Travel or club youth sports teams offer a whole new set of challenges for sports parents. If you are considering the travel team route, know these truths before you sign on the dotted line and write out that fat check.
Travel Team Truth #1: Your Child Will Face Tougher Competition
We decided to let all three of our kids play travel ball for one purpose: to get better in their chosen sport. Facing tougher competition and getting more game-time experience helped make our kids better players. But it also added new pressures.
“Your child will feel the pressure of tougher competition; don’t put added pressure on him,” says Florida tennis coach Sam DeSimone. “He will have highs and lows; it’s all about using that to learn what he is doing well and improving.”
Travel Team Truth #2: It Will Cost You
Even after you write out the check to play on the team, the costs still keep adding up: food, hotel, tournament entrance fees, gas. It will also cost you your weekends!
But as Chris Hightower, football coach from Kentucky says, the sacrifice can definitely be worth it. “Your child is only a child once and if he or she is crazy-in-love with football or another sport, in some areas, only a travel team can provide the environment needed to grow. If you want to be at home every weekend, dislike bringing your child to practice 4 times a week and can’t wait for the season to end, stick with rec.”
What’s the best way to ensure that travel teams are worth the cost of time and money? Eric Walters, soccer coach from Washington says to “Make sure that the goals of the player, the parent, and the club are well-aligned. If the player has the desire, the parent is willing to make the financial and time commitment to get a player to more practices and games than they would get on the local team, and the club promises to provide great coaching, good facilities, and better competition, travel sports can be a wonderfully rewarding and fun experience.”
“Travel teams are worth it because of the discipline required to be a club sport athlete,” says Latrice Nervis, track and field coach. “They teach children how to effectively manage their time because they have to juggle school, practice, volunteer time and social events and it prepares them to be highly functioning adults if they learn how to manage well.”
Travel Team Truth #3: You Are Not Paying for Playing Time
Just because you pay doesn’t mean you play. Be sure you know before signing up what the coach’s philosophy is or you may be pretty angry about your child’s playing time.
Hockey Coach Karl Norton explains to his parents that “Kids may need to compete for playing time or positions. They will learn to work for something that’s important to them.”
“Regardless of travel team or local team, I make it clear to my parents and players that playing time is earned through #1 effort, #2 attitude, #3 attendance #4 ability,” says Eric Walters, soccer coach for 12 and 13-year-old girls.
However, this doesn’t mean that you should look for a team where your child will stand out as a star.
“Your child will not get as much out of it if he is the only good player by far or the worse player by far,” says Robert Kodama, educator, coach, and dad.
Travel Team Truth #4: Sometimes the Best Part is Not the Game
The whole travel experience with teammates and their families can be a great experience. Seeing new sights can be fun, along with eating out or camping or however you choose to do travel ball. And the friends you make on the team can become like family.
To get the most out of your traveling team experience, look beyond the game.
Travel Team Truth #5: Your Child is not Guaranteed a College Scholarship
Before you and your child get seduced by the travel team promises that this will get him a college scholarship, know the facts. According to Coach Wolff from ___, “There are NO studies that suggest that playing on a travel team exclusively will enhance your kid’s chances of getting a scholarship. Furthermore, understand that travel team programs are “for-profit” — meaning that the people who run these organizations are doing it to make money. That means that it’s in their best interest to keep kids signing up and staying with them.”
Travel Team Truth #6: Winning Should Not Be the Main Goal
When you choose a travel team, choose one where the coach is concerned about player development more than winning.
“Long-term player development is priority #1 for me and I work to shift the emphasis away from a mentality of winning = success with both parents and players,” says Walters, soccer coach. “You can look at soccer clubs in every city in every state all across the country that focus on winning as a measure of success. What does that look like for some? It looks like some players spending entire games on the bench while the best players play to secure a win. Not only does this not develop the skills of the player for the long-term, it doesn’t create a love of the game in them, and in fact psychologically harms them, and in my opinion, can create a major divide amongst teammates of the haves and have nots. Further, if traveling away to tournaments where a team is required to play 2-3 games a day, if every player on the team isn’t developed, you’re not going to win anything and players, parents, the club aren’t going to be deemed successful.
To Travel or Not To Travel?
Now that you are armed with the Traveling Truth, do your homework by researching teams and coaches, counting the cost to your wallet and family, and getting a true feel of what your child really wants.