The Path to an Athletic Scholarship: Do we need travel and club sports?

Travel softball, travel baseball, club volleyball and basketball, aquatic sports and others:  how important are these programs for student athletes who want to play in college?  If you have had any serious conversation with youth sports or high school parents, the subjects of private lessons, specializations, and travel ball are usually a part of the discussion.  Some claims are valid, some are questionable, but any discussion about travel or club ball is likely to draw comments, both good and bad.  So today I’m going to take a look at some of the arguments pro and con and then you can take a look at both sides.  Either way, if you are planning on having your son or daughter take the next step in youth sports, make sure you consider all the possibilities.  And please, discuss them with your child too.  After all, they are the one who will pay the price good or bad.  At the end, I will tell you a lesson I learned, thankfully before it was too late.

Comment:  You have to play travel or club ball if you want to play in college.

This is mostly true in sports like softball, volleyball, basketball, and probably the aquatic sports.  It’s true to some degree in baseball but football and baseball are two sports where a player can get to the college game without travel ball.

Comment:  High school sports is not important.  College coaches don’t care about that.

Don’t count on this.  Make sure you check with the coach at the college you’d like to play for.  More and more these days, college coaches are looking not just for good players but for good people.  They like to know that you did something more in your life than just softball or volleyball, or whatever.  Some coaches may not care if you were a model citizen.  Again, check first.

Comment:  Travel and club teams are too expensive. 

Yes, travel ball can be expensive.  Private lessons can be expensive.  There are the team dues, the hotel and travel expenses, equipment, etc.  There have been many cases where parents have paid more for travel ball and lessons than they would have paid just writing a check for the tuition at a four-year college.  Even with travel ball, there is no guarantee that your student-athlete will get a scholarship.  Different travel teams charge different fees.  Some teams travel more than others.  Does your child want to be on the “elite” teams or do they just want to play and get better?  These are all considerations to take into account.  I think the first thing you need to know is does your child (and do you) understand the commitment expected to play travel or club ball?  It isn’t like your local rec league where you can show up when you want to.

Comment:  The coach looks like he’s in it for the money.

Yes, there are travel and club teams where the coaches, or at least some of the coaches, may make a significant amount of money.  I’d say that’s not true for most teams.  But even those that do, some of them earn that money.  Remember, the coach is spending his or her time working with your son or daughter to help them reach a certain goal.  The coaches are often taking time away from their families, and they are spending their money a lot of the time, to put this team together.  Just like anything else you might spend money on:  Ask the coach about their experience, their plans for the team, what you can expect from the team, how much time do you have to commit (such as fundraising, working snack bar, etc.).  It’s not just about the coach’s knowledge or skills.  Even a mediocre coach might be a great coach for your child.  And that so-called “great coach” might not click with your child.  But it’s also about the coach’s relationships.  Have they build a connection with college coaches?  How much time and effort do they put in to connect your child to the college coaches?

Comment:  I’ve heard this coach (or team) plays favorites.  Lots of drama.

Teams are made up of people.  I know of one player who expected to be on an organization’s top team and expected also to play a lot right away.  That is often times not the case.  Many times you must pay your dues.  Your son or daughter will spend some time on the bench.  You cannot expect the coach to cater to you.  This is an opportunity to learn, to practice a lot and get better, and to learn how to earn your place on a team.  All players should get the opportunity to play but there is no such thing as “Equal playing time.”

There are many more issues to discuss.  I will continue this discussion in the next week.  But I want to leave you with one important point.  Make sure that your son or daughter understands that there are going to be successes and there are going to be letdowns.  At the end of the day it’s the coach’s team and he or she will do what they want.  You are not going to tell them how to run their team.  Some of these coaches have been coaching for twenty years or more.  Make sure your child is ready to possibly deal with some adversity and some rejection.  I learned this lesson the hard way….  Sort of.  But it could have been a lot harder.

When my daughter was 12 and had just finished her first year of rec ball at the 12 u level, we decided to try out for travel ball.  My daughter was a left-handed pitcher.  She was considered slow for her age.  We tried out for five teams.  Jessica did very well at each team’s tryout but none of them invited her to join the team.  “Come back when she’s five mph faster.”

We changed pitching coaches.  Jessica picked up some more speed.  She added that 5 mph.  One of the teams that we had already tried out for had lost some players and had posted that they were looking for some players.  I called the manager.  She said she’d love to see Jessica again.

The day of the practice, Jessica had just gotten off school for the summer.  She told me that she thought she would like to take a break from softball.  I told her that she could but there would be one rule.  She could not just sit around and play on the computer.  She had to do “something, be active.”  I promised I was not going to be “that parent” and swore I would not say “The S word.” (Softball) I went out to my office in the garage.

About fifteen minutes went by when Jessica came out and said that she was bored.  “What do you want to do?” I asked.  “I don’t know,” she said.  About ten minutes later she came out again.  Same story.  I still did not say the S word.  A little later I went into the house and Jessica again complained about being bored.  Each time I asked her “What would you like to do?”  Each time the answer was “I don’t know.”  Finally, I suggested that Jessica goes to the practice.  She said we were going to be late and that the manager wouldn’t like that.  I said in this case it probably didn’t matter because it wasn’t a regular tryout.  Finally, Jessica said the words that I will never forget…..

“Dad, what if they don’t want me again?”

I had no clue that about the rejection that was building up inside of her.  She never complained.  She never cried about a team not taking her.  But it was there.  It gave me an opportunity to tell her that her only responsibility was to do the best she could at all times.  “God knows what team you’re supposed to be on.”  We ended up going to the practice that day.  The team accepted her and Jessica because a Santa Fe Rebel.  She was playing travel ball.

Are you thinking about travel or club sports?  Think twice.  Talk with your son or daughter, not just at them.  I recommend against travel ball for kids under 12.  Oh, it’s ok to travel with an all-star team from your rec league.  That’s different.  It really is.  But for a regular club or travel team, there’s a big jump in everything – prices, time, talent, commitment, …. Everything.  Make sure you are already for the journey.  It can be a fun one.  But it can defeat you if you let it.

Have a great week.

Coach Mike

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