Getting ready for your call – “How” you prepare is important

It’s taken me many years to develop a routine for preparing for my hockey broadcasts, and even after 9+ seasons, I am still adjusting my approach to getting ready for game day. But one thing that I have noticed is that everyone prepares differently, and what might work for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another.

One reason why everyone prepares differently for a broadcast is because everybody (to an extent) learns and retains information differently. When searching around for some basic numbers about how people retain information, I came across this on a couple of different sites:

“Experts” agree that most people retain approximately:

20% of what we read
20% of what we hear
30% of what we see
50% of what we see and hear

I added the quotation marks around the word “experts”, because there is also seemingly an equal amount of data that debunks what is listed above. There’s a whole cottage industry dedicated towards employee training, learning styles and methods, etc., which I will not discuss in detail, although you’re free to seek it out.

What I do believe though is that a multi-layered approach to broadcast preparation is an ideal method for getting ready for a broadcast. Exactly how the broadcaster chooses to approach each of these steps can be adjusted, but I personally prefer preparing for a game in the following areas:

  1. Scorebook/spotting board preparation
  2. Statistical note taking/research
  3. Player/coach/team research/preparation
  4. Storyline development
  5. Visual feedback and retention

Note that this is listed sequentially, but depending on your circumstances, is not always a sequential process. I do often find myself bouncing back and forth, and I also think that certain sports can be much more regimented in its approach when compared to others.

For example, preparing for a football broadcast can be quite a regimented process with one game, whereas in a sport like hockey, there are several games a week, generally with a shorter turnaround time between broadcasts. There is still a level of regimentation in preparing for a hockey call, but some flexibility is required in how and when you prepare versus a single football call once a week.

What I have experienced though is that my optimal approach to preparing for a broadcast includes written, spoken, and visual stimulation, and the combination of the three helps me to be best prepared.

The five steps I listed earlier are pretty straightforward with the exceptions of #3 and #5. When I reference “Player/coach/team research/preparation”, this includes a multitude of inputs, from written (reading notes and bios that are team provided, supplemental Internet research, published news articles), to spoken/aural (talking with players and coaches, opposing radio broadcasters, media, staff, scouts, etc.).

Additionally, in regards to “Visual feedback and retention”, I prefer to see the teams that I am covering actually play before watching them on-ice for the first time (which is in the warm up before that night’s game). In my case, I have the ability to access archived and live broadcasts of every team in the league I work in, so I always tend to watch at least the first period of the opposition club’s most recent game, called by their home announcer, as well as all scoring plays. This helps me to cement the players of the opposing team and commit their names and numbers to memory, as well as learn additional information about the team from the perspective of the person who covers them on a daily basis in a broadcast situation. This process also assists in my other prep areas as well, particularly for storyline development, as I get a flavor for what’s going on with the opposition and what is important for that club at that point of the season.

I do recognize that many broadcasters actually do not always have the luxury of watching their opponent on-demand, especially in lower levels like high school and small college). Opportunities potentially exist to still see the opposition, but there can be limitations (time and geography among others. The higher the level, the more opportunities for this kind of preparation are available.

Over time, both through my coverage of the Sound Tigers and seeing the teams that they play in-person, as well as my own separate coverage of the AHL through my weekly reports on AHL Live (which is a league week-in-review), I am able to optimize my time in preparing for each subsequent broadcast. For instance, after seeing the Sound Tigers play the Connecticut Whale for the 2nd or 3rd time, I generally know them almost as well as the Sound Tigers, and there isn’t a need to memorize everyone’s name and number or their back story, just new players that were added. This frees me to focus on other areas.

A good rule of thumb is that you’re spending about 2 hours of prep for each hour of your broadcast, so a 2-hour broadcast should take about 4 hours of prep time. If you’re able to retain a lot of information over the course of the season, that number might go down a little bit by game 30 of a 76-game season when compared to the first few games of the year.

How do you prepare for your broadcasts? Do you spend more time on certain areas over others? Are certain steps easier than others? Some play-by-play announcers are challenged by remembering names and numbers, but are great at being meticulous about stat prep, and for others it’s vice versa. Is there something that you do that you consider to be a home run when it comes to game prep that is worthy of sharing? I will have the comments section open below for this post so that we can share this kind of feedback.