Interviewing in sports is an art form

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 20, 2000

Sports Editor

In my short time as a sports writer/editor I guess if there is one piece of advice that I can give to others stupid enough to put their heads on a chopping block every day like I do, it’s to learn how to give a decent interview.

Knowing where to get a story is one thing, but knowing how to get the most out of an athlete or coach is another. You’ve got to talk to someone and ask those questions that are going to give you the special tid-bits that no one else has thought of.

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It slides both ways though. Not only is it a sports writer’s responsibility to be able to ask the right questions, but it’s a coach’s or player’s responsibility to know how to answer questions and give the reporter what he or she needs.

I’ve interviewed a number of coaches in my short years working this business and most of them are pretty savvy when it comes to chatting after or before a game. Some of them can be true horses’ pa-toodies, but most of them understand they have to have a love-hate relationship with the media no matter what level they are on.

Be it High School or College or even Pro, the most successful coaches use the media to their advantage. Just take a look at Indiana Head Coach Bobby Knight if you want to see a horror story after mistreating the media. Can you imagine how many old sports hounds are foaming at the mouth just to get a chance to bait him into an explosion in the coming season? That should be interesting to watch.

I always tell the story that I heard on some Sports-Talk Radio show, of a young Indiana beat writer who had just been given the job of covering Indiana Basketball. He was excited about the opportunity of course and walking down the hall he just happened to run into Bobby Knight. He took the opportunity to introduce himself. Big mistake!

"Hi coach Knight, my name is So-and-So I’m going to be the new beat writer for whatever paper he was working for."

Knight looked him straight in the face with those steely eyes and replied, "What makes you think I give a ____!!" (fill in the blanks with your favorite expletive).

That’s not a good way to start out a reporter-coach relationship. And it can go the same way with players.

I remember covering teams that all the reporters would flock around a certain player after every game just because they knew he gave good quotes. Some of the other players would be alone in their locker after making a key play in the game simply because they didn’t know how to talk well or answer questions.

Personally I’ve had my good interviews and my terrible ones. One I will share with you is the one I had with Brooke Sessions the other day getting my story on her making the Dixie Minor All-Star team.

I usually don’t quote or even talk to kids that young (10 years old) simply because I know how hard it is to get anything out of them for one and two, usually it’s better just to get the parents view of the situation and ask them how the kid feels.

Well, I called the Sessions looking to simply talk to Mr. or Mrs. Sessions, but Brooke answered. I told her congratulations for making the team and just tested the waters. What happened after that was probably one of the best interviews I’ve had since coming to Troy. Little 10-year-old Brooke was a perfect interviewee.

She talked with poise beyond her age and it made my story so much better to get the facts from her.

So, next time a reporter sticks a microphone in you face just remember we’re human too,… well almost.