The Search For The Right Question

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Interviewing athletes and coaches for gamers terrified me. Watching sports and writing about what happened was as natural to me as sneaking alcohol into movie theaters or sleeping through multiple alarms, but trying to condense a sporting event into a question—or several questions—that wouldn’t embarrass me? That came about as naturally to me as hitting a free throw. And I am very bad at basketball sports.

Over time I have developed habits more than strategies. I know the safe questions that will lead to the safe answers that will make the post game interview painless, if not particularly useful. By the end of college I could get in and out of a post game interview in under a minute—at the beginning it took me the entire second half to feel comfortable with one mediocre question. By the end, I could pump out writer-drivel with the efficiency of a McDonald’s assembly line extruding an Egg McMuffin.

Cognitive dissonance kept me comfortable with my question-creating-and-asking prowess. Post game interviews, by and large, are useless, and particularly so if your audience actually watched the game. Coaches that aren’t interested in the process don’t help matters, and athletes that seem to exhale confidence on a football field clam up once you pull a recorder out of your pocket. The process is not fun or especially productive for anyone.

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Starting small—or big, rather—is a good strategy. What did you think of your [your team’s] performance gets the interviewee thinking a bit more critically about the game. If they hit you with a “I think it was good,” hit ‘em back with a “what makes you say that?” or a “how was it good?” If they’re not biting after that, employ some self awareness and realize that this person doesn’t want to talk to you so, unless it is absolutely essential to do this interview, bail as early as possible and leave them the fuck alone.

Having a specific play to ask about is a classic move because it proves to the interviewee that you actually watched the game. If there’s one thing reporters love, it’s to prove that they aren’t like the rest of the big dumb idiots that have interviewed you before. We are of course all just different variations of those big dumb idiots, and proving you’re slightly less dumb and slightly less of an idiot isn’t going to make your story any better. Although it may make you feel better as you write it.

Asking about a specific player, whether on the interviewee’s team or on the opposition’s squad, is a great way to get a unique perspective on the match. The bottom line is that the interview is happening because the player or coach has insight or information that the reporter and the reader literally can not get themselves—otherwise it’s fucking pointless. The reader doesn’t need a player to say “we played like shit”—bad example, actually, that’s a great quote—if they lost 49-0; knowing that a defensive lineman’s pressure made it impossible for an offense’s read-option to work all night? Now that’s useful.

Stay on target at all times—you’re not there to be patted on the head by the interviewee, you’re there to provide information to the people that, for one reason or another, pay your goddamn salary. Asking big-picture-how-does-this-affect-your-future questions are okay to a point, but you gotta play the crowd. Developing a sense of the line is important when it comes to limiting the chances-of-being-told-to-fuck-off-per-60-minutes, or COBTFO60, if you prefer. Don’t ask about what kind of music an athlete listens to or what kind of shoes they’re wearing in a postgame interview. Try not to be an idiot. It’s going to happen sooner or later, and when it does, just apologize and learn to laugh at yourself.

Oh, and don’t talk about yourself. You’re meaningless both in the grand scheme of life itself (sorry) and more urgently you are meaningless to the coach you have to talk to for 60 seconds before he gets to the locker room and then back to his house to forget about his job.

Not all questions can be great and not all situations call for a great question. Sometimes, just asking how the game went is enough—the key is to always be looking for something more, even if those situations don’t show up. Whether it’s because you want to provide the best stuff to your reader or to prevent yourself from dying from boredom when writing another generic gamer, hunting for the next great question is always a good idea. Given that the alternative is just continuing to ask the old ones, is it even really a choice?

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