Eleanor Preston on media training for athletes

Sportspeople tend to be obsessive about every tiny detail as they prime themselves for major events. Each ounce of food is accounted for, every training exercise repeated and every minute of what is about to happen is visualised and prepared for. That is why we always find it puzzling that athletes are often so under-prepared for the media exposure that comes with top-level sport.

Imagine trying to cope with surging adrenalin and overwhelming feelings of either triumph or despair while being faced, at the same time, with a camera, or a huddle of strangers with notebooks and microphones.  This might be followed by press conference, where rows of unfamiliar faces compete to ask unpredictable and sometimes loaded questions. It is not surprising that many athletes are anxious before and during media interviews, yet they know that media exposure gives them an opportunity to connect with sponsors, and fans and bring a global audience to their sport. In our experience, sportspeople can sometimes miss those opportunities if they are too focused on trying not to say the wrong thing.

One of the reasons we love leading media workshops is that we will often see athletes visibly relax and become more confident in expressing themselves in the course of a session. Athletes, of course, are as much a mix of personalities as any other group of people - from the cocky ones playing class clown to hide their nerves, to the quiet ones who flinch when you ask them to step forward for a role-playing exercise. We’ve learned from experience how to deal with all sorts of characters.

It’s always satisfying to get to the end of a media training workshop knowing that you’ve helped everyone in the room learn how to present the best possible version of themselves and shine when their moment in the spotlight arrives. It’s more satisfying still when you stand at the back of a press conference or TV interview and watch them use what you’ve taught them for real, by nailing an awkward question or charming an inquisitor with a smile and well thought-out answer.  

Unlike some self-styled media training experts, we have both been in a sports media environment and around athletes for most of our working lives. I was a sports journalist and broadcaster for ten years and, like my colleague Faye Andrews, have subsequently helped guide athletes through interviews and photo opportunities at major sporting events like the Olympic Games, Wimbledon and the Commonwealth Games. Together we have media trained a wide range of different sportspeople across various sports and age groups. We believe that we know how to prepare them for the media situations they can expect to encounter – whether that is a chat with their local newspaper or a live BBC interview moments after they’ve won a gold medal.

In sport, a good performance – be it on the field of play or in the media – always begins with the right preparation.

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