Nowadays, it seems that everyone wants a tournament shirt and a wrapped boat. For those who are actually receiving cold hard cash for their sponsorship efforts, good for them. If it’s a free pair of sunglasses or a handful of lures, not so good. You see these guys at every major event or sports show, swaggering through the crowds wearing sublimated fishing jerseys as if there is a tournament underway in the parking lot. If they’re not working the show, it devalues the entire concept.
The trickle down effect of this ego gone wild phenomenon is now infecting bass fishing’s grassroots. A prominent television host who shall remain nameless – okay, it’s Mark Zona – marveled at how many parents of high school or college-age anglers pose this question, “How do we get sponsorship?” Quite often, it’s their very first question.
To me, this is what I call “Crazy Parent Syndrome” or CPS. It’s the same malady that compels adults to give every child an award whether they’ve won anything or not. These ribbons and medallions and participation trophies are truly meaningless except to the deranged parents who foster the notion that everyone needs recognition for everything in life.
Having spent most of my young years playing organized baseball, it was made abundantly clear to me that winners get a trophy and everyone else gets the sports equivalent of tough love. If you did your best but fell short in a noble effort - that, my friends, was the takeaway. You realized that in order to reap the rewards of championship play, you had to actually accomplish something and do so repeatedly to share in the spoils.
If you want to write this off as a generational shift, so be it. Detractors will probably rail, in true CPS style, about the detrimental effects to little Johnny and Jennifer’s psyches if they are not constantly told how great they are. In my opinion, what the youngsters are gaining is nothing more than a bizarre sense of entitlement where the payoff comes before the work is done.
Zona remarked that his response to parents is always the same – T.O.W. - which, in Z-Man speak, means “time on the water”. And, the response from the parents, says Zona, is nearly always the same – glassy, slack-jawed stares.
If these moments could be seen in a digitally re-mastered You Tube world, I’m guessing you could see little, animated dollar signs exploding over the parents’ heads. Yes, bass fishing is expensive, but so is competitive cheerleading. The danger of pursuing sponsorship for high school or college bass fishermen is in removing the fun. This is the time when a young angler learns by osmosis, when information is absorbed through their very pores, when the pressures of the outside world have not polluted the simple act of discovery. If a youngster’s goal is to someday face down Kevin VanDam, this is when they develop the tools. Of course, the problem comes in wanting to look the part of a pro before actually being one.
So, here is the ultimate message for high school anglers, college anglers and their parents: No one really cares about your accomplishments, right now. We care about the future of the sport and encouraging young people to participate. We put you on television and make a big deal about it, but in the whole grand scheme of things, right now, it means nothing. Face it, the sponsorship of college competition is a feel-good, promotional expense for those companies who support events where no one shows up – other than parents and friends – and only registers a blip on the collective consciousness of the bass fishing community.
If you want your kid to succeed in professional bass fishing, show me something. Show the industry something. Show the future competition something and quit doing the Rod Tidwell “Show me the money!” thing. Do something that is hardest of all – do something.