How to Write a Sports Story

by Timothy Tocher, author of Long Shot and Playing for Pride

Encourage students to pick a sport they know and love. If they are excited about what they write, it will be easy for them to excite their readers. Here, I'll be using examples from my favorite sport, baseball.

Have the students create a character. Is the character a superstar? Reading about heroic deeds that win games can be fun, but there should be more to a character than that. Maybe the character is a great player but has trouble getting along with teammates. Does he or she play baseball for the love of the game or because a parent pushes them to compete?

Every sport has its own vocabulary. Have the students brainstorm a list of terms that are unique to their chosen sports. For example, a baseball story might have full count, line drive, grand slam, extra bases, and so on. Knowing and using a sport's language brings the story to life for the readers.

Ask students to think about the most exciting play they ever saw. Was it a baserunner trying for an inside-the-park home run? Did the shortstop backhand a ball deep in the hole and gun a throw to first to save the day for the team? Did a normally weak hitter come through with a long drive in the big game? Why not have your students make those plays part of their stories? If it thrilled your students when it happened, it can thrill the readers, too.

What's the strangest play your students ever saw? Weird happenings can be fun to read about. Will an animal interfere with the game? Dave Winfield was playing left field for the Yankees when his throw hit a seagull in flight. Will the weather offer challenges? In the 1961 All-Star Game, the winds at San Francisco's Candlestick Park were so powerful that they blew reliever Stu Miller off the pitcher's mound.

Remind students not to make things too easy for their characters. Their players should fail the first few times they are tested. A major part of the excitement in sports comes from seeing an athlete struggle and then achieve. Initial failure will make the hero's success all the more dramatic when it finally comes.

Have the students read their first draft silently or to a friend. One way students can improve their stories is to use the most exciting words they can think of to describe the action. Why have an outfielder run after a long drive when he could streak across the grass, racing out from under his cap?

Help students make their stories into books. Have them copy their stories onto notebook paper from a three-hole binder. Suggest they add some illustrations. They don't have to be great artists to scatter sketches of baseball bats, mitts, and hats in the margins. Have them design a title page (making the author's name nice and big!). Clip the pages together with shower rings, and you have an instant book.

Ask students to share their stories with their classmates. The best part of writing is seeing other people enjoy the work. It feels almost as good as hitting the game-winning home run. Like their characters, your students may have to struggle before they get the results they want, but that just makes success feel even better.

Group Activity

If your students aren't ready to write a sports story by themselves, try this fun activity. Read the poem "Casey at the Bat" by Ernest Lawrence Thayer. Discuss what happens to "Mighty Casey" at the end of the poem.

Now ask your students to pretend that they are up at bat with the game on the line. Have them write a brief description of what happens when they get the chance to be a hero. You are providing a framework that eliminates their need to develop a character and plot, while still leaving room for creativity.

Provide time for students to read their work aloud. Hearing other students' work makes students aware of the variety of ways to approach the same task. It helps stretch their imaginations for future writing assignments.

Final copies can be written on baseball-shaped paper for an instant bulletin board that will draw lots of attention.

If you are interested in inviting Timothy Tocher to your school, click here!

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  Long Shot Playing For Pride