How To Become A Sports Writer: A 5-Step Guide

If you love sports and writing, then a career as a sports writer could be perfect for you. Here's a look at how to become a sports writer.

Getting paid to write about sports? Sounds like an easy, dream job — right? 

While sports writing is an incredibly enjoyable profession for those who enjoy and excel at the rigors of journalism life, it takes a lot of hard work to earn a job covering a college or professional team (or league).

What's more is the lifestyle of a sports writer — which consists of long nights filing stories after evening games, constantly monitoring your social media accounts to relay news or post-game interviews as they happen, and basically working on-demand around your beat's practice and season schedules — isn't for everyone.

In this post, we'll take an in-depth look at how to become a sports journalist. We'll first start with a section on what exactly a sports writer does on a day-to-day basis. Here's a look:

The Life of a Sports Journalist

How to become a sports writer

Most writers pursue this profession because they love two things: sports and writing. Noting this, it shouldn't surprise you to learn that the average sports journalist earns less income than many other professions that require a college degree.

According to Salary.com, the average sports writing job salary falls somewhere between $32,000 and $41,570 per year. However, there are various factors that influence this salary number. Notably, the size of the market you work in and the outlet that you work for largely influence salary.

For example, if you report for a national publication or outlet, you'll likely earn more than if you report for a local or regional one. Other factors include what type of sports you're covering (i.e., high school, college, professional, international, Olympics, etc.).

While some national sports writers cover entire leagues, most journalists are assigned to team beats. Here's a look at the day-to-day duties of a writer assigned to a team beat. 

How to become a sports writer
Attend sporting events, including travel to away games
  • Attend all coach press conferences and practices where there is media availability.
  • Attend sporting events, including travel to away games.
  • In addition to game recap stories, beat writers are often asked to file anywhere from 3-5 stories per week on the team they cover. Being a good journalist is about more than just writing sports articles – you'll also need to hone your creative writing chops to write in-depth features. 
  • Create and build a following on social media to interact with readers and deliver up-to-the-second game analysis, post-game reaction and insight. Multimedia duties — like recording podcasts, and capturing photos and videos — may also be required.
  • Be ready to cover any non-game or practice team news stories, such as player transactions, coach terminations, recruiting news or other happenings that are important to readers.
  • Follow other sports media outlets and bloggers to gauge their coverage.

Sports writers spend lots of time away from home covering their teams on the road, can usually only plan vacations around the season of the team that they're covering, and often work late nights filing game stories for their readers to see when they wake up the next day.

It's not a profession for everyone, but it's a very rewarding, enjoyable profession for the right person. In the next section, we'll dive into how to become one.

How to Become A Sports Writer

1. Start Building Your Writing Skills at a Young Age

Like we said in the intro, you need at least two things to become a sports writer: knowledge and love of sports, and some writing chops. Developing some good writing skills can be more difficult than you may think, and it helps to hone these skills at an early age.

Consider taking an introductory journalism courses as early as high school and try to catch on with your high school newspaper, should your school have one, and ask to cover its varsity sports teams. This early experience will help give you a good foundation if sports writing is something that you want to pursue. 

2. Make Sure You Attend a College with Athletic Programs

After you've cut your teeth in some basic journalism courses and maybe even dabbled a bit in sports writing, your next step is to pursue a Journalism degree in college.

You should be looking to attend a school with two things: A good school of Journalism and a robust athletic department. A good school of Journalism, and you'll receive excellent instruction. And the more sports programs your school offers, the more opportunity you'll have to attend and report on games.

Next, it's a matter of getting involved with the right organizations to cover these athletic programs. Try catching on with the college newspaper, the college radio station, or try interning or working in the athletic department itself.

When you cover games, you'll likely be seated on press row along with any other reporters there to cover them, which will give you a great taste of the level of professionalism expected in these environments. 

Getting a good education and earning a Journalism degree is one thing, but getting the hands-on experience and making the connections to move your career forward is another key to becoming an aspiring sports writer. Both are important at the college level.

3. Get an Internship

Experience. Experience. Experience.

While most college students head home for the summers and work full-time to save up for tuition, and room and board, if you want to be a sports writer you need to be kicking the tires on earning a professional internship. Look to catch on with a newspaper or the sports department of a TV station either locally and regionally to continue to gain experience and cut your teeth in the business. 

Check with your School of Journalism to see if there's a need for interns locally or if they're organizing any sort of internship or career fair for students. While some internships are paid, others are unpaid — and you shouldn't be scared off by one that is unpaid.

The professional experience that you gain at an internship will help you immensely after you graduate and are looking for that first job.

4. Plan on Cutting Your Teeth Somewhere Professionally

After you graduate with your Bachelor's Degree in Journalism, it's very unlikely that you're going to get hired to cover a Division I college program or professional sports team. A more likely “first job” is catching on with a small paper or local outlet to cover high school sports.

These beats tend to be where all sports writers start professionally, and there's a certain enjoyment in beginning a career covering athletics at the purest of levels. Working the prep beat and gaining this crucial professional experience should eventually lead to other, more high-profile opportunities in the sports writing world.

5. Build Your Resume and More Attractive Sports Writing Opportunities Will Open

The more connections and experience that you have, the more likely there will be more high-profile sports writing opportunities that are presented to you in the future. And while you may have to keep a pulse on the job market, as you gain experience and make a name for yourself in the business, there's also a good chance that these opportunities will be presented to you. 

The “holy grail” for most sports writers is covering either a Division I college football or basketball program or an NHL, MLB, NBA, or NFL team. Or working for a national outlet like ESPN. Jobs such as this and you can guarantee that your work will be read by a large sum of readers. It likely also means a larger paycheck and more stipend when you're traveling.

Final Word: How to Become a Sports Writer

From covering the biggest games to writing in-depth feature stories on athletes, sports writing can be fun, rewarding, and satisfying for the right individual.

But it takes a lot of work to get started and to build your resume. Follow the steps above to chart a course on how to reach the pinnacle of the profession. 

FAQs About How to Become A Sports Writer

How much do sports writers earn?

According to Salary.com, the average sports writer earns $36,275 each year, but most earn anywhere between $31,930 and $41,569.

What type of hours do sports writers work?

Sports writers don't often work a 9-5 schedule, it largely depends on the schedule of the team or league that they're covering. The job often consists of a lot of nights and weekend work. 

Where do sports writers work?

Sports writers work for a range of outlets, which include newspapers and websites.

Becoming a Sports Writer: An Interview with Miguel Delaney

Miguel Delaney
Miguel Delaney is a football writer for ESPN, the Independent on Sunday, the Irish Examiner, and Blizzard

In this interview, he explains how you can become a sportswriter or journalist, and he also describes what life is like in this busy profession.

Q. How can someone become a sports writer or journalist?

I can only explain my own circumstances, but it's far from the only route.

I did a degree in journalism and then, while studying for a master's, managed to get subbing shifts in a paper.

From there, I kind of hung around, hassled the editors to write more. Ultimately, you've got to put yourself forward!

Q. What’s a typical day like for a sports writer or journalist?

Depends on the day!

I have no set routine, which I kind of like.

Personally, I'm not good on 9-5s. Usually, I'd be at a game twice a week, and either at a press conference or out interviewing someone two other days. A lot of time around that is spent calling, researching and trying to write.

You always seem short of time!

Q. What’s the best piece of writing advice you received?

Read as much as possible – and then write what you yourself would be interested in or enjoy to read.

That makes it authentic. If you're faking it, people can read it. If you would want to read it, it will make it better.

Q. What’s the worst?

Oddly, I genuinely can't think of any. Guess I just remember what works for me, and reject/forget what doesn't.

It's as simple as that.

Q. What kind of writing do you most enjoy?

Two types: when it comes to sports journalism, it's writing, i.e. on a match or right up against deadline. That properly tests you.

But, most of all [I enjoy] when there's a subject [I] really want to address, and the words just flow out.

Q. Have you had mentor who helped improve your writing?

Yeah, loads, from former lecturers to editors, to fellow journalists.

Q. How is sports writing different from any other kind of writing?

Other than the fundamental triviality of what sport is (!) – although the very fact that it fills people's spare time means it isn't that trivial.

A lot of American political writers started in sport because it covers the same kind of themes. There's also use of narrative etc

Q. How do you deal with deadlines and pressure to produce copy?

Experience!

I remember the first time I ever did a live match report – i.e. 800 words of copy that had to be submitted bang on the final whistle – I was so anxious I prepared loads of different intros and outros dependent on different situations.

I still ended up barely using any of them! It's just something you get used to. You just have to try and maintain focus.

If you’re struggling, don't get too ambitious, and just keep it straight.

Q. What do you do when you're burnt out or struggling to come up with an angle?

Go for a walk. It’s the only way to deal with it, I find. It's amazing how much clearer things will seem.

Sometimes, you just have to get away from the laptop – and the room it's in – for a bit.

You can find Miguel at @MiguelDelaney.

Did you enjoy this interview? What type of writer do you want to become?

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