EDITOR’S NOTE: Here’s a fair and thorough piece for anyone trying to decide if joining a travel team is right for their kid (and family). It’s written by veteran baseball mom, Kari Hicks, who knows a thing or two about the travel ball way of life.
It finally happened. Your son approached you and he wants to try out for a travel baseball team. He wants to kick it up a notch. He thinks he’s got what it takes to make the team. Before your child has a try out, though, ask yourself a few questions. Does he have the desire? Is his skill level there? Is he a good teammate? Do you have time to commit? Can you afford it?
Let’s look at these factors. The first being desire. Does your son show a love for the game? Many travel teams have long seasons (some year round). Pushing your child beyond his desire to play will lead to burnout. My youngest son is nine, and in his third year of travel baseball. He’s competitive and has the drive to learn and challenge himself, so travel ball is a perfect outlet. Coupled with his love for the game and a desire to compete in general makes it a good choice for us. But not all kids are hardwired in this manner!
Another consideration is your child’s skill level. And be realistic. Depending on where you live, travel ball is competitive (AA, AAA, AAU, and elite organizations are in most major cities). If your child falls in the top half talent pool within his current league, chances are he could do well at some level of travel ball. Any reputable coach will notice raw talent, even if you son’s mechanics are off kilter! The extra practice that is afforded to travel players will help fine tune whatever needs tweaking!
Let’s chat about time commitment. If you’re already busy with your family or work schedules, you may want to re-evaluate the reality of travel baseball. I live in the Northeast, and although we cannot play outdoors past Halloween (until early April) each year, our travel team practices and plays indoors year round, twice a week, as a minimum. When the season is in full swing, forget about leisurely weekends, planting a garden or hanging out with friends for cookouts. We spend countless hours driving to ball parks for tournaments and games. These types of schedules require 100% support from every family involved with the travel team.
And then there is the expense. Travel baseball is a huge monetary commitment. House ball requires a minimum cost for registration, some fundraising or volunteer requirements, and, of course, your son’s basic equipment. Travel teams typically budget for uniforms, equipment, tournaments, league and umpire fees and other incidentals. This could mean $1,000 or more per player (depending on the travel program). And this doesn’t include food, gas and lodging.
There is nothing wrong with wanting your son to stay back and play at the rec ball level. But sadly, Little League is becoming close to non-existent in many towns. You don’t see kids out after school playing the sport at the park, sandlot style, anymore. Travel is where it’s at, I’m told! Sure, travel does offer these players the option of some professional coaching and competitive play. Travel players will log in more hours so they could learn fundamentals and solid skills at an earlier age. But keep in mind that travel baseball can also increase the risk of mental burnout. Your son will spend hours each week at the field, batting cage, or an indoor facility. As time passes, take a step back and analyze your son’s behavior about the game. Watch his face as he grabs his ball cap on the way out the door to yet another practice. Is he still in love with the game? Or has it become a chore to get him to go? Some travel teams are so serious that many kids just aren’t enjoying the game anymore. These travel teams play year round. But think about it, even professional ball players have an off season!
Also ask yourself, is travel baseball really necessary? If your child is young, chances are he will do fine in rec baseball playing with his friends and having more of an open schedule that allows for other sports like football, or soccer. I’ve heard it’s not necessary for kids to compete in travel ball until the age of 12 or 13. Why? As it turns out, many kids drop out of baseball by the age of 14. Is it really cost effective to pay for a travel program if you aren’t certain your child is going to be serious about the game as he heads into his high school years? And even though you are certain your son is going to be the next Mike Trout, in reality the chances of him playing college baseball are slim. You cannot manufacture a baseball player simply by allowing him to play travel. He can always get faster and throw harder, but talent is talent. He either has it or he doesn’t. I read something recently that stated 75% of youth baseball players won’t make it on a high school team. And of those that do, approximately 5% will find a spot on a college roster.
Baseball should ALWAYS be about having fun, learning life lessons, and making friends. In recent years, travel baseball has evolved into a gigantic money making business. So, a little research can go a long way! Look at various travel leagues where you live. Some parents are under the impression playing travel means you’re paying for professional help, and often that’s not the case. Check out the coach and his credentials (his coaching style, his fundamentals, did he play college or semi-pro baseball, or is he a volunteer helping to coach his son’s team?). Ask friends, fellow ball parents, and co-workers about local teams and their experiences. Absorb this information before you make a decision. But keep in mind that the majority of travel teams are coached by good people with good intentions for your child.
Understand that I’m not against travel ball (remember, my son is in his third year of it). For my child, he needs travel ball. Rec ball was not challenging enough for him. He got bored and frustrated with players around him who didn’t take the game as seriously as he did. However, I’m also taking each season as it goes, watching my son as he plays the game, and trying to gauge if he’s still having as much fun as I believe he should be having. I want to surround him with other kids, families, and coaches who share my philosophy. The moment his outlook changes, our family will reevaluate travel ball! Baseball is just a game. Your son should enjoy it and feel challenged to take it to the next level, yes. But be realistic in the reasons why you want him to play. Bottom line, if your son is good and wants to stick with it, he will be discovered – whether he’s playing travel or Little League!