Jilly: Picking Your Brains on Sports Romances

Sports romance hero?Where do you stand on sports romances?

I love sports of all kinds. They’re such a great test of character. I love to see how superb athletes react when they’re pushed to their limit and beyond. We learned in class at McDaniel that character is choice under pressure, and sport offers those fascinating, insightful moments on a regular basis.

I like to write with the cricket commentary as background noise. I always know what’s happening on the tennis tour. And if I’m not at Wembley for the NFL UK games, I’m usually to be found on the sofa on Sunday nights, glued to the transatlantic action until way past my bedtime. So it’s surprising that I’ve never thought about writing a sports romance. Until now.

A sports star hero comes with certain built-in advantages for the romance writer and reader. He’s likely to be young, he’ll undoubtedly be in great physical shape, and he’ll almost certainly be rich. Chances are he’ll be high-profile.

His character offers a wealth of possibilities. He should be mentally strong – driven, competitive, goal-oriented, focused and decisive. The flip side of that is unshakeable self-belief and/or breath-taking arrogance. He will most likely have a support team who could keep him grounded but might infantilize him by taking responsibility for all non-sporting aspects of his life, feeding his ego and indulging his every whim.

His biggest asset is that he’ll be part of a community of equally young, fit, wealthy, mentally strong, alpha males. Hello, series 😉 .

What would I write? My first thought is that even with a Gatorade-sized bucket of poetic licence, the lifestyle of a professional sports star is not fairytale romance fodder. Anyone who’s fool enough to think it’s all limos and fancy hotels might like to take a look at Tour Wife Tales, a blog written by Kelsey Anderson, wife of top-ranked tennis player Kevin. And here’s Tour de France cyclist Tyler Hamilton in his book The Secret Race:

“When I was in weight-loss mode, I wasn’t much fun to be with. Haven, for one, was sick of it. There we were, a young married couple in our lovely apartment in one of the most beautiful parts of the world, and we hardly did anything as a couple that wasn’t related to my training. Vacation? Sorry. Fancy restaurant dinner? Wish I could. Weekend in Paris? Maybe after the season. And no matter how you dress it up, there’s not much romance in seltzer water and celery.”

The tried-and-tested way around this problem is to set the book during the hero’s off-season, or have him recuperating from an injury, or about to retire, or newly retired and looking for something to fill the void.

Take Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ excellent series about her fictional (American) football team, the Chicago Stars:

  • It Had To Be You: hero, Dan, superstar quarterback turned coach.
  • Heaven, Texas: hero, Bobby Tom, reluctantly starting a new life after a career-ending injury.
  • Nobody’s Baby But Mine: hero, Cal, reluctantly at the end of his stellar career thanks to a mixture of age and physical attrition.
  • Natural Born Charmer: hero, Dean, superstar quarterback in the prime of his career, but recuperating from a serious injury.

Or Rachel Gibson’s series about the Seattle Chinooks, her fictional hockey team:

  • Simply Irresistible: hero, John, is a hockey player, but the story mostly takes place during the off-season.
  • The Trouble With Valentine’s Day: hero, Rob, ex-hockey star turned sporting store owner.

I think if I tried my hand at this, I’d like to aim for a fun take on the world described by Kelsey Anderson – the ups and downs of life as a sports professional. Off the top of my head, the only romance I can think of that tackles this is Rachel Gibson’s See Jane Score: heroine, Jane, who’s a reporter assigned to the aforementioned Seattle Chinooks and who makes sparks fly with Luc, the team’s goalie. This book is a particular favorite of mine, and I think it’s because I can see Jane as part of Luc’s community. Jane’s smart and funny, and when the team tries to find ways to make her feel out of place, she finds ways to prove them wrong. Jane (mostly) handles Luc’s life without flinching, which makes their eventual HEA so much more credible.

The only sport I know enough about to consider attempting this is tennis, and I’m not sure whether a tennis player would ring the sports hottie bell. Most successful sports romances seem to feature team sports rather than individual ones, but the tennis tour as a whole is a community and I’d say that could support a series.

What do you think? Do you read sports romances? If so, what do you think makes a good one? Do you have any favorites or recommendations?

Would you consider reading a series about the tennis tour? As Elizabeth would say, enquiring minds want to know 😉 .

Thank you!

11 thoughts on “Jilly: Picking Your Brains on Sports Romances

  1. I’m a big fan of Rachel Gibson’s Seattle Chinooks series, especially See Jane Score. I think it helps that I am a fan of hockey. If the series featured basketball players, for example, I’m not sure I’d have picked it up. Deidre Martin has her New York Blades series (hockey), which I read a few years back. Scanning my bookshelves, I don’t see any other books offhand that had a sports theme.

    I think athletes make good potential story “hero” material, but there is probably a fine line to walk regarding how much of the sport to include, so it doesn’t overwhelm the romance / characters. I’m not likely to search out a story with a sports theme, though the inclusion of sports wouldn’t be an automatic “no” for me either.

    Hockey and football are the two sports I’d be most likely to want to see in a story – especially if the hero was the goalie or quarterback. I’m a big fan of both.

  2. Hockey and football – that’s what I thought. SEP has a couple of books with golf player heroes, and they’re good books, but somehow they didn’t catch my imagination the way her Chicago Stars books did.

    You’re right about not allowing the sport to overwhelm the romance or characters. I just think a setting which avoids the most important part of the hero’s life makes it harder to picture the hero and heroine together afterwards. That’s my biggest issue with Natural Born Charmer – I like the book a lot, but the heroine’s only interaction with the hero’s colleagues was awkward and embarrassing; they assumed she was part of the household staff, and he let them. Then later he went back to Chicago to do his superstar quarterback thing, and she stayed down on the farm because reasons. It unwound okay at the end, but still, uh, no. Unlike See Jane Score, which I thought got the balance just right – glad to hear you like that one, too 🙂 .

  3. When I was saw this post, my first thought was, “Not a sporty type, this isn’t for me.” And then I remembered all the Chicago Stars books, and Rachel Gibson’s (haven’t read See Jane Score, so that’s a treat in store). You’re right! Sports makes a great background for a romance. And some of my favorite mysteries are Dick Francis’ stories, set against the world of horse racing.

    Since my favorite romance, by far, is It Had to be You, I’d argue that you can include quite a bit of sports stuff in the book and have it still work.

    If you’re at all fond of erotica, one of the 2015 Golden Heart finalists in that category, Heated Competition, by Caroline Bradley, is available on Amazon. It features a pair of high school running coaches vying for the single slot that’s going to be left after looming budget cuts in their district. Caroline runs half-marathons a hobby, and the running scenes make you feel like the wind is blowing through your hair as your feet pound the pavement..

    • I love It Had To Be You. It’s my joint favorite SEP (along with Ain’t She Sweet?) and it has one of my all-time favorite scenes. It Had To Be You is the other sports romance I can think of that has the main characters actively involved in their sport, in fact it drives the plot, and I like that a lot. If it works for you as a non-sporty type, that’s even better. I think you’ll really enjoy See Jane Score.

      I don’t usually read erotica, but Heated Competition sounds fun, and it’s always nice to read newly published RWA members, especially GH’ers. I’ll give it a try. Thanks!

  4. Tennis could work. As a solo sport, it would read more like the stories with dancers or musicians as hero or heroine. The solo nature of their career is something to play with in the story. However, it doesn’t lend itself to a series as nicely as a team sport.

    I like sports stories, but it’s always more about the story than the sport. I’m a sucker for a good character arc and conflict lock. It doesn’t matter what the character does for a living.

    • It’s always more about the story than the sport, as long as the premise doesn’t put the reader off before they give it a try.

      Glad you think tennis could work. I think it could be a nice mix of individual and community – the player is alone on the court, but they need a team – a coach, probably a fitness coach and a physio, and some of the top players have more. If somebody from one support team (or their daughter) fell for a deadly rival player, you could have great fun. There have been a couple of pretty public spats between rival camps recently (usually involving the other halves of the players) so it definitely happens. Given that the same group of people travel the world together and play each other week in, week out, in one big moving goldfish bowl, there are bound to be all kinds of rivalries and tensions, friendships and enmities.

  5. Not a huge fan of tennis, but I’d say the premise is sound, they made the rom-com movie Wimbledon and I was quite fond of that. I think it would have been fairly easy to focus on secondary characters and write their stories as well.

    • I haven’t seen the movie, don’t remember it at the cinema, but I googled it and it sounds good, plus I like Paul Bettany. Years ago I went to a screening of Master & Commander, and he and Russell Crowe did a post-show Q&A which was brilliant and hilarious. It sounds as though they went to a lot of trouble to get the tennis bits right, too. I’m going to check it out. Thanks!

  6. Tennis not sexy enough? Hello? Have you seen Rafa Nadal? 😀

    Seriously, though, I’d read a tennis romance. Of course, you’re right about a team sport having more series potential. You could always make your heroes brothers who play doubles.

    • Rafa Nadal? Oh, yeah, Arlene, I’m with you *fans self*, and he seems to be a really nice guy, too. I just wasn’t quite sure whether a tennis player hero would have general hottie appeal, as footballers and hockey players do, especially in the US, where there haven’t been any top-ranked male players for a while (female players are a different story, obviously). Glad to hear you’d read a tennis romance, and I like the doubles idea. I’m seriously tempted to have a go 😉 .

      • I like the idea of a tennis “junkie” i.e., someone not good enough to compete, so they settle for being Tennis Star’s right-hand-man (or woman) and fall for the competition. The whole fishbowl thing sounds great…so many “little people” to get tramped on until one of them steal’s the Tennis Star’s heart…against their will, of course. Kind of reminds me of Heaven, Texas, but I loved that book.

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