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Jun 30 / Michael Schottey

Sportswriters, like athletes, should use offseasons to improve

First of three parts. Part 2. Part 3

In sports, the offseason is typically time to improve one’s skills.

Whether it’s Shaquille O’Neal and his constant attempts to fix his free throw shooting or a college football receiver who travels to a speed camp to take a tenth of a second off his 40-time, the offseason offers a little extra time to hone one’s craft. One of my favorite analogies is the young NFL player who loses 10 pounds over the course of the rigorous season, but knows he’ll be able to literally grow as a person in the offseason and add pounds of muscle.

For sportswriters, why not treat summer in a similar fashion? (Sorry, MLB/World Cup guys, just bookmark this and read it later.)

Even if you’re in school full-time, the humdrum of the school day can’t always beat the excitement of self-driven study. For those of us out of school—and especially those of us with kids running around—the summer is also time to recharge the batteries and remind our families what we look like! But a few extra minutes here and there can be the difference between more of the same next season and impressing people with your growth.

Never stop learning.

Never forget that passion that got you to where you are now, and realize you’ll need even more to get to the next rung of the ladder.

In my own quest for self-improvement for this summer, I came up with some ideas that I hope you find useful. I’ll talk about one today and more in the next two days.

Read everything!

Writers write. That’s the first rule of this business. The second, though, is that writers also read.

It wasn’t a perfect test, but in my time working with Bleacher Report’s college internship, I asked interns who their favorite sportswriters were. For the most part, those who couldn’t name a single sportswriter—other than Bill Simmons or people who spend 99 percent of their time on TV—ended up washing out of the program. They loved sports, sure, but they didn’t really like writing or reading, and that showed in a variety of ways.

Head to your local library or click on over to Find a book on your favorite sport that touches on a topic you don’t know much about. Maybe it’s a piece of history that happened 20 years before you were born. Maybe it’s a biography of a player you don’t really know as a person. It could be a skills book on a facet of the game that has often alluded you—in my football background, I played on the offensive line and coached offensive skill players. So when I have a chance to read about defensive Xs and Os, I never pass it up!

For NFL and college football fans, I’ve already created a list of top books you should read.

Don’t just read about the sports you write about, either! Read everything!

Have a sportswriter you like on Twitter, or an author you used to enjoy but haven’t read in some time? Pick up his or her latest book—even if it’s on a topic you barely care about. Read because you enjoy something about the way that person crafts words in 140 characters or in their short articles and blog posts. Now you get a smorgasbord of the same. Maybe you’ll never relate to the topic, but relate to the words on the page, and find something they do well that you would like to do better.

Take a look, too, at books on the craft of writing. Have some old dusty books that one of your English composition courses required but you never really actually read? I bet you’ll find them a lot more exciting now than you did back then. There’s something about reading when you want to read rather than reading when compelled to do so.

I have four books that always sit on the shelf to my left: “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White; “Woe is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English” by Patricia O’Connor; and “On Writing Well” by William Zinsser.

That’s three. I also love “The Little Red Writing Book” by Brandon Royal, which is supposed to sit up on that shelf, but rarely finds its way back up there because I’m always using it.

I re-read at least one or two of those books every summer, and all of them over the course of a year. Each read-through gives me something new I haven’t thought about before and something I can use to make myself better.

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Michael Schottey is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.