The Pros and Cons of Club/Travel Sports For Kids

As you know, I’m a mom of four kids who I would describe as athletic.  They enjoy playing sports and have tried everything from soccer and volleyball to fencing and golf.  They’ve experienced more sports at their age than I did my entire childhood.  The opportunities to learn all these sports these days are endless.  On the flip side, all these opportunities bring the whole competitive sports concept  into play at a tender young age, for some kids, they are playing sports before they even learn how to read.

We’ve just entered the spring sports season at my house and my kids have chosen certain sports over others this year.  But, that too can change at the drop of a hat because they are still so young.  While two of my boys are playing baseball this year, the other decided to play rugby.  My daughter is in the misdt of the volleyball while still playing soccer for her AYSO All-Star Team.  I leave the decision up to my kids as to what, if any, sport they want to play.  While I like to see them excel at sports, I will never force my kids to play.  I’m just as happy to see them gather the neighbor kids and play kickball in the street, hang swings in the trees or hike up the canyon to play in their “fort.”

Most towns offer a variety of different sports leagues for kids of all ages.  Some are sanctioned by national organizations while others are offered through the town’s parks and recreation programs.  These leagues offer instruction and friendly play, for soccer, basketball, softball and much more.  These are the leagues where you will find a group of kids coached by great volunteer parents, playing at all different skill levels, learning the game and having fun.  Once the games start being played, you begin to notice those kids that seem to have a natural talent and are clear leaders on their team.  As a parent of that kid, you are made aware of opportunities to expand your kids’ skills in this particular sport.  How fun would it be to have your kid play on a team with others at comparable skill levels, under the direction of a great coach and against teams at a more competitive level of play?

Well, if you find this concept intriguing, let’s take the next step and enter the club/travel team arena.  These are the competitive teams that your kid is invited to play or try out for.  It doesn’t mean they will make the team but, their talents have been noticed and their potential is being explored.  This is an opportunity for your kid to further his/her skills and to be coached by an experienced individual(s) in the sport.

In theory, this would be a heck of an opportunity for your kid but, there are pros and cons to everything and my intent here is not say whether these teams are good or bad but merely, give you some facts so you can make a rational decision as to whether or not you want to pursue this option for your kid.  At the end of the day, your kid needs to REALLY enjoy the sport before taking the plunge into this type of commitment.

Pros

Club/travel teams are not instructional programs.  Your kid is already versed in the basics of the sport and will have the opportunity to further their skill development and knowledge of the game at a more intense level.

  1. These types of teams are comprised of the best players that the coaches have selected.
  2. These teams will be playing games against top competition from other areas in their geographic region.
  3. Allows a group of kids to come together and stay together as a team as they get older, thus the team will get to know their strengths and weaknesses and have a great sense of teamwork.
  4. Families that participate are committed to making the team a success.  Everyone is on the same page and wants to see the team put forth their best effort.
  5. At times, the team may play in a multi-day tournament out of town or even out of state which may offer the option to expand your stay into a little family trip.

Cons

  1. These teams typically practice more often and some teams play year round.  I’ve heard some parents say that their kids’ club team is their life!
  2. Team fees can be expensive to cover uniforms, coaching, training, tournament fees and high dollar equipment that your kid has to have, not to mention, potential individual lessons and instruction aside from the team comittments.
  3. Time to hit the road.  Can you afford to take the time off when need be for travel, at times, for multiple days?  Road trips can be taxing on your wallet, you will dish out money for gas, food, snacks, hotels and souvenirs such as tournament t-shirts.
  4. Kids may burn out with the sport and lose their desire to continue.  As a parent, you need to respect their decision and move on.
  5. The potential risk that kids can get injured from being pushed too hard a young age and hinder their body’s development.
  6. Not all the parents will see eye to eye all the time.  Understand there will be issues and some parents can get down right vicious when it comes to what THEY think their kids abilities are.

Some things to ponder

  1. Is your kid playing because they really want to play and do they really know that this is the sport they want to focus on at their current age?
  2. Competition is a natural instinct but is your kid going to join the team for him or are you putting him on the team because YOU aspire him/her to play in high school, college, professionally or have some bragging rights?
  3. Do you understand that players will earn their positions and that equal playing time is not necessarily the case?  Can you manage your own expectations and trust and respect the coach’s decisions?
  4. How will your child, or more importantly you, react when you realize that your child is not as good as the competition and their play will be limited?
  5. Many teams play through the summer and over holidays, are you willing to give up this valuable family time to go to a tournament?
  6. Understand how committing to the team this will affect the rest of your family.  Will you have to give up on things for your other kids?
  7. Did you take the time to get to know the coach(es), their style and philosophies?  The coach(es) can make or break the team.
  8. Give your kid some time on the team and evaluate after a few months.  Are they still enjoying it?  Do they whine when the have to go to practice?  Are they tired all the time? Is it interfering with school?  Are they asking for some down time to just be a kid?

Club/travel teams can be an awesome experience for both the player and the parents but, it also can be very time consuming and expensive.  It’s a big commitment and I urge you to talk to your kid and weigh both sides of the equation before jumping in and making a quick decision.  Talk to other parents and kids that have been down this road to get a good perspective as to what to expect.

I myself grew up in an athletic family and didn’t start playing sports until 3rd grade.  I was good at a lot of sports and didn’t have to choose which one I wanted to master at the age of ten.  I have fond memories of playing on teams coached by parents in our town.  Big deal, we may not have won all our games or had the best team around but, we had a great time and that’s what I remember most.  When the games were over, it made no difference whether we won or lost, we were focused on what we were going to get into next! 

Kids today are no different, it’s the parents that care about the win or the loss.  Once off the field, or off the court, their thoughts after the game aren’t on why they missed that last basket or missed the final catch.  They’re wondering what snack is waiting for them and what they’re going to do when they get home.

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3 Comments

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