Sport interview: strategy, design and content

Dr. Hab., Professor V.M. Shulyatyev1
PhD, Associate Professor M.A. Bulavina1
1Peoples' Friendship University of Russia, Moscow

Keywords: sport celebrity portraying interview, communication competence, communication strategies and tactics

Background. Modern sports may be defined as the mass public service domain with their sports-specific lexicons and competitive/ training process facilitating communication toolkits in the context of the wider social interactions with the outside world: sport equipment manufacturers and suppliers, lawyers, managers, sport agents, supporters, mass media organizations etc. Analysts underline multiple connections and mutual influences of the modern sports and societies [3, 4]. Moreover, sports in the modern informational environments cannot operate in their own confines and need to facilitate direct dialogues of athletes and supporters via the traditional and online media resources.

Subject to the study was the design and content of a modern sport celebrity portraying interview. The study was driven by the idea that a modern interview should prioritize both to the sporting topics and personality of the interviewed athlete, with the interviewer striving to cater for the interest of the audience in the personality of the interviewee in context of his/ her achievements.

Objective of the study was to to analyze the logics and tactics of a modern sport celebrity portraying interview for the traditional and online media organizations geared to cater for the public interest in sports and their ambassadors.

Methods and structure of the study. Subject to the study were 200+ personality portraying and sport event covering interviews published by the national traditional and online sport media organizations including,,,,,,, Match TV, Elite Sports, Soviet Sports, Russian Newspaper and Arguments and Facts.

The study included pragmatic analyses of the communicating parties’ verbal patterns and tools in the sports-specific discourse to highlight the tactical and strategic aspects of the discussions. We used general research descriptive analysis and comparative analysis, philological (stylistic and rhetoric structure) analysis, context analysis, discourse analysis and intent analysis to find the direct and indirect intentions of the communicating parties and rate their verbal communication efficiency. The content analysis was used to classify the data exchange in the communication process. The analytical data were processed by statistical methods to rate in quantitative values the communication strategies and tactics.

Results and discussion. A modern interview [2] generally includes the modeling, interviewing and completion stages. The modeling stage is geared to set goals for the interview and make a script, collect and sort out the necessary background material, sequence the interview organizing issues, make a script for the discussion and outline the key strategies and tactics for the discussion.

Our study of the interviewing procedure showed the communication strategies and tactics being largely customized to the professional status of the interviewed individual i.e. athlete, coach, sport official, lawmaker or sport manager. Dialogues with the relevant government officers and lawmakers will be designed to attain specific public awareness goals, with such interviews classically designed to include a set of standard questions like who, what, where, why etc.

Interviews of athletes (including blitz polls, scheduled dialogues during the rest breaks and straight after sport events) will be mostly modeled as required by the traditional sport celebrity portraying interview scripts geared to obtain the background sport-specific information and analyze the athlete’s personality. The sport celebrity portraying interview content analysis showed this format being rather broad-based, sometimes unpredictable and ideally offering a few topics for discussion including the interviewed person’s childhood (68% of the analyzed sport celebrity portraying interview have covered this topic); first steps in the sport; first earnings; dreams of the achievements in the childhood; the best competitive accomplishments (86%); reasons for failures and losses in the sport career (41%); professional interests upon retirement from sports (62%); and the individual values and most valued human qualities (73%).

A published interview should be preceded by the so-called ‘lead’ that means a kind of abstract or introduction for the conversation that is designed to give understanding of the conversation plan to the audience, emotionally engage and attract its attention. Our analysis of the standard sport celebrity portraying interview showed that the leads may be classified into the lead definitions, lead events, lead positions, and lead overviews.

Lead definition gives the means to introduce the counterpart to the audience with a special emphasis on the keywords like ‘the best’, ‘outstanding’, ‘prominent’ etc to attain the relevant goal, for example: ‘The Soviet Sport interviewed the hottest dance duo in the world of figure skating. How cool are they!’

Lead event may be considered a version of the lead definition intended to characterize the interviewed character by references to the key events in his/her life. Thus an interview with ice hockey player Artemy Panarin was preceded by a story of the Columbus merchants leaving no stone unturned in their efforts to lure the player into a contract with the local Blue Jackets club.

Lead position may be explained by an article ‘Meet Nikolai Komlichenko’ [, 12.14.2018] geared to familiarize the reader with the football player. He is not a mainline player, but of highest interest for the audience due to his position in the European Football League: ‘The main Russian legionnaire in the 2018/19 season was neither Denis Cheryshev nor even Roman Neustedter, but Nikolai Komlichenko from Mlada Boleslav FC’.

Lead overview may be described as the frame script or model for conversation: “The Russian champion and the Spartak FC goalkeeper Artem Rebrov shares with the Elite Sports why football players ignore the press, how young players are affected by big money and who of the Russian players are expected in Europe right now”. The interviewing procedure after the lead overview is managed as provided by this prior script with its strategy and tactics to attain the goals.

Sports in Russia have always been a matter of national pride, with the top athletes and their coaching teams being always central for the media and people. No wonder that one of the most popular sport celebrity portraying interview forms is dominated by a complementary dialogue of the parties. The dialogue strategies are often geared to create a positive image of the athlete on the relevant emotional background, with most popular tactics as follows.

Complementary tactics may be described as the fairly traditional dialogue pattern -  however not always productive in real conversations with athletes. However strange it may seem, instead of an expected agreement with the journalist (“Yes, you are right, I am strong / hardworking / famous”), the athlete often prefers to respond in an unconfident way (“I don’t know”, “I feel always uneasy”, “I owe my success to the coach”). The interviewee should understand that the compliment is intended to not only express a sincere admiration, but also appease him, create a favorable psychological background for the conversation, all the more that the complementary tactics are often intended to precede a verbal attack and/ or reference to the competitive failures to force the counterpart to justify and object. However, such a impetus to the conversation not only encourages the athlete but also urges him/her to mobilize and find a reasonable, well-though responses.

Doubting tactics implies a disagreement with the interviewer’s statement to enliven the discussion by a flavor of confrontation. However, when doubts are combined with the above complimentary tactics, the questions give the athlete an opportunity to come up with a positive agenda, an unexpected judgment, demonstrate the fighting spirit to spur up the interest of the audience in the personality and topic for discussion on the whole: ‘It looks there are no more promises? No, there are!’

Compassion tactics in interviews are geared to give impression of inequality, with one of the discussing parties looking successful and compassionate and the other unlucky and victimized. In dialogues with athletes such tactics often bring an opposite result, with the athlete either coming up with a reasonably balanced view on the unfavorable situation or giving justifications: ‘No offense from the judges? I’ve got the feeling they underscore you, don’t they? Why take offense? I’ve got what I deserved for my skating this time’.

Response guessing tactics may be described as one of the most contradictory ones. On the one hand, the journalist offers a hint for the response, with the athlete offered a readymade answer. Such tactics may be successful when the journalist have ‘learned the ropes’ of the subject and the proposed option matches the athlete’s own opinion: ‘What are you going to master next, triple axel? That’s right, triple axel’. When the proposed option is not accurate enough, it urges the athlete to reflect and come up with his/her own version to impress the audience by the open-mindedness. This tactics may be also used as provocative to lure the counterpart into a trap. A fairly competent athlete skillful in communication may notice the provocation and accept or disprove the option to turn the discussion into the desired track: ‘How are you going to deal with your rival? Wait for her mistakes? No, excel my own skills in the most difficult elements’.

Conclusion. Our analysis of the verbal toolkit of the modern sport celebrity portraying interview showed that success of such interview depends on the social maturity, professionalism, communicative competence and personality qualities of the athlete who can accept or reject the conversation scenario or some of its elements and put the conversation on the desired track to demonstrate own best qualities. We believe that a special emphasis on the communicative skills excellence on a topic-specific or all-round basis may help create a “new educational space and train fundamentally different specialists in the field of physical education and sports”, as required for progress of the national physical education system [1].


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Modern sports may be defined as the mass public service domain with their sports-specific lexicons and competitive/ training process facilitating communication toolkits in the context of the wider social interactions with the outside world: sport equipment manufacturers and suppliers, lawyers, managers, sport agents, supporters, mass media organizations etc. Objective of the study was to analyze the modern sport celebrity portraying interview for the traditional and modern media organizations geared to cater for the public interest in sports and their ambassadors. The study was governed by the growing appreciation of the modern sports and their socio-cultural role in the modern world, with the mass media organizations being central for dialogues of the sport celebrities and spectators. The study was designed to explore content and communication technologies of a modern sport interview with their specific verbal toolkit. Most of the sport celebrities portraying interviews were found to be designed to cultivate a positive image of the character by a variety of communication tactics including compliments, doubts etc. The article analyzes the sample interview design and elements with a special attention to the lead elements geared to win and keep up interest of the audience. It was concluded that high communication competency and skills are critical nowadays for the sport shareholders in view of the high communication-intensity of the modern sport system.