By the time U.S. teams and players qualify for the Little League Baseball World Series, they have already played regional tournament games on national television and begun to learn how to deal with media obligations.
However, the spotlight is brighter when the players arrive in Williamsport for youth baseball’s biggest event. This can be a challenge for anyone, including the players on the field.
Once in Williamsport, a Little League public relations staff joins coaches, team hosts and others in helping the players deal with various media requests. There are film sessions with ESPN, which tapes segments for pregame introductions and other uses. ESPN and other networks may also have specific interview requests for selected players in the days leading up to the event. Once a game is over, there is a postgame press conference.
The Little League World Series is not the only place where young athletes face media inquiries. Depending on the situation, pre-teen athletes may get their first direct media exposure as their teams participate in championship events that draw community interest.
As Senior Director of Communications, Brian McClintock oversees many of the processes for handling media interactions with Little League participants.
McClintock acknowledges that most of the policies that he and other communications staff adhere to at the Little League World Series were already in place when he arrived six years ago. However, he did have some suggestions that he thinks can help coaches, parents and others affiliated with youth sports teams as their youngsters deal with media for the first time.
Little League World Series media rules are designed to protect the young athlete – media members at the event even go through background checks before being issued credentials. McClintock suggests adult supervision on behalf of the young athlete.
“Our sort of standard that we have and that we’ve set forth is that we really want to have somebody there who is helping the player,” McClintock said. “We’re talking about a 12-year-old usually … what we want to do is make sure there’s an adult present who understands the questions that are being asked, who can interject if there is a question that might be inappropriate or might seem like the player is put in an awkward position.”
McClintock admits that an awkward situation is quite rare but they still like the player to have a safety blanket of sorts in a parent, coach or LLWS official.
“Most of the time, 99 percent of the time, the media that is covering the Little League World Series understand that and they’re not coming at them with tough, hard-hitting questions,” he said. “But, by us asking that either a coach, a manager, a parent or one of our communication staff be present for an interview, it really allows us to be able to step in if there is ever that awkward position.”
McClintock said that just as practice can help prepare players for game situations, a discussion about the process involved can help a player be more comfortable when interviewed.
“Probably the best thing to do is when you get that media request, it’s good to talk to the player ahead of time so they know they’re going to be interviewed and you know they’re going to be comfortable with a camera or a tape recorder,” McClintock said. “Go through that process with them, ask them what their answers are going to be.
“You want the kids to be themselves and you want them to have their own personality. You want that to shine through and you want them to be honest and forthcoming, but you also want to make sure they’re comfortable with the situation.”
If needed, a coach can alert a journalist about a potentially nervous interview subject.
“Reporters understand that,” McClintock said. “I think every reporter has been through an awkward interview where they’re trying to get an answer out of a player or person who’s never been interviewed before.”
Taking those steps, McClintock said, can increase the hopes of getting the responses that show the personality behind the young athlete about whom the public is looking to learn more.
From GameChanger and Tom Robinson.
Check out other Little League World Series articles here.