The pre-game interview. It can be a fantastic addition to a pre-game show or like trying to extract your own wisdom teeth with a pair of pliers. While most coaches have realised in this day and age that the media is an essential part of the job, you’ll still get the odd dinosaur who will fight you every step of the way and not give you an ounce of information.
In this article, we’re going to assume that you’re based with a team, or at least cover one team on a regular basis. A pre-game interview with your own coach can often be a lot easier than a opposing coach as you often know what message to stay on, what the team has been working on during the week in practice and other key details to talk about. So we’re going to focus on what to talk about with a visiting team’s boss that you’re not as familiar with.
Coaches, if nothing else are a bit narcissistic. That’s obviously a very big generalization, but they love to talk about their team and/or program, especially in a pre-game interview situation where they know fans are listening. It’s like new parents…they love to talk about their kids. So often the way a team plays or the message that a particular program delivers is driven straight from the coach, everything from the way the game is played on the field/court/ice or how their squad conducts themselves off it is directed from the coach’s background. So the logical point is to talk about the team first:
How have the last few games gone?
What’s the week been like in practice?
What have you seen recently that you want to work on?
What’s been a strength you’ve been able to rely on in your last 5 games?
Obviously those questions are incredibly generic, and this is where your prep comes in. Is the opposition riding a long losing streak? Have they won their last x-number of games in a row? Summarise their recent history and ask about that. What has led to that success?
Practice is another great area because it’s an aspect that a lot of fans don’t see. Few fans attend practice at all, fewer on a regular basis. It’s also a great opportunity for teams to fine tune some things. If you see a team struggling in a certain aspect of their game, it’s a good chance to ask if they’ve been working on that in practice? Likewise, if you find common threads during the opposition’s last few games, ask how that’s been and how it factors into tonight.
After looking back, I like to look forward. Your prep will dictate what you ask here, but in essence what does this game mean? Is it the start of a long road trip? Is it against a rival team? Is it the first game in a while (after a bye week, etc)? The next step would be to look at the meaning behind this game:
How do you tackle the first (middle/last, etc) game of a tough road trip?
What’s your team’s comfort level away from home?
There have been some fierce battles between these two teams, how do you manage that emotion?
You’re coming off a bye week, how do you re-engage after two weeks off?
You might also want to focus on individual elements to the game. Are there players nearing or at milestones? Has a player (or players) been particularly good recently? Does the team have a ‘star’ that’s garnering a lot of attention? Is there just a good story in tonight’s game? This allows your pre-game interview to have more of a human element by talking about situations one on one:
How has Joe Smith been in the last five…statistically he’s looked solid?
This is the first test on the road this year, what’s the comfort level like?
Joe Smith is attracting a lot of attention from scouts and media, do you manage that much as a coach?
100 games tonight for your captain Joe Smith, tell us a little more about him and what he means to the team?
Depending on how long you want to go with a coach, you may choose to end it here but I always like to end things by focusing on this game in particular. Talking about things like lineups, tactics and other game elements appease the hardcore fans that are listening in. Now it’s highly unlikely you’re going to get an opposing coach to open up about his dark tactical secrets…I’ve never heard a coach say “look for us to fake punt on 4th down” or “we’ve been practicing the hidden ball trick all week”, but you can get some good insight:
What are you looking for from your team in the first 5-10 minutes?
How do you feel you match up against (your teams strength)?
How does the lineup look for you guys tonight? Any last minute changes?
Every interview is different, and in many cases your prep will dictate how you conduct them. There is no magic formula or question bank for any pre-game interview, but there are certainly common themes and elements that you can fall back on in order to gain more comfort and confidence with them.