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Mar 28 / Abbey Chase

My hardest assignment: Covering sports I don’t know much about

Editor’s note: This is the first in a new series in which we ask students in the Advanced Program in Sports Media to write about the hardest assignment or toughest challenge they’ve taken on as a writer.

Part of what makes the Olympics so fun is the ability to play armchair expert for a few weeks every two years. But what passes muster in the living room won’t fly in a professional setting.

When I started writing about the Sochi Games as part of the Advanced Program in Sports Media, I quickly realized just how little I knew about most Winter Olympics sports.

Everyone has his areas of specialty and his weaknesses, and while it takes more than a Google search to become an educated commentator on anything, there is almost always plenty to be found about any sport.

Not so with many Olympic events, as I came to find when researching women’s bobsleigh results from the last four years or the world rankings in men’s Nordic combined. With even Wikipedia pages few and far between, I had to turn to other sources.

With so much information and analysis on the Internet, it’s easy to get mired in an endless supply of expert commentary and sabermetric-style analysis, making it more difficult to produce unique content. So when it came to understanding the Olympics, I focused less on what everyone else was saying and turned on the TV.

I found that simply sitting down and watching some of these more obscure events was the best way to get to know them.

Of course, I had to consult the Internet to verify technical jargon and check my facts, but I learned an amazing amount just by seeing these athletes at work. Even when watching an unfamiliar sport, the passionate sports fan (and cognizant sports writer) can pick up on what’s important, and I was surprised by how much I was able to learn without an encyclopedic knowledge of the event—just by watching.

As much as I learned about the Olympics during the Sochi Games, I learned more about how to be a better writer when it comes to covering the sports I know best.

Having watched and played tennis for most of my life, I find it easy to fall back on prior knowledge and catalogued statistics about the game when recapping recent events.

A thorough knowledge of a sport is always an advantage, but I try not to rely too heavily on that. No two matches are the same, and as familiar as I am with Roger Federer’s propensity to forfeit break points or Maria Sharapova’s serving yips, there’s no replacement for sitting down and relying on my ability as a passionate fan to find the unique story lines in any given match.

Sports reporting and writing makes for such a challenging job because the work is never done. There’s always another game to cover, stat to update, new player to track. And no matter how well versed a writer is, there will likely always be a new sport to learn about.

The more sports I’ve learned about, the more I’ve realized I still have to learn. Luckily, as a sports fan, I’m up for the challenge.

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Abbey Chase is in the winter class. Follow her on Twitter @Abbey_Chase.

What’s the hardest assignment you’ve taken on at Bleacher Report or elsewhere? How did you get through it and what did you learn?