ESPN Home Video is marketing instructional tapes designed to teach youngsters to play various sports. The idea is hardly revolutionary, but the presentation is refreshing: The cassettes emphasize that youngsters should have fun while they learn a sport and should be spared the pressure to excel.
In Teaching Kids Soccer, former Olympian Bob Gansler notes that "every game is a game of techniques, and in order to have fun at it you want to be able to do them well. But at the youth level the most important thing is to have an enjoyable experience."
This set leaves youngsters to work on the techniques pressure-free. It also gives them more drills and good advice than is often available from parents and coaches. These videos give kids a head start their pre-home-video parents will envy.
In addition to Gansler's soccer tape, The series includes: Teaching Kids Basketball with John Wooden; Teaching Kids Football with Bo Schembechler; Teaching Kids Baseball with Jerry Kindall and Teaching Kids Tennis with Nick Bollettieri. All are about 75 minutes long and priced at $29.95 (1-800-554-9000).
The all-sports cable network already has two other offerings in its sports-fundamentals series. One is the four-reel Pistol Pete's Homework Basketball set. The late Pete Maravich, who dazzled fans with his wondrous assortment of shots and passes, split the game into four videos dealing with shooting, passing, dribbling and ball-handling. All run 40-to-45 minutes and cost $29.95.
Maravich's offerings are helpful for youngsters just trying to make the team or older players shooting for stardom. The cassettes are full of his hints and liberally sprinkled with dazzling samples of Maravich's game. For a treat, re-run them in fast-forward.
On a personal note, the Maravich tapes brought to mind an evening I spent on the Maravich back porch with his father, Press, then an assistant coach at North Carolina State. Press Maravich later coached his son at Louisiana State University. Pete wore his trademark baggy sweat socks even then. While his father talked, Pete rigged a light on a clothesline to shine over a basket on a pole. At times it seemed as if he didn't need the light to sink shot after shot. He was still in junior high school at the time.
He went on to become a three-time All-America at LSU, scoring 3,667 points in those three years, averaging 44.2 per game. In his 10-year career as a pro he amassed almost 16,000 points and was the youngest professional inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
ESPN has one other sports-fundamentals video on the market. It deals with the skating technique of skiing, Cross-country Skiing Techniques with Bill Koch, the only American to bring back an Olympic cross-country skiing medal (silver). (48 minutes, $29.95).
ESPN promoted its videos during the network's Sunday night NFL games, and the response has exceeded expectations, according to Bill Ketchum, vice president for consumer marketing. "We plan to keep going," he said. "We got into this business because we felt there were a lot of good products available but no good way to distribute them. Promoting them on ESPN is an advantage. People are ordering more than one tape quite often." (Ask for special prices for a complete set.)
Nearing completion is a second skiing tape by Koch, dealing with the basics of the sport. Also nearing release is a tape on the fundamentals of golf and another especially for women players, both by Ben Sutton. Greg Lilly on fly fishing, Kay Ohye on bird hunting and Hank Kashua on downhill skiing are also in the works.
In the "Teaching Kids" tapes, it's refreshing to hear Wooden, who won 94 percent of his games and 10 national championships in 12 years at UCLA, tell parents and coaches to expose children to sport, "but don't force them into it."
Then there's gruff old Schembechler making it clear that the point of youth football is not to find out how tough someone is. "The purpose," he says, "is to get the proper indoctrination and have some fun learning the basics the proper way."
Nick Bollettieri, who has spent 30 years teaching tennis and heads his own tennis academy in Bradenton, Fla., says nothing is more important than having the pupil "experience fun."
Like watching a kid with baggy socks shoot baskets in the dark while his father beams, students of sports will agree that watching these ESPN tapes is as fun as it is instructive.