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 travel baseball or softball 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.
What to consider when joining a travel baseball team
1. Look for a qualified, quality coach and not the flashiest team.
The popular "pitch" for youth sport and especially travel baseball programs is to provide exposure to better competition, which will lead athletes to becoming better players. 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, gaining exposure as an athlete does not need to come at the same premium it once did. 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 for the travel team is equal.
2. More Money Spent Does Not Equal More Success
Hundreds of dollars spent is not directly proportionate to the success or development of our children. Much like academics, baseball skills and knowledge needs to be practiced away from formal travel team practices in order to optimize its value. In my world of pitching lessons, I have had a number of conversations which sound something 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 tryouts 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. If they love the game and are determined at a young age, give time for their skills to develop beyond one tryout.
3. "Transferring" from one travel program to another sets a "flight" rather than "fight" mindset.
Firstly. there are certainly circumstances where switching a travel baseball team 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, rather than change your situation just to make it easier. In travel baseball and any sport really, 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 on their travel baseball 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, may be better off looking for those young baseball players who really want to be there regardless of the extra stuff.
5. Winning tournaments can be good and bad.
Good because it is healthy to have something to play for. Tournament play in any format, baseball travel team or other, can teach players to compete under pressure. Bad because winning a tournament does not always mean you are the best team or the players. It gives players and parents a falsely heightened sense of success. The fact is that travel baseball 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.
Think about it: 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, they simply were the best team that weekend. 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).
Enjoy the ride
Whether you're considering heading to travel baseball tryouts near you, or weighing the pros and cons of travel baseball, I hope these few points help guide your decision. As a baseball instructor and parent, one thing I've learned is for sure — these years fly by, don't forget to enjoy this as much as you can.