women’s rights and racial equality reveal the person that she is behind her tennis player image. Readers are more likely to understand an athlete when they can relate to them, making her more than just a tennis player.

However, you must know a lot about a person before you can write about them. Don’t settle for post-game interviews and press conferences; build relationships and trust with athletes. Let them know you as a reputable name in the sports feature niche. That way, they can open up to you about their personal lives in your interviews. Do thorough research to gather insights about their off-field interests, family life, and cultural backgrounds. It is easier when the athlete trusts you enough to discuss it with you.

Humanizing the players makes sports feature writing more engaging and emotionally resonant. It helps readers connect with their stories personally. Besides, it’s a reminder that beneath the victories and trophies, there’s a human story that is equally, if not more, captivating.

Use vivid imagery

Vivid imagery automatically brings your writing to life. It’s a literary tool that lets you use sensory details to 

create a lifelike scene for your readers. You can transport your readers to the heart of the game and make them feel the adrenaline rush and the cheers of the crowd with the right words.

For instance, rather than simply saying, “The team won the championship,” you could write, “A wave of jubilation swept through the stadium as the final whistle blew. Players threw their hands up in triumphant exultation, their faces etched with relief and disbelief, their jerseys stained with the sweat of a hard-fought victory. The crowd erupted, a sea of cheering fans echoing the roar of triumph that marked the crowning moment of a grueling season.”

Vivid imagery doesn’t just describe the physical actions; it also captures the emotions and atmospheric details. These tiny details bring readers into the scene, making it feel like they are experiencing it themselves. If you’re writing about a tennis match, vivid imagery will help you focus on the tension etched on the player’s face and the hushed anticipation of the crowd as the player prepares to serve. You could also write about the ferocious whip of the racket meeting the ball and the explosive cheer that follows a winning shot. Using sensory details—sight, sound, smell, touch, and tastecan add depth and realism to your descriptions.

Incorporate direct quotes

In sports feature writing, direct quotes are crucial in shaping the narrative and adding an authentic voice to the story. How? They provide firsthand accounts, personal insights, and emotional context that can significantly enhance the depth and richness of your feature. Including direct quotes from players, coaches, and fans connected to the story gives it multiple perspectives, which balances the narrative.

If you had a quote from a basketball team’s star player in an article about their unexpected victory in a major tournament, it would give the readers a sense of the team’s mindset and determination. Quotes also make your articles more synthetic. You’re adding something someone—mostly a famous person on the team—says to buttress your sentences about the sport. Readers are more likely to relate if they read that the person you quoted also has the same mindset as them.

An example of direct quotes is getting one from the coach that offers valuable insights into the team’s strategy and challenges. For example, the coach might say, “We analyzed our opponent’s previous games, identified their weaknesses, and devised our game plan around them.” It is a simple statement, but it takes readers into the team’s strategies and how they successfully ace the game.

You can also include quotes from fans. Fans are supporters, observers, and even bettors, and the things they say often reflect how much the performance of a team or an athlete impacts the broader community. Quotes from fans also capture their loyalty, passion, and emotional investment.

However, you must ensure these quotes are accurate and in context. Misquoting or taking quotes out of context can lead to misinformation, damaging your credibility as a writer. And while quotes add value to your articles, they shouldn’t dominate your feature. Your narrative and the quotes you’ve chosen should seamlessly weave your analysis and the description together.

Tug at the heartstrings

Sports are not only about scores, statistics, and strategies. They are fundamentally human endeavors, brimming with powerful emotions like the heartbreak of a defeat and the thrill of last-minute wins. A clever strategy is to tap into these emotions. Tug at the heartstrings of your readers and make them feel the emotions that accompany every sporting event.

You may write a gripping narrative that tells the story of the team’s triumph against all odds, capturing the sheer joy and relief of the players, the fans’ euphoria, and the coach’s pride. It could also happen the opposite way. A tale of defeat would talk about the sorrow on the players’ faces and the silence of a stunned stadium. You could use direct quotes and vivid imagery to appeal to your reader’s emotions.

But remember, emotional storytelling shouldn’t feel manipulative or forced. It should come naturally from your story, the subjects you cover, and the unfolding events. Your role as a writer is to observe, interpret, and convey these emotions in an authentic way that resonates with your readers.

Build a narrative arc

Crafting a compelling sports feature is similar to writing a captivating novel. It should carry a well-structured narrative arc with a distinctive beginning, middle, and end. This narrative structure helps you engage the readers, build anticipation, and lead them to a satisfying conclusion.

The beginning sets the scene and introduces the main characters, whether athletes, teams, or coaches. It provides the backdrop against which the feature’s events will unfold. For instance, if you’re writing about an underdog team’s journey to a championship, the beginning could tell the team’s history and struggles. This stage should engage the readers and create a context for the story.

The middle delves into the core of the story. It chronicles the events, conflicts, and challenges that build toward the climax. For the underdog team, this could involve detailing their key games, strategies, and how they overcame their hurdles. It could also include exploring the individual players’ growth, team dynamics, and shifts in confidence. The middle should build suspense and anticipation, keeping readers hooked and invested in the narrative.

The end, or climax, completes the story. This part may recount the culminating event (perhaps the championship game that catalyzes your story). This is followed closely by the aftermath, or resolution, where the tension and anticipation built throughout the narrative are released. With the underdog example, this could involve a thrilling recounting of the final game, the moment of victory (or loss), and the team’s and fans’ emotional reactions. The end should wrap up the narrative neatly and leave readers with a sense of completion and satisfaction.

A helpful tip is to maintain a consistent tone and voice throughout the narrative arc. It ensures your story flows from one stage to the next, and your transitions between the different sections are seamless.

Leverage historical context

Connecting your sports narrative to historical moments or traditions within the sport or the team’s past can enrich the piece. It places current events in a broader context to show readers how they fit into the larger narrative. For example, if an athlete breaks a long-standing record or achieves a career milestone, the feature could recount their career trajectory, highs and lows, and the journey that led them to this historic moment. This way, the achievement is not viewed in isolation but as the culmination of a long, arduous journey. It makes the piece more admirable and noteworthy.

Also, referencing significant moments in the sport’s history can add depth to your feature. For example, if a tennis player develops a unique serve that changes the game, you could draw parallels with other game-changing activities in tennis history and explore how these changes were received and influenced the sport.

Strike a balance when incorporating historical context. The historical references should enhance and inform the current narrative, not overwhelm or stray from it. The main story should always remain the focal point, with the historical context enriching and amplifying it.

Provide in-depth analysis

A good sports feature should also provide an in-depth analysis of the strategies, decisions, and turning points that shaped the outcome. The in-depth analysis helps readers understand what happened, why, and what it signifies. Having analytical depth in your piece turns it into a rich, insightful exploration of the sport.

Here’s what this means: Say you’re writing about a football match; you shouldn’t just list the goals scored. An effective feature writer would analyze the buildup to each goal, the team’s winning tactics, and the individual performances of the players. They would also discuss critical moments in the game that acted as turning points, the impact of the coach’s substitutions, and their mistakes.

You need a deep understanding of the sport and a keen observational eye to provide this level of analysis. You need to identify patterns, discern tactics, and interpret the significance of different events within the game. You should also avoid using industry jargon. Use clear, accessible language so readers who are not sports experts can understand and appreciate your analysis.

Providing in-depth analysis means giving your readers the tools to understand the sport, appreciate its complexities, and engage with it deeper. This analytical depth elevates your sports feature from a simple recounting of events to an insightful narrative that offers value and engagement.

Infuse your voice

Your unique voice is one of your most valuable tools as a sports feature writer. Infusing your voice into your writing sets your work apart from others and shows an element of your personality. It reflects your perspective, style, and passion for the sport. Now, how can you infuse your voice into your writing?

The first step is to know what your voice is. It’s your unique style of expression, the tone, and the language you use to write. Some writers have humorous voices, while others may have a more serious and analytical voice. You should find your voice by writing and finding a comfortable tone. Eventually, readers will recognize your article through your writing tone.

Let your voice shine once you’re clear about it. Express your thoughts, opinions, and feelings about the game, strategies, and players in your own way. If you disagree with a coach’s decision, say so. You can also express your admiration if you feel a player’s performance was exceptional. Your honest reactions and viewpoints can make your writing more relatable and engaging for your readers.

However, while expressing your perspective, ensure it is well-informed and respectful. It’s okay to critique, but avoid being derogatory or disrespectful. Remember, your voice should add value to your narrative, not detract from it.

Incorporating your unique voice gives your sports features a distinctive flavor, which makes them identifiable. Readers may come to your feature for the content, but they’ll stay and return for your voice. It’s what makes your narrative unique.

Conclusion

You should always end your feature articles with a punch. A good introduction is refreshing, but a conclusion that stays in readers’ minds is crucial. End your pieces with meaningful sentences that capture your story’s spirit and leave your readers with a fresh perspective.

 

 

Salvador D. Langston

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