Commentary: Interviewing athletes is easy, just follow these instructions

As a reporter I find myself interviewing lots of people, regardless of the time of year, because that's one of my job duties, but during the Aberdeen IronBirds 76-game season, which spans mid-June to the beginning of September, the number of interviews I conduct spikes noticeably upward. I attend most of the team's home games, and after each of them, whether it's a win or a loss, I talk with Manager Gary Allenson. If the 'Birds won the game, or somebody had a career night, or did something like hit their first professional home run, then I'll chat with a few of the players. My cell phone, which I'm using as a recorder now since my Olympus DS-30 (that's a product plug, Olympus, if you're thinking about sponsoring anyone) mysteriously quit working, tells the tale of how many interviews I've conducted since the beginning of the season. Upon opening the recorder app, I'm greeted by a wall of saved sound clips, ranging from two to 15 minutes, so I've probably got two hours worth of audio on there. Occasionally I'll go through there and see if there's any quotes I haven't yet mined, and during the listening process I wind up shaking my head a lot, mostly because my own voice, when recorded, sounds like that of a 15-year-old boy, and also because there are some painful questions asked by myself and other journalists. For all you aspiring reporters out there, here's a quick guide to conducting interviews with athletes, although I'm sure most of these rules apply to interviewing politicians, or movie stars, or the guy who won the million dollar lottery:

1. Do not throw statements as though they are questions: A good example of this would be, "so coach, your team had 25 hits and only scored two runs." The coach, if his team has just lost, is more than likely to respond with, "yeah, sounds about right," then glare at you. Sports reporters seem to love doing this, I imagine because it shows the person being interviewed that the reporter was actually watching the game, but this tactic will get you nowhere most of the time. If you're going to throw out a statistic, a statement of fact, or any other non-question, turn it into a question by tacking, "What do you think about that?" onto the end of it.

2. Do not ramble: You probably are not going to appeal to an athlete's vanity by naming off the college they attended, their hometown, their high school batting average or mentioning what round they were drafted in, and if you do it won't make them more likely to answer any hardball questions you've got, so save all that information you're dying to share and just ask the question. The person you're interviewing, especially if they're an athlete who probably just wants to eat the post-game meal and go home, will appreciate the direct approach more than you proving how much you know about them.

3. Know your stats and facts: I know I just said you shouldn't parade your knowledge of the game in front of the interviewee, but you should have everything straight before you go to talk with the athletes and coaches, because asking a player, "What's it like transition from college to the pro game," when they spent the previous two seasons in the Gulf Coast League, will make you look pretty dumb.

4. Beware the jinx: The other night, when I was interviewing IronBird reliever Alex Schmarzo, I pointed out that he had not allowed an earned run in about three weeks (breaking rule number one), and he said, "well, that's gone now because you just jinxed it, thanks!" He wasn't entirely serious, but I sure hope I didn't jinx him by mentioning his recent success.

This list could be twice as long, so tune in next week for the second part of it.

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