Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Boys of Summer ; the Ripken Brothers Urge More Fun in Teaching Baseball to America's Youths

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Boys of Summer ; the Ripken Brothers Urge More Fun in Teaching Baseball to America's Youths

Article excerpt

After playing major-league baseball for 33 years, Cal and Bill Ripken are throwing the game they love some curveballs. They now rank among the most prominent boosters behind a campaign aimed at changing the way baseball is taught.

The brothers opened the Ripken Baseball Academy in Baltimore last year, with the goal of increasing baseball participation among youths. Their gospel is simple: Teach parents and coaches to stop wrecking kids' games and start making baseball fun again, leading more kids to play the game longer.

"What happens after two teams of 10-year-olds play?" asks Bill Ripken, who spent a dozen years in the major leagues with teams such as the Baltimore Orioles and the Texas Rangers. "The winner celebrates while the losing team walks down the foul line and gathers in a huddle, where the coach goes over everything that went wrong. Then the kid gets in the car for a long, quiet 15-minute drive home. That's not fun for anybody."

Instead, the Ripkens and other industry experts offer alternatives. Gather both teams after a game and have the kids run the bases as a quick, fun way of obliterating the final score.

Making practice time livelier is another Ripken baseball technique that appeals to some players and coaches. Dan Thomas, a US Department of Defense worker in Fredricksburg, Va., coaches a 9- and 10-year-old team that includes his son, Justin. The Thomases were part of a group that included eight players and eight parent- coaches attending a Ripken camp last spring.

"I was very impressed because they make it fun and they keep it fast-paced," says Mr. Thomas. "You don't have one kid doing something while 10 others stand around bored watching him. It's always moving and keeping the kids interested."

Thomas says Bill Ripken took part in some of the sessions, bringing a boisterous, enthusiastic ambience with him. "The kids really wanted to do well for him and they liked him a lot," Thomas says. "He kept it fun, rolling all over the ground and really putting his heart into it."

Since 1990, participation in baseball among those ages 6 and older has plummeted 33 percent, to 10.9 million, according to American Sports Data Inc. Participation in Little League Baseball has also fallen.

Youth sports experts across the US cite lack of fun as the top reason young players dump baseball, typically when they turn 12 or 13. Overzealous competition and relentless schedules - many elite youth teams play 60 or 70 games a season - ratchet up the pressure and reduce the joy.

The phenomenon of burned-out kids exists in other sports, but is felt most acutely in baseball, says Jim Thompson, founder of the nonprofit Positive Coaching Alliance. Baseball's slower pace, he suggests, may increase scrutiny on the individual.

"Bad coaching intensifies all of this," Mr. …

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