This spring, I’ve had the great pleasure of putting the headset back on and becoming a play-by-play announcer for USCB baseball and softball. My journey behind the mic started as a student at Hilton Head High before taking my skills to the collegiate level, calling soccer, baseball, and lacrosse action for the Atlantic 10’s Davidson Wildcats.
When I first took to the air to call a Seahawk football game, I thought I could rise to the level of a Vin Scully overnight. I mean, you’re just reporting the action that you see on the field, it shouldn’t be that hard, right? But I quickly realized that the greatest in the business reached that level for a reason. Just like any other profession, it takes studying, learning, practicing, and more practicing to get to the professional ranks.
Now, with a handful of years calling several sports at multiple levels, I’d like to think I’m experienced enough to give some advice to some of the young readers who are interested in pursuing a career in sports broadcasting. Here are some pointers that I’ve picked up along the way that are essential to becoming a successful and confident broadcaster.
1. Do your homework.
First and foremost, it is imperative to come into a broadcast with a solid understanding of the two teams competing, the key players taking part in the contest, and the storylines of the upcoming game. In baseball for example, I’ll first glance over a team’s record, its last few games, and then take a look at the stats to see who is impressing, or conversely not impressing. You want to come in knowing at least the most important info about the matchup. Find a notebook to put down the most eye-popping stats that you find, so that you can use it right away when that player comes up to bat, for instance. The more research you do, the more possibilities you have in your toolbox to enhance the broadcast. You’ll also come off as a seasoned professional who has proven his or her preparation. You also want to have as much knowledge of the game as possible. Any sport has its share of lingo, and there are tricky distinctions that you should be aware of before you come on the air for the first time. You don’t want to confuse a five-second violation with a three-second violation or a suicide squeeze vs. a safety squeeze, for example. Make sure you have a strong knowledge of the situations and rules that come up during a game, so you’re ready for when it happens. And if you’re doing baseball and softball, make sure you know how to keep score, which is a must for calling an informative game.
2. Be a good communicator.
The best broadcasters are knowledgeable, but they also know how to carry lively and fun conversations. You’re addressing a large audience, but you’re also having a conversation with your on-air partner. Asking each other questions is a fantastic way to establish a connection between the two of you, and is key for filling in time between pitches, for example. (Just try not to start a bunch of new topics with two outs in the inning.) The best broadcast teams are those that have a fun sense of humor and understand how to build off each other with relevant, informative, and playful commentary.
3. Repetition is key.
Imagine coming home from school or work and turning on a radio or television broadcast midway though the game. You would be hoping to quickly know the score and find out the major events that have happened while you were away. This is why, as a broadcaster, you want to continually reset the scene, and let the audience know what has already happened. This can be done in a matter of seconds with a strong working memory of the key moments and turning points of a game. It also helps yourself to remember these key points, which makes your job easier when you have to refer to a player who made that diving catch to save two runs or hit a bases-clearing double, for example. You must assume that your audience may know nothing when they tune in, so it’s key to give a running synopsis as the game rolls along.
4. Show enthusiasm.
We all love sports because of the excitement that it brings to fans, players, and of course us as announcers. We want to make the experience of calling and listening to these games as fun as possible, and delivering the game in a monotone voice erases some of that built-in excitement that the magic of sports brings. If you first and foremost think of the job as having the time of your life while hanging out with a best friend, you’ll have no problem showing that enthusiasm on air. No one wants to listen to boring commentators with no energy, and yes, I’ve heard some who fit that category. Be a cheerleader for the competitors and a voice that informs but also celebrates like a fan in the stands. But DO NOT, especially at the youth and college levels, criticize a bad call or condemn an official decision. Being enthusiastic is key, but being respectful and positive while showing that excitement is a must.
5. Practice, practice, practice.
Just like the athletes themselves, you can’t become successful if you don’t work at your craft and put in the necessary practice. It starts with turning on the TV or radio and listening to the professionals showcase their craft. Don’t just listen to the same broadcast team either, try to model your own style off of a collection of different names in the business and see what strategies work best for you. When you’re ready to try it out, turn on the game, mute the audio, and rehearse yourself. Just like any activity you take on, the more reps you accumulate, the better you will become. Eventually, you’ll have the confidence, the experience, and the knowledge to make your way to the press box and get started. And one final tip: have fun. For many of us, we’ve been wanting to do this for years. It’s easy to let the nerves get to you when you’re speaking to hundreds of people at once, but just remember why you pursued it. There’s nothing like the adrenaline rush when calling a big play or a game-winning highlight, and when you get the opportunity, make it a moment you’ll remember forever.
By Wes Kerr