Note: This was a column published a couple of years ago following a high school sports season in upstate New York:
As a preface to another sports season and an addendum to the recently-completely fall sports campaign, I compiled a list of most-used clichés in the sports journalism business. These are the trite, overused phrases often uttered by athletes and coaches from coast to coast and on every level of sports.
My column is inspired by an ESPN piece about common clichés used in the sports world. The network singled out Mark Brunell, then of the Jacksonville Jaguars, and a brief interview he conducted with a reporter. After each offense (cliché), a bell rang, and a graphic of his total clichés was displayed. Brunell racked up about five or six tired phrases in about 30 seconds.
I’ve long had the idea to run a list of stale, well-worn quotes. Since I’ve heard them so often, I make every effort to not print them. My fingers will momentarily pause above the keyboard as they are spoken, and only as a last resort – if there is space in need of filling – will I add them to a story.
Just to cover my own bases, I am not singling out any particular coaches or players. Every coach I have ever interviewed more than a couple times has given me a stock cliché quote. I even used a couple area coaches as resources to help me compile my list. I also have to thank former co-worker Jude Seymour who made contributions to my list.
Below, I list the common clichés, what they actually mean in plain language, and I add my personal commentary. So without further adieu, I present this column one sentence at a time, and please note that I worked extremely hard, gave 100 percent effort, and I typed it with a lot of heart… .
• “The guys are working hard or very hard, extremely hard, or the derivative and same meaning: ‘This group has a good work ethic.’”
Explanation: The coach is setting a pace and his expectations in practice, and the players are up to those standards.
Commentary: When is a coach actually going to say?: “My players are lazy, worthless underachievers who don’t listen to a word I say.”
• “Our guys came ready to play… ‘the team played hard’…’we played to win’ or… they (the other team) came to play.”
Explanation: We took the field/court well prepared for our opponent.
Commentary: As a sportswriter, I hope a team came ready to play, unless players forgot their uniforms or expected to sit in with the pep band during pregame and halftime.
• “We gave 100 percent, or the implausible…’we gave 110 percent.’”
Explanation: The team didn’t take plays off and gave full effort.
Commentary: I’d love to see the person who can actually give 10 percent more than their complete self. Oh, I’d fall out of my chair if a coach said, “we gave 78 percent.”
• We can’t look ahead, we’re just taking it one game at a time…or ‘one day at a time.’”
Explanation: If we don’t point toward the next game as the most important one, we may lose our focus.”
Commentary: I liked the situation comedy with Bonnie Franklin, “One Day At A Time” as a kid, but I don’t like this heavily overused phrase. It’s a catch-all fall-back for quotesmiths whose well of comments has gone dry.
• “This group plays like a team or ‘they played well together.’”
Explanation: There is cohesiveness, chemistry, and camaraderie among the team members.
Commentary: I’m sure teams that played well together were all kids who got smiley faces for sharing and interacting well with classmates during pre-school.
• “Every game is a must-win.”
Explanation: The expectation is to win every game.
Commentary: I am guilty of throwing this comment in from time to time. Isn’t it understood that teams play with the purpose of winning? As an offshoot and an up-and-coming cliché, I’ve heard, “we played not to lose.”
• “We were competitive.”
Explanation: There wasn’t a huge difference between the two teams.
Commentary: This comment is always a preface or an explanation before describing a defeat. It’s a bail-out to possibly make the players and fans feel better.
• We played with a lot of heart.”
Explanation: An intangible quality in which the team didn’t give up and showed a lot of passion and enthusiasm.
Commentary: Just once I’d like to see the heart throw a football, dribble a basketball, and hit a baseball.
• We’re very young or real young.”
Explanation: The team doesn’t have a lot of varsity game experience or it doesn’t have a lot seniors on the squad.
Commentary: If I had a nickel for every time I heard this one I’d have about $20 by now. I find it ironic that a senior in high school is considered a veteran, but as soon as he becomes a freshman in college, he’s extremely young again. Wouldn’t it be great if in real life we could transition from old to young on a yearly basis?
• “Not to take anything away from… .”
Explanation: A coach gives obligatory credit to the other team, then explains his team’s failing.
Commentary: This quote always comes after a loss, and by making excuses for his team’s loss, the coach IS taking something away from the winning team.
• “Our backs are against the wall.”
Explanation: The team is in a position where it cannot lose or it cannot fail.
Commentary: This is a cousin to the aforementioned cliché, “a must-win situation.”
* “We stepped up or ‘we had to step it up.’”
Explanation: The team raised the level of its game and quality of its play to that of its opponent.
Commentary: Why is it that no one ever says they stepped it up at the start of a game? Usually they must fall down a few steps at the start, then take the steps back up, hence, “stepped it up.”