MenagerieFrame by frame, play by play: A closer look into sports commentary
Frame by frame, play by play: A closer look into sports commentary
Tags:
January 17, 2019
Tags:
January 17, 2019

With every pulse-pounding sports game on your television or phone screen, there is always a pair of voices feeding you the action on the court. They detail the patterns, the numbers, and the activity of all the athletes in sight. Their narrative, mixing with the boisterous cheers from the crowd, provides the ebb and flow of the entire game down to the steps of the players—even if you’re miles away from the stadium.

These voices belong to a duo of sportscasters suited up in studio, aided by surrounding monitors showcasing instant replays, slow-motion angles, and statistics on demand. Running the play-by-play is the anchor, whose responsibilities include the opening and closing spiels in addition to describing the movements in the game. The analyst occupies the other position and explains the reasons behind a team’s excellent play or poor performance. Such is the role of Philippine Basketball Association caster Dominic Uy, who played for De La Salle University’s Green Archers, as well as for the Metropolitan Basketball Association prior to his 15 years and counting stint as a sports commentator.

 

Curtains behind the casting

For many casters like Dominic, their previous experiences as athletes and coaches help in their commentary. The catch is in learning to transition from being the one handling the ball to reporting and breaking down the plays. Beyond simply recognizing the moves, a good analysis entails an intricate understanding of what the teams have to do to win—whether they’re in the lead or trying to mount a comeback, it boils down to identifying what’s going right and wrong for either side as the plays transpire.

“I have a question that I pose and say, ‘Will they be able to make an adjustment?’” he says. Dominic explains what he’s on the lookout for as teams face off—glimpses of life that could answer the framework of questions holding his commentary together. Effective commentators possess the ability to weave these moments, from unforced errors to explosive runs, into a sensational narrative. And as many storytellers know, there is often an antecedent to every action scene.

 

 

More than just statistics

All sports teams have a past: win-loss records, roster shuffles, rivalries, and coaching staff changes. Players, too, carry their highlight reels with them to the court.

Dominic emphasizes that “preparation is key” in framing a story. From reviewing news reports and video footage to noting down relevant statistics and player injuries, commentators make sure to research about the teams they’re covering.

Sportscasters incorporate these team and player histories like subplots contextualizing the storyline of each game. They often refer to recent trends —like being on a hot streak or suffering from consecutive losses—and cite stylistic differences between the teams’ respective strategies.

They could also pinpoint a breakout performer hitting multiple threes above their usual shooting percentage—doing so adds meaning and substance to what the spectators are witnessing. Additionally, statistics enable commentators to validate their claims and further beef up the narrative.

 

Live action dynamics

Though preparation helps immensely, the spontaneity of the sport also requires a capacity to pivot and improvise. Dwelling solely on pregame expectations, even when the match swings the other way, makes the narrative stale. The statistics and backstories—the “jump-off point to start the game,” as Dominic puts it—often prove to write only part of the tale. The commentary always revolves around how the game develops, and the focal points of the story follow suit wherever the action may lead.

“I [want to] talk about the three-point shooting but, all of a sudden, there’s a steal, so [I] have to change gears,” Dominic shares. “Telling the people the story of what’s happening…it’s really more on the fly.”

As the excitement peaks and lulls, sportscasters mirror the pace and intensity of the match using varying tones of surprise, enthusiasm, and measured disappointment. They react to the plays as they happen and take them as plot points to build up their narratives on-the-spot.

The impromptu aspect does make blunders unavoidable, however. Dominic admits that he used to be highly critical of his commentating, but even the most seasoned casters commit errors, like stutters and mispronunciation, every so often. “We’re all human; we all will make mistakes. What you have to do is make sure you make bawi (make up for it).”

 

 

On technique

Fleshing out the narrative while staying true to the action is a balancing act—a medley of zest, emotion, names and numbers, and game lingo. The viewers’ differing levels of familiarity with the sport influence this balance as casters decide between increasing the technicality or “making it (the commentary) more palatable to the ones that don’t really understand too much of the game.”

However, no matter how clear and appealing the story is, not every comment sits well with the audience. Dominic acknowledges the fans’ strong reactions as a fervent expression of dedication to the teams and the sport as a whole. Sticking with his style, the sportscaster explains, “I’m not here to please them; I’m here to deliver my way of dissecting the game.”

 

Love for the game

From clumsy falls to impactful dunks that make the crowd go wild, standing in the bleachers can offer an exhilarating vibe, making watching a game on-site far from a dull experience. But spectating through the screen can be just as fascinating; the storytelling prowess of sports commentators presents a unique vantage point of engaging insights that complement the visual events unfolding.

More often than not, it only takes a few exceptional individuals to raise a sport to legendary heights. Sportscasters leave their mark in the saga by extending the discussion of a single game until it adds up to the legacy of a team, and eventually the history of the sport.