Laura Woods: How the Sky Sports star became a trailblazer for female presenters

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Laura Woods, one of the leading female broadcasters in the sports industry, features on this week’s game changers podcast. In a fascinating interview, Woods revealed how she worked her way up the career ladder while managing to stay authentic to herself.

Woods is a regular on Sky Sports and the host of talkSPORT’s Sports Breakfast, one of the most listened to shows in the UK. She is widely regarded as one of the most talented presenters in the sporting world and was recently named SJA Sports Presenter of the Year.

The 33-year-old Woods discussed her first tentative steps into sports journalism, taken while studying at Kingston University. She began writing reports for the student union newspaper, although Woods jokingly revealed the work wasn’t always of the highest quality.

“I went off and did football reports and rugby reports of the teams, and they were all our friends,” Woods reminisced. “So it was easy and I've still got the cuttings and they are dreadful. They're so funny.

“It was once every two weeks that it was published. But on the second week, the deadline was right after the game. So one of the reports would be brilliant and really well thought out. And the other one would be dreadful, littered with spelling mistakes or the people's names wrong, you know, just scores were wrong and the boys would go, ‘this is great. But what, like, what were you watching?’ It was just funny.”

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From there, Woods got work experience at Sky Sports and earned a role as a runner for the television channel. She eventually worked her way up to become a producer, but she always had a yearning to give presenting a try.

“If I really delve into the sort of psychology of it, I think that for me, being comfortable in my own skin is something that I've never really managed to achieve, especially when I was younger,” Woods said. “I was so painfully awkward in certain situations, but then really confident in others.

“Like when I was playing sport, I knew I was good at it. And I felt really strong. And really no one can judge you in that sense about the way that you look or what you sound like. They're only judging you and your ability on the pitch. And I felt really comfortable and I knew I was better than all the boys and I knew I could run faster. So I loved that environment. It gave me so much strength and acceptance.

“So then when you kind of think about being, becoming a presenter, I suppose, really, for me, you're clutching at something. You're really clutching to be good and to be accepted and to be as much of you as you can physically be.”

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Woods initially struggled to break into the world of presenting. She described how she did a “dreadful” screen test which “knocked the stuffing out of me for probably about two years.” Despite the setback, Woods was determined to succeed in front of the camera and picked up “bits and scraps from different places.”

“I emailed everyone at Sky really,” she explained. “I mean, I emailed all of the producers that I knew from running and working on different shows and just said, 'do you have any opportunities? Is there anything small I can do? Prerecorded things, if you don't trust me to do it live?'”

Her resolve eventually paid off. Woods secured roles presenting NFL and darts events. She explained how she prepared for her work covering less mainstream sports.

“It's really hard actually, because when you're trying to get an opportunity, the easiest thing for someone to do would be to give you an opportunity in something that you know,” she said. “But when you're trying to get those opportunities, they're inevitably only in things that somebody else probably doesn't want to do, or that is quite niche, which makes the job 10 times harder.

At the time I was like, yes, like I love scraps. Give me anything I can get. All you have to really do is just go and absorb yourself in it completely.

"So I would sit at my desk and I would watch programmes in the last three years. I'd fast forward the actual sport, because that's fine. Those are the bits that you know.

“But it was all the bits in between – the presentation parts and the interviews and the way that you were being questioned and personalities that you're getting back because they are usually the same players anyway. So I'd really go and do that.

“And then I would research, and it was a lot, you know, it's a lot to do, but you're trying to be confident and you're trying to be comfortable and make the viewer feel that you have control of this whole thing.”

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Like all women working in sport, Woods has received criticism and abuse for merely doing her job. She conceded this does occasionally have an impact on her.

“It's really strange because sometimes I feel like I've mastered it and I'm like, ‘oh, it doesn't matter this week’,” she said. “And then next week when I'm much more emotional, my hormones have changed, it really hurts me. So it's like walking down a road with a load of potholes and sometimes you can skip over them and sometimes they completely suck you up.”

Woods emphasised the importance of supporting other women in the industry, and also spoke of the need for male allies.

“I do think that there is a huge place for men allies,” she explained. “Gary Neville, I find, is amazing. Just so brilliantly supportive. You might do something and he might retweet it. And that's all he needs to do, to show his support... I genuinely don't think he does it because we're women. I think he does it because genuinely he believes in uplifting people that he thinks are good.

I will always get more abuse for any of my opinions than a man will get. But also when a man gets abuse, sometimes it doesn't affect them as much because generally, they feel accepted in that world.

"That's where the goalposts are different. And that's where I think male allies come into it and are so important because they can change perceptions. They can change perceptions of the general public just by accepting you.”

This article was produced in partnership with the game changers podcast, which is supported by Barclays. You can listen to the full episode with Laura Woods here.

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