Your kid will probably be on more than one travel team during his or her tenure as a ballplayer. That’s just the way it is. Teams split up because of drama, families move away, players get new opportunities, seasonal teams pop up, etc.
There are a million reasons why your kid may be shopping for a new team right now or may be looking to change in the future. There are also lots of things to consider before jumping on-board with the first coach who extends an offer.
Having two sons who’ve been on a combined seven different travel teams, I dare say that finding the right fit can be as daunting as weighing different job offers….or potential spouses. (Hopefully you’ve never had to weigh a potential spouse.)
After six years in this racket, I’m 100 times more selective than I was when my oldest son was invited to join his very first team.
Based on soooo many things I’ve learned along the way…often the hard way…here are some questions that need answers before you commit to any organization. Some you should ask the coach directly. Others should be answered by observation or speaking with team parents. Since everyone is different, I can’t say what the answers should be. (Well, some are no-brainers.) Only you, your player and your family can decide which is the best fit when considering all factors. (Note: not every single question will apply to your kid’s particular age group.)
NOTE: If possible, ask if your kid can practice or workout with any team you’re interested in. Nothing is better than actual experience with players and coaches.
Okay, onto the questions for any team you’re considering…in no particular order.
1.How many players will the team carry? 10? 12? 14? (If your younger kid, under 13u, is being offered a spot on a team that already has 12 players, I’d be a tad leery. Either your player will sit the bench quite a bit or someone’s will. And chances are they won’t be happy about the addition of your son or daughter to the team.)
2.How does the coach determine batting order, playing time and positions?
3.Is the team affiliated with an organization or training facility?
4.What are the coaches’ backgrounds within the sport?
5.What is the team protocol when guest players are involved?(this is hugely important)
6.Are the coaches also parents of kids on the team?
7.Does the coaching staff display signs of good sportsmanship? Have respect for the game and opposing teams?
8.Does the coaching staff have a reputation for using “bush league” tactics that are often frowned upon? (You need to know this ahead of time. Don’t expect every coach to share your ethics. I’ve been appalled at some of the cheap moves I’ve seen coaches use just to score a run.)
9.How long has the team been together?
10.If it’s not a new team, what’s the player turnover rate? (You may think twice about a team that’s replacing several players every season…just like a company that’s always replacing employees.)
11.How is the team classified? (If they play USSSA tournaments, this would be AA, AAA or Major)
12.What’s the coach’s goal for playing tournaments? To win as many trophies as possible? To challenge the players by facing different levels of competition? Or some of both?
13.Does the team ever play up an age group? (Don’t let a winning record dictate your team choice. Some coaches choose tournaments with weak competition to give them a better chance of winning. While they may have a shelf full of trophies, these players won’t improve their skills without being challenged.)
14.Are there any teams the head coach tries to avoid facing? (I’m not kidding. We once played for a coach who, strangely, kept avoiding local tournaments. After several weeks of driving to Bum-Ruck-Nowhere, we finally figured out that he was steering clear of an old rival. If there’s bad blood between two teams, you sort of need to know ahead of time… if possible.)
15.How is team communication handled? Email? Group text? Apps like TeamSnap? (GOOD COMMUNICATION IS VITAL!!! yes, I am shouting this.)
16.How are travel arrangements made? (Some team parents will take care of every detail short of showing up at your house to pack your bags. With others, you’re on your own.)
17.Does the team have a reputation of parent drama? (This is worth a whole series of posts and it’s not something you want to ask the coach directly. It might be one of those observation questions.)
18.When and where are practices held?
19.How long do practices typically last?
20.What’s the typical practice format and how structured are they?
21.What happens if a player misses practice?
22.How many tournaments does the team plan to play throughout the season?
23.Does the coach prefer one-day or two-day tournaments? Local or travel required?
24.How many tournaments require overnight travel? (Unless your coach has unparalleled psychic powers, he probably won’t be able to answer this with pinpoint accuracy. Tournaments get cancelled, people get sick, schedules change, the Apocalypse could happen, etc.)
25.What are the coaches’ rules regarding playing on other teams? (like the middle school team or guest playing with another travel team on an off weekend)
26.Is there an indoor facility for workouts during bad weather conditions?
27.How strictly does the coach adhere to pitch count recommendations? (Stay away from a coach who puts a win above his pitchers’ safety.)
28.How much time off does the coach give pitchers between outings?
29.How does the coach feel about pitchers throwing curve balls? (This is mainly for teams under age 14.)
30.How does the coach deal with playing in extreme heat or cold? (If you’re new to travel ball, this may seem minor. Just wait!)
31.Are there enough bench players to sub in and out if someone gets injured or needs to rest?
32.Does the coach have any specific protection rules? (for example “every player must wear a cup”)
33.Does the team do conditioning exercises at practice?
34.Does the coach stress drinking liquids before and during tournaments?
35.What are typical monthly financial obligations per family?
36.What can YOU realistically afford for travel ball per month?
37.How much do uniforms and accessories cost?
38.Does the team have sponsors?
39.Who is responsible for getting these sponsors?
40.What kind of fundraisers does the team do?
41.How many fundraisers per season?
42.What are typical player/parent responsibilities for fundraisers?
Whew!!! That’s all I can think of right now.
While this may seem like a ridiculously long list, being human, I’m sure I’ve left something out. Please add whatever else you think is relevant in the comments.