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Veteran anchorman Sev Sarmenta shares advice, stories for sportscasting wannabes

The current absence of live sporting events on traditional media and online platforms has led many sports commentators to keep the conversations alive with fans on social media. The topics range from questions about games covered, current trends like The Last Dance and many other sports issues.

One of the most common questions posed, now and even before the Covid-19 lockdown on sports, was "How can I become a sportscaster?"

On first glance, it seems the job of sports anchor, analyst or reporter seems straight-forward enough: watch a game, say who has possession, give the score, lead your analyst into a discussion or call on the courtside reporter for an update about the last timeout or player injury.

Many feel that because they know sports like basketball and can discuss it eloquently with friends or co-workers, then maybe, just maybe they could have a shot at sportscasting.

But the truth of the matter is, basketball or sports knowledge and savvy are not enough. Ask any analyst who was a former coach or player who tried to seamlessly segue into the broadcast booth but got lost in the maze. Or ask any first-time anchor or reporter who gets his or her cue to speak but ends up tongue-tied or dumbfounded.

To those who are interested, here are a few qualifications and guidelines that could encourage you to audition for that sports job.

1. Develop a pleasant sounding conversational tone. It's not just about voice or delivery. It's about being clear, understandable and to a large extent, likeable on the air. Not all of us in the sportscasting business have great voices but all try to make the delivery as conversational as possible even during the most exciting moments of sports contest.

2. Have good grooming. As we often say, hindi pagwapuhan o pagandahan ito (It's not about who's handsome or beautiful). Nevertheless, if you want to break into television or even social media in any way, you need to have good grooming and a decent fashion sense.

3. Breed sincere confidence. This is not to be misinterpreted as arrogance. When I was producer of the PBA, PBL and UAAP coverages in the 80s and 90s, I interviewed and auditioned many would-be game callers. There were many confident applicants but there were also a lot of arrogant wannabes that thought that calling games was a piece of cake. Some were street or village league barkers who knew the game but doing broadcast play-by-play is a different case. It's not enough to say who scored or who committed the foul.

4. Get sports experience in different ways. Current PBA anchorman Chuck Araneta tried several routes before making it in the PBA. He attempted to be a college courtside reporter but didn't get the gig but never lost his love for the game and his resolve to make it one day.

A podcast with Carlo Pamintuan and Polo Bustamante called "From the Stands" helped Chuck brew the confidence for broadcast. "It helped me find my voice and comfort level speaking into a microphone, and sharing my thoughts and opinions with others," Chuck explains, "It also helped me be comfortable interacting with other people, and keeping a dialog and conversation going."

James Velasquez became a sports and at-large reporter at GMA after college before making the transition into anchorman. As reporter, he gained contacts, a working knowledge of Philippine sports and culture and got confidence that's helpful when you go on the air. Velasquez has already done two Olympiads and continues to call PBA, PSL, boxing and mixed martial arts bouts.

Youthful Paolo Del Rosario had a similar route as he became a sports reporter for CNN Philippines before shifting over to the TV5-Cignal team. He has also covered the Gilas team stints abroad where his reporting and storytelling skills are put to excellent use.

PBA Rush anchorman Carlo Pamintuan was in the BPO industry for three years and got bored with an editing job. His boxing blog paved the way for an initial off-tube (away from the venue) boxing call and has been calling fights, PBA and D-League games and Spikers' Turf games since then.

You can also start out in sports production. Current anchorman/reporter Jutt Sulit began as a writer and statistics producer for the AKTV NCAA coverage. Jutt was a former player at UP Los BaƱos and opted later on to do radio as well. His first gig was hosting the opening ceremonies of WNCAA with Rizza Diaz and he has gone on to do other coverages like following the Gilas national team abroad.

Some do podcasts, write blogs or construct sports websites. There's no single route to becoming a sportscaster.

5. Turn off the audio. Doing play-by-play was a child's game for me when I was younger. My brother Steve and I did childhood basketball games and I was the announcer. Sportscenter Philippines anchor Aaron Atayde did something similar with his siblings before auditioning to be a UAAP courtside reporter. From there, Aaron has gone on to be a game anchor and then lead host for the Philippine version of the iconic ESPN sports show.

As there's an abundance of material online, try switching off the audio and do the play-by-play or analysis. Without violating any broadcast rights (like posting your practice), check how you fare. Your audition could very well be doing commentary for a quarter or less aside from doing a stand-up or on-camera spiel.

6. Audition. You have knowledge and passion but you still have to audition. It doesn't matter what job you currently have as long as you show the potential to become a game-caller.

PBA anchorman Charlie Cuna is a lawyer who loved the game, attended Noel Zarate's Sportscasting Seminar and then got a job on PBA Radyo. He's gone on to do many international coverages as well like the FIBA Asia, Asian Games and SEA Games aside from regular PBA stints. His deep understanding of the game reveals his superb preparation for each broadcast.

In 2000, PBA Rush anchorman Chiqui Reyes auditioned and got accepted to join the PBL coverage. However, a corporate job prevented him from proceeding. Then, an opportunity to do the Collegiate Champions League (CCL) came along. "They made me go to the Ateneo Blue Eagle Gym to cover the opening of the CCL. My partner was Mark Zambrano," Chiqui recalls, "It was a forgettable audition as far as I was concerned. But the producers probably saw something in me and they made me come back."

7. Try again. Unless you're very lucky or really good, you'll encounter a few rejections in auditions. There are only so many jobs available and our sports landscape doesn't have baseball or American football or other games for more opportunities. As Chuck Araneta and Chiqui Reyes' journeys prove, the initial tries may not earn you the jobs you dream about but you'll get the courage to keep trying.

8. Be available. A youthful Magoo Marjon who was still in college at De La Salle, initially auditioned for a UAAP courtside reporter spot but didn't make it. He then tried for the PBL games and earned a one-game stint as analyst but did not get a call back. On a casual return visit to the PBL to just watch the games, the producers spotted him and encouraged him to learn how to anchor. The producers felt it seemed difficult for him to establish analyst credibility as a non-coach or player.

After graduation and that initial foray, Magoo left for the United States but kept in touch with local broadcasters through e-mail. "When I came back I got in touch with the late broadcaster/sports editor Barry Pascua who set me up with an audition for PBA radio," Magoo remembers.

On this second attempt, there was now some clarity, "I sounded like I knew what I was saying from the analyst's perspective but with not much credibility. After maybe six to eight analyst gigs, may absent na anchor kaya nilagay nila ako (someone was absent so they put me on as anchor) and that's when I really got to go down this path." Magoo has now been doing this for the last 16 years.

9. Work on your grammar, storytelling and interviewing. This is sound advice from Charlie Cuna which he shared with fellow PBA anchors in a recent Zoom session on the 2OT online program of Magoo Marjon and Carlo Pamintuan. Being in a sports broadcast requires you to be on the air longer than any program. You will be talking for long stretches so you've got to be ready. Whether in English or in Pilipino (in the Philippines, you've got to be good in both for broadcasting), you've got to speak well and not just talk sports. You also have to do ample research and collect stories aside from being able to converse with your analyst and sometimes with the coaches and players.

10. Watch and read everything. Even as many of us are longtime anchors and analysts, we still try to watch as many games as possible. NBA, FIBA, Eurobasket, college basketball - name it, we've all tuned it to all of them. There are always new ways to call plays or dissect game strategies.

In the long run, a sportscaster's seminar can definitely open your eyes to other aspects of game calling but do go for the audition if there's one. Everyone's dream job has to start somewhere but it's good to be prepared, no matter what the result is. There's time to prepare now while sports are on a break.