A sports team that regularly travels to play tournaments is sometimes known as a youth travel team. The term is associated with those teams that label themselves as ‘select’ or ‘elite’. They are usually private businesses that require parents to pay for training costs. This is different from your local sports team that plays home and away fixtures as part of a local league.
Youth travel teams will hold regular tryouts where children as young as four are asked to perform skills and identified as having talent or potential. They will then be expected to train regularly and travel to tournaments and competitions, potentially all year round. Sometimes the travel will be within the state but sometimes out of state too.
The try-outs will select children who have matured early and are bigger or more coordinated or those who have had coaching and already have some technical skills. There is little thought of the young athlete’s development because the coaches are paid to get results this season, not to develop players for a team in 10-years’ time.
Because the coaches are paid, and this is their only job, the expectation is that the coaching is higher than that in local league teams. The word ‘professional’ is associated with these teams, referring to the coaching and organizational set-up rather than the children involved.
These teams are designed to win now.
Teams will travel to either play single matches or in weekend tournaments where the children may get to play in several matches. Parents will have to travel and book accommodation too. There is no guarantee that any child traveling will get playing time.
This is different from your local league or school team, where all children are given opportunities to play. If a team has too many players, they often set up a ‘B-team’ or’ 2nd-team’ and arrange fixtures to play.
Pros & Cons Of Youth Travel Teams
The advantages of the youth travel system are:
- Those older, physically more developed and have skills can play with similar
- Children and compete against others like them.
- The competitive youngster gets to compete for more.
- Scouts for colleges and senior teams may be present at these tournaments to see lots of good players together.
The disadvantages include:
- There is a high cost in time and money to the families of the young athlete. Youth sports is a multi-billion dollar industry and discriminates against those on low incomes.
- The athlete is taken away from their school friends and will compete for their place every week. This does not suit many children who just like to ‘play’.
- If the athlete is not selected to play, suffers an injury or gets burnt out, then they may drop out of the sport altogether.
- There is no guarantee that early selection in a sport leads to success at a senior level.
The younger the athlete, the more the disadvantages outweigh the advantages. As athletes reach middle school and have gone through puberty, they are more physically and emotionally mature and better able to assess what they want and need.
A Cheaper and Sustainable Alternative
One way of benefiting from extra coaching and playing against players of better ability is to sign up for training camps or clinics. These will be more affordable than year-round coaching and there is a finite start and finish time. They are also a lot easier for parents to arrange travel and family logistics. Parents can then assess whether their athlete comes home ‘buzzing’ and wants to do more or whether they come home tired and drained. Remember that competing all year round is tough for senior professional athletes. It is even more so for children.
Many recreational leagues select All-Star teams at the end of a season to compete against other leagues. Schools compete, and children can represent their school or district teams. These again are good opportunities to compete at higher levels.
Youth travel teams provide an opportunity for many children to compete regularly and receive extra coaching. However, they are not the only solution, and for younger children, they could be too much, too soon.