As great as Kobe Bryant is, he knows perfection is an illusion.
Nonetheless he and many others—sportscasters included—continue their "relentless pursuit of perfection," as the Lexus commercials used to say. Acknowledging the obvious, that nobody is perfect, will hopefully help calm the nerves and allow you to go on when you make the inevitable mistake. Of course good preparation will help to prevent mistakes before they happen, but we all know our very humanity ensures that's not foolproof. So you also need to be prepared, in essence to have the right mindset, when you mess up.
The Dodgers' Vin Scully says you have to work your way through it if you make a mistake. "That's no way to go on the air," he says. "It's like a ball player—he can't go up to the plate thinking 'I hope I don't strike out.' He's got to be walking up there thinking 'I'm going to hit this ball ten miles.' Well, the same with a broadcaster. And once you break through that fear of failure and that fear that you're going to make a mistake, you begin to relax."
"I don't get hung up on making a mistake," says CBS's Nantz. "That's where I see most sportscasters, what really flusters them, is they memorize what they're going to say so much that when they miss or stumble over a word—and people do speak that way—the train is off the tracks and they have a hard time getting back on the rails again. It's no big deal. Don't fear the little verbal bobble. It happens."
And when you make the inevitable mistake?
"You should acknowledge it," says Scully. "I think you make a mistake if you gloss over it. If you say 'I'm sorry, I messed up—I didn't mean to say that,' I think the listener will say 'well I've done that myself' and will accept it. If you try to just smooth it over and ignore it and keep on going. . . if it's rather important, that would be a big mistake, not the one you actually make."
"Fix it," says Russ Thaler, the host of Major League Soccer coverage on NBC. "People make mistakes and I think people watching TV understand that you're not perfect and you're not a machine. Fix it, don't make a big deal about it."
When mistakes come from others involved with the production, the on-air talent is the first line of defense when covering up. If a piece of video, a graphic, or some other element is not ready or there's some other problem that requires you to stretch your on-camera segment, you'd better be prepared to do so. This is where the ability to ad-lib is critical. Teleprompters do, occasionally, fail. Would you be able to ad-lib your way through a sportscast or other segment if that happened? Knowing the subject of your standups or sportscast thoroughly will help you to do this.
Certainly it can be disconcerting when you have to deviate in order to help protect somebody else's mistake. But for anchors and reporters, this is your job! Blaming somebody else, especially on the air, is counterproductive. This is when you need to take one for the team. If you can't do it, and do it with a certain amount of aplomb and grace, you don't belong in a situation where you are live on the air.
Other times you go off script should be a little more controlled, such as the time before or after your sportscast when you may be asked to banter with the news anchor and/or weather person. This requires a different sort of mindset as a performer, where you have to help in the transition from news to sports and back again. Therefore, being familiar with not only the format of the show but also the news (or weather) in general can be helpful.