A-Z Index

Brief Guide to Sports Writing

Sports writing (always two words) is a demanding specialty that takes years of experience and practice - not to mention talent - to master. Don't try to write like a sportswriter unless you are one or are legitimately trying to become one.

Those of us who are not Frank DeFord can only write about sports as we would write about anything else but with special attention to the many specialized terms and expressions. Avoid slang, jargon and - most especially - clichés. You'll only end up saying almost what you mean, but not quite, and confusing the reader to boot.

Here are some vocabulary lists, general rules and guidelines adapted from the "AP Stylebook."

All-America, All-American, Academic All-America(n)

These terms are always capitalized on both sides of the hyphen. All-America is an adjective, All-American is a noun: "Judy Denslow is an Academic All-American by anyone's standards." "Ed Breneke was an All-America halfback in only his sophomore year."


  • ballpark
  • ballplayer
  • baseline
  • bullpen
  • center field
  • doubleheader - NOT doublehitter
  • ground-rule double
  • home plate
  • homerun
  • left-hander - avoid "southpaw"
  • lineup
  • pitchout
  • Shut out is a verb. Shutout is an adjective: "He pitched seven shutout innings."


  • backboard
  • backcourt
  • baseline
  • field goal
  • foul line
  • foul shot
  • free throw
  • free-throw line
  • front court
  • full-court press
  • goaltending
  • half-court pass
  • halftime
  • layup
  • man-to-man (said of a defense or coverage)
  • midcourt
  • pivot man
  • three-point play


Capitalize as a title before a name unless modified. "Coach Mel Tjeerdsma said the 2006 Bearcat football team was one of the best he ever coached." "Head football coach Mel Tjeerdsma said the 2006 Bearcats were one of the best teams he ever coached."

Cross country

There is no hyphen. This exception to "Webster's New World Dictionary" is based on the practices of the sport's national and international ruling bodies.


  • backfield
  • end line
  • end zone (Always two words.)
  • fair catch
  • field goal
  • fourth-and-one, third-and-12, etc.
  • Fullback, halfback, tailback and quarterback, but running back and nickel back.
  • halftime
  • handoff
  • kick off (verb), kickoff (noun and adjective): Northwest won the toss and elected to kick off. This year's Homecoming game against the Gorillas has a 2 p.m. kickoff. He's on the kickoff team.
  • lineman
  • out of bounds (adverb) out-of-bounds (adjective). The tight end made the catch and ran out of bounds. The tight end made an out-of-bounds catch.
  • place kick
  • place-kicker
  • touchback
  • touchdown


The conference to which all Northwest intercollegiate athletics teams belong. The acronym is acceptable in all references and stands for Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association


Acceptable in all references to the National Collegiate Athletics Association. Northwest's intercollegiate athletics teams are part of the NCAA's Division II. Our conference is the MIAA, which stands for Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association. MIAA is also acceptable in all references.

Play off(s), playoff

Play off(s) (verb) playoff (noun, adjective). The Bearcats are in the play offs. It was Coach Seltzer's first playoff win.

Track and field

For time events, spell out "minutes" and "seconds" on first reference: "She finished with a time of 3 minutes, 42.8 seconds. Subsequent times require only a colon and decimal point: 3:42.8

Do not use a colon before times given only in seconds and tenths of seconds. Use ".0" to record a "flat" time: 5.0 seconds, 10.2 seconds. Extend to hundredths when possible: 17.38 seconds.

Spell out the first reference to running events: the 100-meter dash. Subsequent references can be shortened to such phrases as "the 100," "the 400" and so forth.

For hurdle and relay events, the progression is "100-meter hurdles" on first reference and "the 100 hurdles" in subsequent references: "He ran both the 400-meter relay and the 200 relay."

For field events, which do not involve running, use these forms:

  • 23 ½ for 23 feet, one-half inch. Note that there is a space between the whole number and the fraction.
  • 28 feet, 7 and three-quarter inches is written
    28-7 ¾.