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Local Sports Illustrated columnist talks sports writing

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From Little League to Major League Baseball or punches to knockouts in boxing, it’s important to keep fans and readers up to date on sport results and highlights.

Sam Amick, Sports Illustrated columnist for SI.com, shared his personal experiences Tuesday, giving multiple anecdotes to explain lessons learned, experiences gained and answered audience member questions about the craft.

The single most important skill that Amick stressed was preparation and research. He compared sports writing to a chef saying that one prepares by having the correct ingredients for a recipe.

He encouraged the audience to try to gain as much information about the sports topic, the team, athletes and statistics.

A diverse crowd of 25 interested in sports or involved in sports writing for local papers, a magazine and blogs attended Tuesday’s Sacramento Press Sports Writing workshop.

The workshop attracted Brandon Fleshman, production coordinator for the All Weather Window company in Vacaville. His public relations degree from Sacramento State University prompted him to learn more about sports writing in hopes to launch a sports-related career in marketing, journalism or public relations, Fleshman said.

“I’ve never had a class in sports writing, so I don’t really know the first thing,” Fleshman said. “I have an idea from reading a lot of sports articles. (I’m) looking forward to learning the basics and also a little extra.”

Personal Trainer at Arden Hills Resort Club and Spa Robert Linkul said he was excited to see the workshop offered locally.

“I write for Personal Fitness Professional Magazine, and (take) every opportunity I get to try to get a little bit better at it,” Linkul said.

Linkul said that there are a million things to write about when it comes to the fitness field, so he is “hoping to find some creativity, some distinction between topics, and I want to create more depth on each topic.”

Also in attendance was Bengy Egel, 17, a correspondent for The Davis Enterprise.

“I hope to understand what I am doing a little better, and understand where the future of sports journalism is headed, and see what I need to do to adjust my focus,” Egel said.

Aside from research and preparation, Amick advised attendees to quickly find a personal strength in the sports writing field.

“Finding your strength, I think, is incredibly important,” Amick said. “Don’t be afraid to shift gears if it is not working out for you. Just be fearless and try again.”

Feature writing, Amick said, allows him to be creative and produce original content from a deeper level, versus a game recap that just tells the audience the highlights.

To do this, he explained that it is important to read many different sports articles and look for style and voice.

Describing his former Kings beat for The Sacramento Bee, Amick added that going to practices and sparking conversations with the players about what is going on with the team can yield new story angles that will engage the reader through descriptions about a player’s injuries, familial circumstances, personal struggles, or team tensions.

Other story-digging tools Amick gave the audience members to help them produce original content included phoning teams’ public relations directors, talking to the coaches or getting lunch with a player.

He advised the crowd to follow athletes on Twitter for breaking news, story ideas and background content for research.

“The danger of modern media (is that) everything is immediate,” Amick said about the innovation of Twitter.

He explained that it has become difficult for reporters to break sport news because Twitter is widely used and reports action as it breaks on the courts, the field, in the ring or any other sport-related setting. For this reason, Amick encouraged using different media platforms, such as having a blog and a professional Twitter account.

A piece of advice on an editing note: Amick said to write the story, then read it out loud, but as a reader, not as a writer, and to ask oneself whether the story is boring or compelling.

He discouraged using cliches in sports writing.

Common sports cliches include: "It’s a real pressure cooker. It’s a nip-and tuck-game, or It’s a whole new ballgame," according to sportscliche.com.

Amick said his former sports editor would often remind him to include a human interest aspect in his writing to attract as many eyeballs as possible by saying, “The 80-year-old grandmother up in Loomis, I want her to read and like your story.”

Confident interviewing skills, Amick said, are key to producing compelling content by asking the athletes and coaches questions others won’t ask, stepping outside the box and “probing them in interviews.”

Amick’s last words of advice to the group included writing as much as possible, getting feedback for the writing and asking questions of people who know the field well.

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