The dos and don'ts of being a freelance sportswriter

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July 15, 2021
5 minute read

There’s nothing better for sports fans who want to work remotely than working as a sportswriter. Sportswriters are in high demand, but there is a lot of competition since sports writing is a popular niche for freelance writers.

To stand out, you’ll need to understand the dos and don’ts of making it as a sportswriter.

5 dos for freelance sportswriters

If you want to become a successful freelance writer in the world of sports, your best course of action is to do the following:

Do: Stay informed

Almost everyone has opinions about sports. So if you want to succeed as a sportswriter, your readers need a reason to take you seriously. It’s crucial to stay up-to-date on everything that’s happening with the sports you want to write about, so readers begin to see you as an expert.

To help, tune into ESPN and sports podcasts regularly. Look for sports newsletters that deliver important headlines straight to your inbox (almost every major sports broadcaster has one).

And, of course, never miss a game!

Do: Figure out your voice

It’s essential to establish a consistent voice for your sports content. There’s no one “right” voice for sports writing, so go with what feels most authentic to you.

Are you passionate? Snarky? Funny? Factual? What do you like (or not like) about some famous sportswriters?

While you’re working on it, here are some sports journalists you can look to for inspiration:

  • Tony Massarotti has been working as a sportswriter since 1989, focusing on the Boston Red Sox for most of his career.
  • Dana Jacobson is a news and sports correspondent for CBS.
  • Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a longtime baseball reporter.

But don’t try to copy their styles. Instead, craft one of your own that your readers can grow to love.

Do: Establish a social media presence

Sports fans love using social media to keep up with the chatter around their favorite teams and players. Having a solid social media presence is a great way to build a fanbase, scope out potential jobs in the sports industry, and stay relevant.

Here are some Twitter accounts to check out to see what current sports writing professionals are doing:

  • Gregg Bell is a Seattle Seahawks beat writer who previously worked as a sportswriter for the Associated Press.
  • Lindsay Cizarniak is a FOX NFL and FOX NASCAR reporter, and was an ESPN SportsCenter anchor from 2011 to 2017.
  • Adam Schefter is an ESPN Senior NFL Insider with more than 8 million Twitter followers.

And here are some Instagram accounts for inspiration:

  • Taylor Rooks is a sports journalist and broadcaster who currently appears on Bleacher Report and Turner Sports
  • Jeff Darlington is an ESPN reporter known for high-level interviews with NFL stars.

Do: Establish a relationship with sports professionals

One of the best things you can do for your career as a sportswriter is to establish a relationship with the athletes and sports workers you write about. Any ties you build today could become an inside source later on.

If this seems overwhelming, start small. See if you can meet someone who works for a smaller local team, or even just tweet a question at them on Twitter. Slowly keep working on the relationship over time.

Do: Maintain a broad sports knowledge

Even if you only want to write about one sport, being knowledgeable about other sports is always a good idea. There are so many similarities between different sports, and if you can compare the game-winning goal in a recent soccer game to a touchdown in last year’s Super Bowl, you’ll be that much better of a writer.

Plus, many sports journalists change their focus at least once in their career. A great opportunity for sports writing may present itself to you in the future, but if it’s for a game you don’t know much about, you’ll be passed up.

4 don’ts for freelance sportswriters

Let’s go over some mistakes that could jeopardize your sports writing career.

Don’t: Pick fights with certain teams

Being vocal about disliking a particular team is a dangerous move for several reasons. You risk alienating a whole group of fans who may otherwise enjoy your writing.

Plus, sports teams trade players all the time. What happens when a player for your least favorite team moves to one you like?

It may be tempting to fill your sports writing with trash talk, but the negative energy becomes exhausting to your readers if you only have bad things to say. They’ll look for sportswriters who leave them in a better mood.

If you’re covering a game that didn’t go so well or a player who had a bad day, keep your writing objective and avoid name-calling and other outright mean behavior.

Don’t: Report false information

When we’re building a name for ourselves, we want nothing more than to gain our own audience. Maybe that article you wrote on what seemed like good information was actually based on an unverified rumor. Or perhaps you’re staying up late to finish a piece about a big game, and you’re too tired to double-check what the score was at half-time, so you accidentally list the wrong numbers.

There’s nothing sports fans dislike more than being fed false information about their favorite player or team. This is a quick way to lose credibility and followers.

Make sure you carefully fact-check everything you write, and never makeup lies or stretch the truth for any reason.

Don’t: Overreact

Having a dramatic, overly-emotional take on a game or a particular play may garner attention, but think carefully before you do this. Is that really the type of attention you want?

If you consistently write about how every lost game is the “worst game ever,” or the goalie who let one ball slip through her hands should be “fired immediately,” people begin to assume that you don’t have a very nuanced understanding of sports. Then they’ll probably stick to writers with a more balanced viewpoint.

Don’t: Use poor writing or boring headlines

Sports fans love action, entertainment, and edge-of-your-seat excitement. They want to dwell on those feelings by reading about sports long after the game is over.

If your writing is dry and dull, people won’t want to read it—no matter how accurate it is. If you know everything about sports but struggle with spelling and grammar, you’ll need to brush up on your writing skills to convey your thoughts effectively.

Also, if you have a great article with a boring headline, it may not be enticing enough to get people to click. Take time to experiment with your headlines to improve them.

Become a better freelance sportswriter

Freelance sports writing is a thrilling way for any sports fan to make money online, although it’s a job like any other with its ups and downs. As Sports Illustrated reporter Dan Jenkins once said, “A sportswriter's life means never sitting with your wife or family at the games. Still working after everyone has gone to the party...”

But though there are hard times, it’s a rewarding career choice. To get even better at your craft, keep this list of dos and don’ts in mind. Then you’ll be prepared to compete with even the best sportswriters.

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