Unless you are playing in your backyard, playing any sport requires travel. This can be traveling to school or the local club. When your athlete starts to play competitive fixtures, they will be required to travel to another school or club at least half of the time. At some point, your athlete may be required to travel and stay overnight or to travel without you. This will cause understandable concern. Here are some ideas to help you make a decision.
How soon is too soon?
Every child is different, but in an age of hyper-competitive junior leagues, many children are being asked to travel far too young. Before even considering travel, ask yourself if your athlete can:
- Tie their shoelaces.
- Toilet themselves.
- Know their address and your contact number in case of emergency.
If they can not do these three ‘life skills’, then they are likely to struggle with a competitive fixture away. Put things into perspective and realize that the athlete needs to mature and develop before adding travel stress.
If they can do all of the above, ask yourself if they have traveled anywhere else previously? Have you taken them on holiday or to stay at a grandparent’s house? Have they been on a school trip to a museum or camping? If they have enjoyed the experience and not been exhausted at the end, then you can gauge how they might feel after a sporting event too,
There is a difference between you driving 30 minutes to the other team’s pitch and your athlete getting on a team or school bus. When your athlete is traveling or staying somewhere overnight with a club or organization, you must be clear on the safeguarding procedures to keep your athlete safe. These include:
- Consent forms
- Emergency contact details
- Clear, pre-agreed sleeping arrangements
- Your child can contact you if they want to.
School teams are usually meticulous about the safeguarding procedures, and you will have trust in the teachers.
Sports clubs should have the same level of accountability. They should have a club welfare officer who ensures that the correct safeguarding procedures are implemented. If they don’t, a gentle reminder will help them get organized. If the club does not correct the shortcomings, then you should not let your athlete travel.
Balance The Workload
Finally, if your athlete enjoys the travel and the competition, you can consider the time-cost/ benefit ratio. If your athlete spends more time on the bus than playing, is the juice worth the squeeze? Think of the lost study time and late nights. Traveling is not resting: it is fatiguing.
Traveling to the annual Regional Tournament or State Championships is probably worth the effort: it is an adventure and a special occasion. There will be team bonding and memories for the future. One weekend away will not hamper your athlete’s education.
But not every journey is worthwhile, and often athletes are told that they have to travel in order ‘to make it.’
One Netball player that I used to coach was told that they add to travel to the Regional Training Centre, 100 minutes drive away, every Monday night for a 90-minute training session. She was 15-years-old and in her exam year at school. Her Mum was expected to make the round trip, and the girl was told, ‘you can do your homework in the car.’ This was unsustainable and the girl stopped going to the training sessions. She continued playing locally, did well in her exams, and went to University, where she played Netball.
Some sports have fewer participants, and so travel will be required to meet another team. For example, others take place in specialist venues: skiing and surfing (it is probably not a good idea to take up surfing if you live in Idaho). You will have an idea of this when you take up the sport.
There is no definitive age for starting traveling sports but it is essential to realize the time and cost required not only for your athlete but for you and your whole family. Suppose you think the cost is reasonable and your athlete is enjoying themselves. In that case, you can enjoy the thrills and disappointments of the sport alongside them.