How to write a sports article

  • Here are some simple tips and tricks that will make your sports news more appealing to your readers
  • It's all about the athletes and the person, not just the results
Andrew McNicol |

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Writing a sports article is an art form, just like flexing properly, as Lebron James is demonstrating in this photo.

Many people put sport to the side and that's fine. There are certainly more important things going on in the world than someone scoring a goal or winning a medal. But as you see with most earth-shattering news, sport has a habit of being mentioned one way or another.

Some people live and breathe sport, waiting on news about the latest trade rumours or injuries. Whatever the audience is, you must convince them with all your enthusiasm that sport is worth a place in their thoughts.

That especially holds true in a business-centric city like Hong Kong, where sport always takes second place. As the legendary Hong Kong windsurfer Lee Lai-shan said after winning gold at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, "Hong Kong athletes are not rubbish!" Here are a few essentials for writing a sports story.

How to write a news article

Grab the reader 

Always start with something unique to immediately draw the audience in. You should make sure they can't put what they are reading down - like a good book. Whether it's a match report on a cup game, an in-depth athlete profile or a casual fluff piece, your audience wants to know the juiciest bit first. Then you can squeeze all the important details and tidbits throughout the remainder of the piece.

People, not results 

Don't emphasise the results (unless it's worth it e.g. record-breaking feat, important debut, one-sided thrashing). A wise man once told me, "It's not about the sport, it's about the people". Yes, the results and competitions should not be dismissed, but people like to read about other people.

Hong Kong windsurfer Lee Lai-shan won a gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games.
Photo: K. Y. Cheng

Know your stuff

Remember to do your background research, even if it's boring or irrelevant. You want to know your athlete - on paper - more than they know themselves. You want to know the context (i.e. why it is they are speaking to you, what event you are attending). You also want to know the sport inside-out, or you put yourself in line for criticism from fans and fact-checkers.

Tighten it up

Keep quotes short and smart, if possible. If you think the athlete has said something poetic or of note, then put it in the story early and avoid redundancies. You can then pick at the most important words or phrases. Also, leave the cliches and formalities for the end. Not that they are less significant; but it is more interesting if an athlete recalls a funny story about tripping on the podium than thanking "my coaches, teammates, and fans for their support."

How to use quotes as a journalist

Credits and captions

Double check that have collected all the relevant photos with the correct photo captions and credits. It is not only unprofessional not to give people their due credit, but it can also get you into trouble with copyright and ownership. An easy thing to do is save the photo as "[Date] [Athlete name] [Sports event] [Photographer]" straight away after downloading. You'll thank yourself later.

Know the latest 

Try to keep the athlete's contact on hand during the writing process. There will be times when you need more information, or help to connect the dots in a story. There is no point in messaging them at the last minute because you forgot an important detail because it'll probably be too late by then. They may even give you a bonus update on a competition date change or whatever it is they had for breakfast that morning. Whether or not it's worth including in the story, at least you've got the latest.

Just read it

Last but not least, read and scrutinise your story from start to finish. You will be surprised how many errors - grammatical or contextual - you miss with each read. Everyone makes mistakes, but it's much better if you've managed to get rid of the stupid ones before anyone sees. A clean story also keeps you in your editors' good books!