My experience in working and counseling players and families in the way of youth sports has made one fact clear – I do not claim nor do I wish to tell parents how to handle their children. I have learned that there are often home circumstances that greatly influence the decisions of families when it comes to finding the best team or training facility for their son or daughter. I can only offer up what I see from an objective viewpoint and if asked will strongly attempt to use that objectivity to create a clearer decision for them.

In most every part of our lives we are looking for the best “fit”. A place where we can live, work, and perform with happiness and fulfillment. Sports teams are all about finding the fit for each player on the squad. That is what the recruiting process is all about! Youth athletes are facing that “recruiting” atmosphere at younger ages so as parents we have to be able to “think” for them at the younger levels in order to find what is best for them.

Here are some things to consider when your your child is involved with a travel sports team:

1. There is a difference between coaching philosophy and coaching style.
The popular “pitch” for youth sport travel programs is to provide exposure to better competition which will lead to them becoming a better player. This is a well intended goal. Be sure that the coaches have a solid aptitude for the sport and the skill set to teach what is necessary at the various age levels. In this day of social media and high tech exposure is not at the same premium that it once was. Parents should keep this in mind when torn between spending exorbitant amounts of money to “travel” as opposed to saving some money and playing closer to home (see item 2), especially if the coaching ability is equal.

2. It is important to continue to do “homework”.
Hundreds of dollars spent is not proportionate to the success or development of our children. Much like academics sport knowledge needs to be practiced away from the formal travel team practices in order to optimize its value. In the world of pitching lessons I have had a number of conversations which sound like, “Are you as a parent willing to spend this money for lessons knowing that your son could still get cut from the high school team?” Unfortunately some parents, after watching their son fall short of making a team, reach out to me initially with the comment, “I spent $2,000 over the past year trying to get him ready for this and it got him nowhere.” I would hope that we don’t say these things in front of our children if at all, it is unfounded and unhealthy for children to hear such unfeeling comments from parents.

3. “Transferring” from one travel program to another sets a “flight” rather than “fight” mindset.
There are certainly circumstances where switching teams is appropriate. Performing poorly is not one of those. As a matter of fact it is a perfect time to develop the mental strength to work harder, improve, and show coaches as well as yourself that you can overcome adversity. It is better to learn how to handle adversity at a younger age before the pressure of high school varsity and college level competition begins. And it is important to learn how to be part of a team and understand that chemistry and team unity is such a powerful part of sport. Bouncing around from team to team will deny a child of this natural teaching experience. Try your best to work it out and stay as long as you can! Parents, do your best to create a healthy and respectful dialogue with coaches and staff and exhaust all possibilities to stay.

4. Children should have fun playing their sports on a travel team and adults should not have to work too hard to make it fun.
Some coaches pull out “gimmicks” like post game parties, special shirts, or some other enticement to keep the kids interest throughout the season. While not a bad idea on an occasional basis, an organization that has to lure players with gifts or special activities to play a sport may be better off looking for those who really want to be there regardless of the “promotions”. It may lead to a few more “losses” on the schedule – but it may not!

5. Winning tournaments can be good and bad.
Good because it is healthy to have something to play for. Tournament play in any format can teach players to compete under pressure. Bad because winning a tournament does not always mean you are the best team or players. It gives players and parents a falsely heightened sense of success. The fact is that travel team tournaments come and go with amazing frequency. Tournament champions would be better served with a new name. Maybe something like “Best Team of the Weekend”, because that is really what it is, a short few days of playing and one team came out on top. Major league baseball essentially plays two, three, and four game tournaments all summer, they are called “series”. A team can win a series and not be the best team in the league. The same thought process needs to be placed on our children. This type of thinking would give greater value when a “real” championship appears (i.e. HS conference or state titles).

These years fly by, don’t forget to enjoy this as much as you can.