Step up to the plate and cast away


May 02, 2004|By CANDUS THOMSON

Fishing is a lot like baseball. Really. Humor me for a minute.

It came to me in the Jiffy Lube, while waiting for the friendly "service technician" to ask me to step into the garage so he could explain how my $29.99 oil change could end up costing me a month's salary after they power-cleaned the fuel injectors, recharged the air conditioner and rebuilt the transmission - all while I waited - for a model they had never laid eyes on before I drove in.

While formulating my response ("Just between you and me, sir, I'm going to torch the car for the insurance money, so it only has to get me to the weekend."), I began leafing through the book, Play Baseball the Ripken Way.

It was then I realized that when it comes to teaching fishing to kids, we could learn a lot from those famous authors, Bill and Cal Ripken. Their words of hardball wisdom could just as easily have been about fishing.

A short time later, Bill Ripken was on the phone as he drove to a book-signing event in Dallas. He acted intrigued with the analogy because he's a nice man and talks to children a lot.

While not a big-time angler, he mentioned that he'd "caught some catfish before. It was up on the Susquehanna, near Havre de Grace. I even got stuck by one. Notice I said stuck, not stung," he said, referring to the spiny parts.

"I'm not a classic fisherman," he continued. "I think I can take an earthworm, break it in two and bait the hook. Casting, I'm OK because I can throw pretty well. Then I give it a little yank, set the hook, and that's it."

We talked about the right ways to teach youngsters any sport, and Ripken began going over the philosophy espoused by his father.

There are four guiding principles to teaching the Ripken way, be it baseball or fishing: Keep it simple, explain why, make it fun, and celebrate the individual.

"The first two are pretty much Dad," said Bill Ripken of Cal Ripken Sr. "Everything with him began with the building blocks, the fundamentals. He could take something and break it down into its parts. When you do that and practice it, it becomes simple."

The "why" of any sport takes time and at first may seem to be too much bother, Ripken agreed.

"I think as parents we've all been guilty of saying, `Because I said so.' It's a quick answer, but it's not the right one," he said.

"We could cut grass in the yard with Dad and he'd tell us why we do it a certain way. There was a method to Dad, whether it was cutting grass or in the garden, hoeing potato vines. If you don't explain why, you're telling, not teaching. If you explain why this time, then the next time they won't ask why, they'll do it right."

So, angling parents, the first two lessons are keep it simple and explain why.

"What's next?" I asked Ripken.

"Well, there's making it fun," he replied. "You have to let kids be kids. Me and Cal are still big kids. Everybody likes to have a little bit of goofiness. We inject a lot of enthusiasm into our teaching and have games within the game."

That reminded me of the technique used by fishing guide and instructor Dusty Wissmath, who always carries a Frisbee in his pack to break up a fishing lesson with a little play.

"In this world, there are more opportunities and more things for kids to do," Ripken said. "If a kid's not enjoying what he's doing, he's more likely to move on and pick something else up.

"So you need to keep things moving, keep it interesting. That's what we try to do when we teach."

Finally, he said, remember that each kid is an individual in how he or she learns and in how he or she performs.

"Try explaining something a different way or two, three or four different ways. As a coach or parent or teacher, you have to be aware of that. Keep trying until you see the flicker."

And once they learn the skill, let them experiment, Ripken said. "No two major leaguers do things the exact same way. Why should we make kids do it?"

Are some kids beyond teaching or coaching in a sport?

"No one is completely unteachable," Ripken replied. "But some just don't have the aptitude to do certain things. That's not to say they can't show signs of improvement. If you break down the fundamentals, I don't think anyone is uncoachable or unteachable.

"If they want to be there, learning, that's what's important," he concluded.

The right gear for the young anglers is important, too.

It was nice to see Rapala bring out a "Fishing Kids" kit this season that includes a 5-foot fiberglass rod, spincast reel with 8-pound test line and an assortment of hooks, bobbers and lures. The company says it's designed for anglers 7 and younger. The kit is being sold for $17.99 at Target stores. Rapala also sells a kids tackle box and lure combo for $7.99.

"It doesn't matter what size the fish. It matters that they catch something," says Rapala's Doug Terfehr. "Instead of forcing them to use an oversized hand-me-down that's too big or a Scooby Doo toy rod, we said, `Let's take our technology and minimize it.' "

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