Travel Sports

Continuing on my kids’ sports theme from yesterday, I’m curious what folks think about travel sports. When I was a kid growing up in Richmond, it seems this mostly wasn’t a thing. There were some recreational leagues through the YMCA and various local organizations in the younger years, then most of the sports went through the junior high schools that played the other ones in the city during the junior high years, and, then the high school athletic teams traveled around to other high schools.

Now, with soccer at least, there are travel teams that seem to start at 9 or 10 years old. They travel around to other parts of the state and even do tournaments in Illinois and Ohio, I think. If you’re grooming your kid to be an elite athlete, I guess I can see this. Expanding the pool of competitors allows the best to play the best. But beyond that, I think I’m missing the point. My goal with my kids and their athletics is mostly to get them exercising, developing coordination and motor skills, learning some things about teamwork and competition, getting to spend some time with them (as a coach), and – if there is time left over – have a little fun.

The other kids in town provide plenty of competition to accomplish those goals. Still, plenty of people I know and respect, both friends and family, are getting their kids into the travel leagues. I have trouble seeing how travel versus local contributes anything additional beyond expense and time commitments.

Anyone else spent much time thinking about this sort of thing?


  1. says

    I played travel soccer growing up first in Virginia and then in Indiana. The level of competition is better than in high schools and also has different seasons, so athletes can stay with it year round, but I tend to remember my parents revealing the costs about 10 years after and was rather amazed.

    • Sports Travel Blog says

      I only played soccer one year. It was in a small southern town. We were the only team in the league, so we had to travel away for every game. We weren’t that good and the other teams more or less considered us an exhibition match. We probably lost half of our games, but we were technically undefeated in our league (as the only team in it), so we won 1st place. :D

  2. says

    Both my daughters (9 & 12) play in a volleyball club that travels from Columbus to Louisville & Indianapolis.
    Normally, it just burns a Saturday by getting up at 5am & getting home around 6pm. The last tournament of the year, though, is a 2-day affair that either requires a hotel stay or driving early twice in the weekend. We usually opt for the hotel so the parents can have beer & pizza while the kids get to run around the hotel & annoy the other guests. (I could write a whole blog about the inner conflict I have going on there as a frequent business traveler and also being “that parent”)

    For my 12 year old girl, this club is required if she wants to play VB in 7th grade. Not that the coach says she has to, but if she doesn’t, the girls that do go to club will have weeks of practice and be playing a such a higher level that she will never be able to make the team.

    The clubs are stratified so that you have an obvious A, B, and perhaps C and D team, if there are enough girls playing. The goal of the clubs is primarily to groom girls to play at either Columbus North or Columbus East, depending on which club you go with. This is NOT a pay to play league. You are able to pay to have a spot on a team, but you should be clear that the #1 goal is to build a winning HS team, and the #2 goal is to win games. The #3 goal is for the girls’ own development, but keep in mind: While they do make sure each girl gets SOME play time, the winning girls will be on the court more.

    Don’t take my comments the wrong way: I get what the deal is, and since I’m supportive of my daughter playing in 7th grade for her school, I’m willing to deal with the parts I don’t care for. I don’t tell the coaches that my daughters should have more court time because I get what their goals are, and I agreed to pay. I also pay FAR less than a non-HS affiliated club would cost, although I’m not aware of any in Columbus that aren’t associated with a HS. I know this exists in Louisville & Indianapolis, and there are levels of clubs that travel NATIONALLY with girls that are the same age as mine.

    TL;DR: Girls travel sports. It is a pain, I wish there were better options, but it serves a purpose. If non-travel clubs existed in my area & gave the same level of training, I’d rather choose them.

  3. Reuben says

    My son is entering his 8th year of travel baseball. He started when he was a 7 year old “All Star”. He fell in love and never looked back. He’s now added AAU basketball. I feel like I’m pushing, but when he’s the one tracking schedules and making sure I know when he needs to be at a workout I don’t feel so bad.

    My middle child played club volleyball this year for the first time (13 year old at Seymour, BTW Jason). She absolutely adored every minute of it. She also stayed on me about her schedule.

    My youngest isn’t committed to anything and while I try to keep her active I’m not pushing her to travel anything.

    Now, after countless miles, hours, and dollars, where do I stand on travel sports?
    There are things we miss for sure…camping, fishing, hunting, events we can’t make. There are projects we don’t finish (rebuilding old bikes my son and I purchased, gardens, etc).
    However, the kids love the sports. The friendships they make – meeting people from other towns that they have become really good friends with. The friendships my wife and I have made. It all makes it worth it.

    The key is, IMO, perspective. If it’s all about winning then you’re in the wrong program. Learn, get better, learn to compete and persevere. Winning will come. We’ve been blessed with wonderful organizations, coaches, and teammates. I know there are stories from the other side…and I often think about the things we’ve missed, but we’ve also experienced things that some other families can’t dream about. The stories we regularly tell from our baseball trips to North Carolina and Tennessee. Or even those from just this one season of volleyball. Memories for a life time.

    So, would I do it again? Yes.
    And will I support my kids putting my grandkids on travel teams? Yes. As long as they see the big picture.

    • says

      Let me clear one thing up regarding winning vs development from my comments: Winning is certainly second to developing skills at the team level. Both teams have played against teams that are older or in a longer-season club and have been destroyed. They have grown stronger because of that. They certainly could have found better matched clubs to play, and won more, but growing the collective skills of the team was #1.

      My point was that the clubs were not an equal time deal. If the #1 goal was *personal* development, each girl would have the same time on the court, and perhaps not even be specialized to position. They would each have the same amount of serves, etc.
      My girls each had an average amount of time on the court, so this isn’t a bitter complaint from my side, but more as an observation. There were certainly girls who play nearly the whole game, and there are other girls that almost never serve, or have 1/6 of the game time.

      I feel I’m a moderate when it comes to most issues, but when it comes to school sports, I’m a socialist. If tax money is being used to support school sports, and if the whole point is that school sports build crucial skills, then school sports should allow any kid that wants to play to be able to with equal play time, or at least have the play time determined by their effort and not their genetics.

      • Reuben says

        We’re on the same page at the Club level. Work hard, get better, but on game day some will play more than others.
        My only disagreement would be school sports. At some point it does have to become about winning and I think varsity level is that point. Most good programs will make their MS, frosh, and JV kids are getting plenty of minutes.

        • says

          Don’t get me wrong, Reuben: I’m totally fine with a high-school aged team playing to win and only allowing the best to play. I just don’t think tax money should support that.
          There is already this traveling club infrastructure that goes all the way to the national level. I simply suggest we allow it to become the real “play to win” sport, and we change HS sports to “play to learn and have fun” sports only.

  4. Paddy says

    My father, who I know recognize has a wise man that there a number of years separating me from my youth, has stated multiple times that we spent too much time as children involved in travel/all-star sports.

    Interestingly enough, between me and my 2 siblings (1 brother & 1 sister) the one who was the most successful HS athlete was my brother, (7 or 8 varsity letters in 2 sports) who was also the one deemed “not good enough” to be on youth travel/all-star teams.

    The number of parents that interact with (having 2 boys under the age of 12) who are chasing the elusive college scholarship simply don’t realize the odds against it. Especially when mom and dad are under 5’6″ and slow.

  5. says

    So, I guess my question is whether the element of geographic distance adds much value. For a lot of communities, my suspicion is that – absent travel teams – local programs would develop that have everything except geographic distance and there would be some diminishment in the level of competition.

  6. Reuben says

    Paddy hits on my biggest concern. Would I do it again? Yes. But I might force him to cut back. Someone asks him to play he’ll play…my one change would be saying no occasionally to allow us to do the “non-sports” that we enjoy.

  7. Freedom says

    Travel teams are only for top squads and draw only a few hand-select players from all of the park teams. All of Indianapolis should produce only one, maybe two, travel teams. Travel teams are supposed to be so good that an adult would enjoy the game. 9 or 10 is far too young to field a legitimate travel team.

  8. Rick Westerman says

    It has been years (~15) since my son and daughters were playing sports. Local teams seemed good enough for (as Doug puts it) the goals of coordination, team spirit, exercise and fun. The few travel teams back then would be for the elite. Naturally most of us want to think of our kids as ‘elite’ thus there is a pressure to join the travel teams. I am sure that the travel teams are nice to be part of and I do not begrudge anyone’s enthusiasm for them but realistically for 95%+ of the kids then local should be good enough. My wife and I have fond memories of many days and nights spent at our kids’s games and practices with friendships made across our local community.

    I do think that the attitude of “join the travel team or not be qualified for being on a school team” could be counter-productive to equality in society. It is undoubtedly true that playing, via the travel teams, against other highly skilled players sharpens a person’s ability. But what about the natively skilled kid whose parents are too poor or too apathetic to allow them to be on a travel team? Do we just cut them out of the school’s team? Ah well, that concern could be applied to almost anything in life and, one hopes, the truly skilled and highly motivated person will find a way to rise to the top. Hard scrabble will always be a part of being human.

  9. Nate Williams says

    I have a daughter who has played travel basketball for several years and has now switched to soccer. I was and remain very skeptical of the whole thing. I’d make two suggestions to anyone thinking about it.

    1. Pay attention to the team with which you align yourself. There’s a big difference and whole spectrum out there. Know the coaches, know the families. Do your due diligence. I have seen a number of coaches and programs over the years that I would now want her to have anything to do with. But the ones she has been involved with have been great fun for her and for us — and by “us”, I mean primarily my wife, who just loves to watch her daughter play anything. She has made some great friends through it all.

    2. Make sure that your are the most significant influence on how he or she approaches the game. And by that I don’t mean technical and strategic stuff. Sport should be fun, above all else. Your child will take his or her first cues from you, even as she gets into her teenage years. Encourage them to listen to their coaches and to work hard, but at the end of the day, make sure that you remember that it’s just a game, and let her know that, too.

  10. IndyJeffrey says

    Adults run travel sports. These leagues never benefit the well being of kids. The adults care more about winning than the participants. Adults ruin youth sports. Long live rec leagues.

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