My Interesting Job: Laura Woods
My Interesting Job: Laura Woods

My Interesting Job: Laura Woods

If you tuned into the Lionesses’ triumph over the USA last weekend, you’ll probably recognise Laura Woods. One of the UK’s busiest sports presenters, she’s not only covered football, but boxing, darts and even the NFL. With six American football teams touching down in London for three high-profile matches this month, we sat down with Laura to find out more about what it takes to succeed inthe fast-moving and often male-dominated TV industry.
By Harriet Russell

I studied print journalism at university. English was always my favourite subject at school, along with PE. During my degree course, I tried my best to tie in any reporting I did with sports coverage –match reports for the local rugby team or anything along those lines. My early dream was always to be a Press Packer on Newsround – so I guess I harboured an interest in broadcasting too, but the idea of being on TV just seemed so unattainable at the time. 

It was only when I got work experience at Sky that I felt broadcasting might be possible. It was a real window into media and such an exciting world to be part of. I became a runner – otherwise known as a production junior – doing all the odd jobs, including making teas and coffees, and eventually I worked my way up to get opportunities in reporting and presenting. It took a long time and I had to really do my homework to earn those chances. To get better, I used to film myself at home every night doing pieces to camera.

I wasn’t always comfortable in front of the camera. At the beginning, I hated it but it did give me the kind of buzz I eventually became addicted to. I knew I could get better, so that probably pushed me to stick with it. Unless you have a theatrical background, I’m not sure it’s possible to feel 100% natural right off the bat – it’s quite a strange thing to do. It’s taken me quite some time to feel like myself on camera, and to this day I find it really hard to watch my work back. 

The way to make your mark in this industry is to take every job that’s offered to you. At least, that's what I did, and I even made up my own jobs at home just to be able to practise and get better. I took it seriously, and offered to work on any sport – ping pong, bowling, darts – just for the experience and to enhance my CV. Some of those sports might sound quite niche to a lot of people, but I always treated them with the utmost respect. The work is always the same in live broadcasting, and I knew the skills would translate to bigger, more mainstream sports. It gave me the space to make mistakes and learn from them, and in the long run it worked wonders for my confidence.  

The way to MAKE YOUR MARK in this industry is to take every job that’s offered to you – I even made up my OWN JOBS AT HOME just to be able to PRACTISE and get BETTER.

You can’t be afraid to fail on TV. One of the lessons I learnt really early on was to get comfortable with the idea that if I messed up, a lot of people were going to see me mess up. That’s not the same in other jobs – not only are your mistakes caught on camera, but people then share them on social media, so you have to develop a pretty thick skin, and learn quickly. The way I looked at it was like learning to drive a car. Every job was a ‘driving lesson’ and I knew if I did it often enough, it would eventually feel like second nature. 

If you like sports, you can pretty much report on any of them. Every sport is unpredictable, has its own rules and stakes, and the desire to win from the competitors and athletes is always strong. For me, football is the pinnacle of sports broadcasting – it’s certainly the sport I love working on the most and I’ll always find my way back to it. That said, I relish the chance to report on other sports because it gives me a real chance to get stuck into something new, to do my homework and try to be the smartest person in the room. It rarely works out that way – but I love the challenge. 

Meeting the Arsenal players has definitely been a career highlight. I come from a football-mad household and Arsenal are my team – so meeting players from Arsène Wenger’s ‘Invincibles’ squad of the early 2000s was such a thrill. I’m also looking at that team’s start to this season with real excitement. [Manager] Mikel Arteta’s been through a lot with this squad – getting rid of players like Aubameyang for example – and he’s trying to build an entirely new culture, so everyone plays as a team. It’s paying off as they’re still sat at the top of table, having already beaten teams like Liverpool and Spurs. In the past, they’ve crumbled in the face of challenge but that’s not happening anymore. 

Will Arsenal win the League this year? I don’t think so – Manchester City have Erling Haaland and I don’t think anyone will score as many goals as him this season. He’s actually not human – and don’t forget they’ve put him into a team that’s already full of superstars. My advice for Arsenal is to work towards a top four finish – then they’ll have further chances to win more silverware.

I’ve also been lucky enough to meet superstars of the game like Cristiano Ronaldo and David Beckham. Working on the Premier League is such a privilege. It’s amazing to be able to follow certain teams all the way to the various finals, and I also got to work on coverage of the Euros in 2016, which I’ll never forget. We covered it from the fans’ perspective, which made it really memorable. 

I also remember covering the boxing match between Katie Taylor and Amanda Sorrano. They were the first females to box in Madison Square Garden – a venue often thought of as the mecca for boxing – and Katie’s walk-on is something I’ll never forget. She walked in slowly to an Irish song that wasn’t your typical ‘pump up’ tune. It was spine-tingling – it felt like we were witnessing history in the making. Katie’s everything you’d want her to be, too – so humble, and yet she’s changed the face of women’s boxing worldwide. 

The NFL was actually one of the first shows I ever worked on. It’s such a marketable sport, so it never surprised me that it was a hit with Sky viewers. I was a fan before I worked on it, so one day I just emailed the main producer and said if they needed another reporter to do anything, I was game. I’d never worked in front of the camera before but I was determined to prove myself. He responded by asking me to go and interview Vernon Kay, who was playing in a non-professional league in England for a team called London Blitz. I jumped at the chance. I even paid for my own train ticket from Blackpool to London to make it happen. It paid off, because the same producer then made me a pitchside reporter for the NFL games in London – my first gig was in 2014. 

After three seasons covering the NFL, I entered a fantasy league with people at work – and won. It gave me the idea to host a fantasy NFL show online with a co-presenter in LA, and it ended up being so much fun. Around the same time, I ended up meeting the player-turned-presenter Jason Bell who was a big supporter and helped build my profile in the sport. 

I’ve also been LUCKY enough to meet SUPERSTARS of the game like CRISTIANO RONALDO and DAVID BECKHAM – working on the Premier League is such a PRIVILEGE.

Women in this industry do get judged differently to men. It is changing, thankfully – and I’m glad there are so many more opportunities for women now. To make our mark in this business, I’d tell young women to try and put the gender stuff behind them and own it. Do the work and people won’t have any reason to doubt you. Like in so many industries, you have to back yourself first and foremost.

The Denver Broncos will play the Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley Stadium on 30th October – and we’ll be covering it on ITV. If you’ve not watched NFL before, I highly recommend tuning in. Don’t let the rules put you off – they can be a bit complicated at first glance – enjoy the glamour and the razzmatazz instead. You don’t have to know who all the players are, all will become clear quite quickly. That’s where the Americans have British sport beaten – they’re not shy about showing off their talent and star players. My money’s on the Jaguars to win – they’re pretty beloved in London. 

There’s no 9-5 in this job. My schedule is really quite wild. Monday through to Wednesday I’m up at 4am to present the breakfast show, then Friday I’m up at 6am for the NFL show. Then I’m usually covering different games at the weekends – plenty of which run on into the evenings. There’s sometimes boxing on a Saturday night, too. I admit I miss routine sometimes and I’m trying to find a bit more balance to maintain my sanity! In this world, it can be tempting to always be looking for the next job, the next big game, but sometimes it’s better to focus on doing a few select things really well. 

For anyone wanting to break into this industry, I’d say you can never know too much. Read up and get obsessed with it. You have to do this job because you love sport – bottom line. It’s hard work and there are no set hours, so if you’re not passionate about it, or you really treasure your weekends, this isn’t the career for you. I never think about what I’d rather being doing – I’m so lucky to be able to do this. 

Laura Woods is a presenter for ITV’s The NFL Show and will be hosting ITV’s coverage of the Denver Broncos vs Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley Stadium on 30th October. Follow @LauraWoodsy on Instagram.

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