Travel teams, or travel sports, have been around for a little while, but have grown in popularity in the last decade or so. A generation or so ago, most young athletes participated in community or rec leagues or with their school. Travel teams emerged as a way for more elite athletes to be challenged and compete on a broader scale than your hometown.
Travel teams are more focused on youth sports and generally include athletes toward the end of their elementary school years up through high school. Unlike a community-based recreational league, team sports almost always require a tryout or audition. And unlike rec sports which allow all team members equal playing time and experience, a travel team will not necessarily guarantee playing time. Travel teams often venture out long distances to play other elite teams across the state, or in another region of the country.
Parents of young athletes want to see their children succeed. And many are seeing team sports as this generation’s opportunity to allow their athlete to grow and improve chances of being recruited to a competitive high school or college level team. Travel teams are not meant for every athlete or every family. There are several factors to consider when deciding whether or not you should pursue your young athlete to join a travel team.
Travel Teams Pros:
- Access to expert coaches. These are elite teams and the coaching is more involved in creating a better, more competitive athlete.
- New skills and more challenging play with elite athletes. There is a greater focus on skill development and competition for playing time.
- Time management and organization. The young athlete will learn to balance school, chores, and sport. It will teach them to better manage their time to accomplish goals.
- Increased exposure for high schools, colleges, or more elite travel teams. This could open the door for scholarships.
Travel Teams Cons:
- Expensive. There are fees for joining, as well as travel costs involved.
- Time-consuming. Expect to be on the road most weekends in season.
- Burnout. It is a much more involved commitment, and the young athlete may have to make some other sacrifices as far as hobbies or interests go.
When It’s Time For Travel Teams
- The athlete is bored at practice and games. If your athlete is spending a lot of time acting up and restless during practices, they may have mastered a skill or drill while the coach works with the rest, this could be a sign they need more stimulation and advanced skill work. If they are not challenged with the practices, workouts, or games, the young athlete may act out because they are bored and feel like they must wait around for the rest of the team to catch up.
- The athlete shows a level of self-discipline and motivation. Being on a travel team requires the athlete to be independent and organized. They must still complete and succeed with schoolwork and manage workouts outside of team time, family commitments, and the other necessities of any school-aged child. If you constantly remind your child to practice skills, pack their gear for sports, and finish chores and homework, a travel team will not be a good fit.
- Coaches recognize potential. All coaches love to have star athletes excel with skill and play. And good coaches will remember when an athlete is ready to advance beyond what they or their team can offer.
- The athlete is dominating on their rec or school team. If your athlete is leading in scoring and consistently shows advanced skills with their team, it may be time to move into a more elite field. Remember, however, just because they may be advanced with their rec team, does not mean they may succeed when placed with other elite athletes.
- Does your athlete live and breathe their sport? Are they working on skills above and beyond the coach’s suggestions? Do they watch the sport, research stats, study players? Team sports are a deep commitment. The athlete should be all in on and off the field. If the sport is something they just enjoy doing, then maybe a travel team isn’t for them.
- Is your family ready for the commitment? Being a part of a travel team involves the entire family. Some or all of the family may end up traveling to the games. This can be expensive with gas, tolls, hotels, meals out, and other travel costs. The commitment to one child for a travel team could mean less time for siblings to pursue their interests and activities. Travel teams will require sacrifices for everyone in the family. This has to be a decision that involves every member of the household.
Travel teams are an investment in your young athlete. It is an opportunity to advance their skills and love for a sport. It can be a tool to open doors for further advancing their athletic career and helping with scholarships for private high schools or colleges. Travel teams should be enjoyable but not a chore or drain on the family. Often families join a travel team but feel obligated to continue, especially after investing so much time and money. It has to be the right fit for the athlete and their family. Travel teams can offer many opportunities, but in the end, it should be about the love of playing regardless of the level of competition.