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Steve Crossman. BBC World Service
What would be your main piece of advice be for somebody who wishes to be a sports presenter/commentator?
I don’t think there are too many people who put everything into becoming a sports journalist and fail. It really is a case of working yourself to the bone for free or for little money at first and taking on board every bit of constructive feedback you get.
Above all, get yourself involved with a radio station as early as you can. Most stations will take people on to shadow or do work experience and once you’ve done that you can move on to recording your own pieces of commentary and getting professionals to give you some advice on how to get better.
I’d also advise doing a degree in Broadcast Journalism, there are other ways into broadcasting but that’s the way I did it and many of the good journalists I’ve met have done the same. These courses will have voice training as part of the curriculum and that will be backed up by essential skills in how to survive in a newsroom, you’ll need all of that.
What are the key skills required?
You’ll need bags of self confidence and obviously a good broadcasting voice. The latter is much easier to get because if you’re determined to forge a career in sports broadcasting then you’ll go the extra mile and pester professionals with your work and keep recording yourself over and over to constantly improve.
What is the hardest part of your job?
I’d have to say travelling. It’s very difficult to survive in your early career as a sports broadcaster if you’re not willing to be incredibly flexible so you’ll find yourself accepting shifts all over the country, and sometimes out of it, to show people that you’re willing to work hard for them.
I can promise you that if you’re strong enough to get through that, the rewards are worth the effort.
Whats the best way for somebody to show off their skills as a sports presenter/commentator?
Contact a press officer at your nearest professional football/rugby club and ask to go along to a match and sit in the press box. Write yourself a preview to the match of about thirty seconds and record it when the teams are coming out to get the best of the atmosphere.
Then record thirty second updates every 15 minutes of the match and do a final full time piece to wrap it up, finishing on (eg.) “It finished Middlesbrough 1 Bristol City 0” then send it off to some stations and take on board their feedback.
Try and borrow a professional audio recording device from a local station to do this.
Also, research a match yourself that you know is live on television the next day, work out what statistics are interesting about it from searching the internet and then watch the game and take note of how the commentators introduce different statistics at different times, you might even find you’ve got an interesting fact that they miss!
Have you had to increase your knowledge about sports that you may not play or know much about?
Absolutely, and not just about other sports either. In the current climate you will be most attractive if you can be a jack of all trades so if you’re not willing to do news shifts at first you’re likely to struggle.
Although it’s not as exciting as doing a live commentary, reading live bulletins and reporting in the field will give you an excellent base on which to develop. Not only will you be able to record your own bulletins in studio quality to send off to other stations but you’ll be spending time in a newsroom and making an impression so if they need someone to cover a sports event in the future, they might think of you.
Are there different pressures for a sports presenter/commentator?
It’s probably one of the most high pressure jobs you can do.
It’s unlike most other professions in that you won’t become comfortable in your job for a long time. You’ll constantly be working for different clients and you need to use a variety of skills but still make sure every individual job that you do is your best work because, if it’s not, there will always be someone else desperate to fill your shoes.
You can never afford to put in half an effort on any match that you cover, because it will show.
How did you know that you could do the job you did?
The short answer is that I didn’t. I’d trained for three years at university so I knew I had a good enough voice to pull off a commentary but nothing prepares you for the moment when you hear a presenter hand over the live output of a station to you for the first time and it hits you that for the next 45 minutes your voice will be the only thing that thousands of listeners will hear.
The truth is you will either sink or swim, and all you can do is be as prepared as humanly possible by spending at least six hours researching and using websites like soccerbase.com (if it’s a football match) and local newspapers/club sites to make sure you know that specific match as well as a die hard fan of either club would.
Who are the best people to listen and learn from?
Listen to local radio commentators and watch highlights shows on television to decide whose style you like. You’ll notice some rely heavily on statistical information and others are more friendly and chatty so work out what suits you best.
Broadcasters will often be impressed if you phone them, if you rate someone highly at your local station then give them a call for a chat, you’ll be surprised how willing to talk about themselves some commentators are! Some people are less friendly than others, but nothing ventured.
And generally, how tough and competitive is radio for a would-be sports presenter/commentator?
Everyone says that it’s tough and very competitive and they’re right but if you work hard you WILL get your chance to shine and if you don’t stop working hard, keep your feet on the ground and remember that it’s often as important to be liked as it is to be good at the start of your career, you’ll be successful.