With the significant impact sporting personalities are having on the world today from athletes to coaches, officials and executives, it has become almost a basic necessity for them to possess good media skills and understanding.
In fact, conducting post-game/event news media interviews is not an option for most pro athletes, it is a contractual requirement. And this has more to do with being media literate as to just being media savvy. Media literacy deals more with understanding how the media works, an appreciation of media influence, the ability to create and produce media and an awareness of personal media habits among other items. This is different to simply being able to dance your way through an interview by using a lot of hand gestures and saying a few sentences that you perceive to be cool.
Part of any professional athlete's salary comes not just from performance on the field or track, but also from their PR skills in promoting their team and sport in the media. Additionally, the pro athletes who end up with the most lucrative careers are able to leverage their expertise and name ID into long-term TV analyst positions and corporate spokesperson gigs. Shaka Hislop is a classic example. He’s no longer playing which robs this generation of seeing his exploits between the posts but we can hardly get enough of him when he’s speaking before the cameras as an analyst on ESPN.
It has to be noted that some of the best that sport has seen are very articulate and they have it all down when it comes to handling themselves before the media. Take Brian Lara for instance, very articulate and smooth and has a way of making you want to take in everything he is saying. He also knows when to address certain matters in the media and when not to. And say what you want about him, Dwight Yorke is also among the top of the list when it comes to delivery in interviews or statements. Surely it is a factor behind Manchester United making him one of their international ambassadors which see him representing the club in different markets across the globe which naturally means he has to speak on the club's behalf.
Despite the importance of good media skills, sadly in T&T and the Caribbean, we haven't reached a point where enough emphasis is placed on this aspect of development for our sporting personalities. And this totally aside from being popular on social media platforms.
Having a popular Instagram page with 100,000 followers will not protect you when you come across like a joke or without class on camera following the match or during a press briefing or even when you are asked to speak before a students population. Simple things like knowing how to answer questions during a post-match or post-event interview, sticking to the point and proper tone and delivery are difficult for many of our athletes.
There is a significant difference in watching some of our athletes speak as compared to watching those on the US or European circuit. Athletes should be able to know how to shape a compelling media message. "We had a decent performance ” or “it just wasn’t our day“ will not cut it anymore. On the other hand, the sports reporters also need to be able to ask the right questions that will bring the best responses out of people. The most effective way to improve your questioning is by studying the best sports reporters and how they do it. Good questions lead to good answers which leads to good stories. Bottom line. As a sports reporter one always need to work on your writing, your listening, your questioning and your adaptability – all of which are primary skills but this topic is for another day.
Fans always want to feel engaged by the athlete and whether we like it or not, it is becoming harder to ignore the media. As Performance in Mind UK puts it across, “Rather than hiding away from media, learning how to use it effectively; to protect your reputation, to boost your funding and to proactively enhance your performance can be really beneficial for an athlete. It is important for athletes and officials to learn and understand how the media works. This will take away some of the issues you may face, help you see that often negative comments are not personal and help you to make the media work for you rather than the other way round.
It is important for sporting organizations and various team management to understand the importance here even though it may be left up to the athlete themselves to make the effort. Professional teams abroad from the biggest football clubs to NBA, NFL, you name it, make it a priority when it comes to developing their athletes away from the training pitch. It is about time we start doing the same. It will surely bring benefits to not just the individual but also the organizations and the fans.
Shaun Fuentes is a former FIFA Media Officer at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. He is also currently a CONCACAF Competitions Media Officer and has travelled extensively because of sport and media over the past eighteen years. He is also a certified media trainer for athletes.