The Trouble with Travel Sports

Tom Brady, quarterback of the New England Patriots made some interesting comments about youth travel leagues. This has created some debate among my friends, but I wonder what the next generation thinks.

https://www.bostonglobe.com/sports/2015/10/05/tom-brady-opens-youth-sports-today/aGAPURaESv6hsdCxUDdBTO/story.html

Tom Brady: “Youth sports, and what I remember from being in youth sports, everything was really localized. There were no travel teams. My parents always exposed us to different things, different sports. It was basketball when it was basketball season. It was baseball when it was baseball season. I didn’t play football until I was a freshman in high school. A lot of soccer. There were some camps, but I just played in the neighborhood in our street with all the kids we grew up with. It’s just different now, and I’m experiencing it with my own kids with all the organized activities that you put them in. It’s just hard, because all the parents are doing it, it seems, and the competition feels like it starts so early for these kids.”

Old School: In one generation, youth sports has changed dramatically. I want to paint my childhood experience (k-8th grade). On the bus ride home from school each day, we would vote on the sport we were going to play that day and at whose house we would play. We played all kinds of sports – football, basketball, baseball, kickball, tennis, hockey. We loved it. It was fun, competitive and free. We made our own rules and settled our own disputes.

When we played organized sports, it was Saturday morning basketball or soccer or maybe a Tuesday afternoon baseball league. We never traveled more than 30 miles to play another local team. The thought of specializing in one sport, even in high school, did not exist. Many of my friends lettered in three sports in a high school career.

New School: Fast Forward 30 years. My 4 girls (ages 6, 6, 7 & 9) want to organize a soccer game in the backyard. I tell them to go house to house to get kids to play. They come back a half hour later and tell me that all the neighbor kids are at soccer practice. Another similar event occurs. I call up friends to play a round of golf and many are out of town following their middle school kid to sports tournaments.

So, why does this all matter? And, what does it have to do with character? Let me be clear. Youth travel sports is not leading to the downfall of society. I’m just amazed at the major shifts that happen in one generation that we just accept as if we don’t have a choice.  I think we should understand how a shift like this can impact our culture, families and the next generation. Here is how I believe the new approach to youth sports is negatively affecting us:

10. New School Approach helps build awesome sports culture, but is not healthy for families. Having a travel soccer league or baseball league in middle school helps build a powerhouse program in high school. Not only are kids playing the sport more often, they are playing it against greater talent at tournaments 100-500 miles away from home. My argument though is that travel leagues are not healthy for families. Here’s why:

9. The Tail is Wagging the Dog: It makes the family revolve around the child’s sport. Parents are traveling multiple weekends to different towns just to watch their 13 year old play a sport. If they have more than one child, one parent is staying home with the other children while the other parent is traveling with the athlete. Some families have one parent/child headed 100 miles north for a tournament while the other parent/child is headed 100 miles south. I argue that overall, this is not a positive for families.

8. Financial Obligation: Ask these travel parents about the costs involved. There’s hotel rooms, food, and fees to play in these organized tournaments. Week after week. My mailman once told me that he spent over $10,000 taking his daughter to soccer tournaments over a 3 year period. He and I surmised that if he had put that money into a 529 College Saving Plan, her college would be more than paid for. Like he said, they do have soccer teams in the next town over.  We laughed, but he was serious.

7. Too Much Focus: In any given high school, probably 2-4 players will get a Division 1 or 2 college scholarship for athletics (we had one in our graduating class and he never played in a single travel league). That means for the other hundreds of student-athletes, sports is about having fun, making friends, learning to be a good teammate, competing and building character. Yet, today kids are giving a year-round commitment or traveling 10+ weekends a year to play in tournaments. I believe this commitment is out of whack. Kids need to be kids. Kids need down-time. Kids need to be well-rounded. Imagine if this kind of commitment was put toward starting a small business, learning marketing or understanding the stock market… just sayin’.

6. Creativity and Spontaneity: Think about it, when I was in grade school, we decided what sport to play… we decided the rules… we settled our own disputes. Today adults organize all aspects of sports. They decide what sports are played and when, the starting lineups, the rules, the penalties… heck, if someone gets mad at a teammate, an adult is there to moderate the whole thing. So much is lost with this new system and the kids don’t even realize it.

5. The Effect on Parents: If I would have asked my Dad to take me on 5 weekends in a row to go to 5 different cities for sporting events, he would have smiled and asked two questions, “how are you going to get there and how are you going to raise the money.” I think today’s parents would feel guilty saying, let along thinking something like that. I hope that parents today can feel comfortable sometimes saying, “Your mom and I will not be at your 6th grade basketball game today. Bill’s dad will be taking you. Instead, we are going out on a date. Have fun and good luck today.” There seems to be an unwritten rule for parents that says the more time you spend watching your kids play sports, the better parent you are. I argue that good parenting has more to do with the amount of time you spend doing things together as a family, not watching.

4. Valuing Excellence over Participation: Mark Hyman, a professor of sports management at George Washington University, said youth sports today look nothing like they used to. “The adults have won,” Hyman said. “If we wiped the slate clean and reinvented youth sports from scratch by putting the physical and emotional needs of kids first, nothing would be recognizable.” The problem, he said, is that, “We no longer value participation. We value excellence.” The kids do not. Amanda Visek, another professor at George Washington, surveyed 150 children about what makes sports fun for them. The kids listed 81 different factors that made them happy playing sports. Winning ranked 48th.

3. Too much competition at an early age: This is not just about sports. There are kids in kindergarten competing to get into “the right” elementary school. Elementary kids are competing to get into the right middle or high school. Kids are taking high-stakes tests more frequently today. The pressure is on kids today like it never has been before. Now, with the new model, we are saying to a child, “Play now, play on this travel league, play year-round” or you will not really have a chance to play this sport in high school. Maybe, it’s just me, but that doesn’t sound like the childhood I would want for myself, so why would I want it for my kids?

2. Burnout Factor: Brady eluded to this in his statements, “I hope my kids are late bloomers in whatever they do. As they get older or if they feel like they’ve been in something for so long and it’s been hyper-intense and hyper-focused for so long, I think that can wear out a young individual, a young teenager.” I was talking to a coach last weekend who told me about kids who were offered scholarships to play in college, but turned them down because they were “tired” of soccer and didn’t want their entire college career run by a sport that would never be a career.

1. Bottom line: I feel youth sports (k-8) should be introductory, fun, teach competition and build character. Pressure to join teams, travel teams, year-round teams should not be a part of the equation. I argue it takes away from time spent as a family, costs way too much money, is incommensurate with creating a well-rounded individual and puts undue pressure on a young child. Like Eddie Money (singer from the 80’s) sang, “I want to go back.”

Your Turn:

After reading the comments from Tom Brady and me, what is your opinion about the modern day approach to youth sports? What changes would you make?

Comments 60

  1. I think that travel sports are good for kids. They teach them to use teamwork skills with people that they might not know. There are great bonds that you make with people on your travel team. When I played on a traveling league, my teammates became my best friends. We did everything together. The tournaments we played at were over an hour traveling time, but I got to see my friends and play my favorite sport. Children should be able to play on traveling leagues. It might be fun for the parents to go to them and watch their kid compete and do something they love.

    1. You don’t need a travel team to create competition or make friends. Travel sports have ruined youth sports, plain and simple….

      1. Agree. None of the above has anything to do with “travel teams.” My daughter is in 3 club sports because there are no other options to play these sports outside of the expensive time-consuming, adult-centric club system. It’s terrible what adults profiting off of kids sports has done to our kids and family time. Tournaments purposely scheduled on family holiday weekends is insane to me yet everyone just goes along with it. Nuts.

    2. yes me to but my travel team i play for is needing a gym because we might practice before the game but gyms will need fees tom i also think if you travel that you play more competitive ball and may meet new people and see new places also i play for the patriots at tj.

    3. I really don’t like far traveling travel sports. I’m fine going maybe 3-4 weekends out of the summer for tournaments and such under 50 miles but anything above that is pretty excessive. I like competition and all but some families take it way too far.

  2. This is an interesting topic, but I think that some kinds of traveling teams are not good for overall health. Traveling over 100 miles to watch your child play a sport on a weekend is physically and mentally taxing on both the children and the parents. In our town, there is a youth football program that is exceptional in teaching the basics of the game, as well as leadership and respect. It works well for most parents in the area, as it is a short drive, and most events take place Saturday morning. This type of program still creates the camaraderie between teammates that you find on traveling teams, but also is a short distance away.

  3. I am not sure that I agree with all your points. Times have changed since the old days of going to the park and picking sides and playing a game. Travel sport bring some families closer together. These families travel to a city and stay the weekend in a town that they may not have ever traveled to. A lot of travel kids and families use these trips as family vacations. Usually most games are an hour or two and then the families go and explore, go out to eat, or other fun things. Travel lends kids to get away from the “every kid is a winner”! Every game has a winner and a loser. That is a good lesson. The competition is better. It is just like homeschooling. Every kid develops at a different rate. Travel sports lend the kids to play with kids that are at their level. They had to tryout to get on the team. If a kid doesn’t make it he/she learns what it takes to tryout next time. They learn about work ethic and how they stack up to the other kids. Another thing that kids get out of travel sports are great friends that they would not have met otherwise. It is really cool to see kids in school play other kids from different schools that they played with on a travel teams. Now I am not a great writer like yourself but these are few things that are good about travel sports. I am very thankful for the time and opportunity that my kid got to play travel sports.

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    2. I guess that might make sense for some travel sports but not swimming. There is NO exploring or other fun things when you travel for meets and you are lucky if you have enough time to eat/drive thru before the next session. It can be extremely stressful and sleep deprived. No time to hang out with other kids except at the actual meet. Practices 6 days a week, taking the kids out of school on Thursday and/or Fridays for meets. And they wonder why swimming has a HIGH burnout rate…it’s totally nuts

      1. Thats why my 11 year old daughter only does 3 months and a couple meets with the year round swim club….funny thing, she is improving at the same rate and many times better than the Year round and 6 month season swim kids….and she does 4 others sports besides swimming…..

    3. I rarely see it bring families closer, especially with multiple child households. Most of the time you have one parent taking a kid one place and the other another. Or you have one athletic child in a travel league and the other just be drug along to watch. That child then resents the other, because they don’t want to go, or they just get a tablet shoved in their face, because their life gets put on hold as it gets trumped by sports.

      The emphasis on youth sports over education is absolutely ridiculous as well. I played college baseball in the early 00s. Not a D1 school by any means, but still played and am a fully functioning adult, with a pretty solid life. I traveled a lot in high school and college. At times even then almost as a detriment to my education at the time. Luckily my schools had some pretty good emphasis on education first and sports second.

      In my opinion, travel sports should only be school sanctioned, starting in junior high. And if you do play in a travel league, there should be a stipulation by the high school governing sports body that you cannot play for the school if you play on a travel league. If you want to see how burn out and mental issues start be a kid who gets stressed to perform all year long with little to no break.

      There are no good reasons to have travel teams other than to fuel elitism. Case in point a friend of mine has a daughter who pitches softball. Is 10 years old. This 10 year old wanted to play in a rec league with her friends from school, but since she’s good and plays in a travel league was forced to go up a level to play with girls going into high school. Not only does this hurt he rec league by effectively dumbing down the competition at this level, but it’s also harmful to the growth of the child. A child who hasn’t even hit puberty and once doing so is unable to adjust to their body changing. They used to be good, no great, but now they’re middle of the pack at best, because the skill levels are being brought up by others who are adjusting better. You want to see how depression starts? Because not feeling good enough is how it starts.

      Using them as family vacations is also ridiculous. That money that’s spent on substantial travel could have been used for a real vacation, not just some random place they happen to have a ballgame. I mean just listen to what you said about planning a vacation around a travel game. You get stuck in a location where only 50% of the time you’re able to relax (at best), where your kid is too tired to truly unwind, rather than go to a planned exciting location like say Arches national park, Hawaii, Disney or a museum like the Smithsonian. Instead you’re tied to a schedule revolving around games or tournaments.

      I agree with your statement about every kid being a winner. But if you don’t think kids realize there aren’t winners or losers even in a league that recognizes everyone, then you don’t have kids. My daughter is 5 and played soccer for the first time in a rec league (thank god there are no travel leagues at 5) and she thought they lost the game because the other team scored 1 goal first. There were tears. She thought she could have done better. And this was all within the first 5 minutes of the game. So if you don’t think kids feel defeat even in this situation, you’re not just wrong, you’re also not paying attention.

      1. Well said and SO ACCURATE.
        Going through this now with my son.
        Travel ball is obviously competitive but all the coaches care about is WINNING… and if your kid isn’t in the starting line up, well, you will see a drastic drop in their self esteem and self worth. Funny part is all of the stars on the team are coaches kids who can no wrong… until they do. Wondering if they’ll get benched because of errors and not hitting? Or will they just chalk it up to “a bad few games”.
        Parents of sons 8-12 especially, please beware of the emotional damage.

        1. Jresta,

          you can’t throw every travel coach into one basket. I have been coaching for 20 yrs in the travel ball world although I do agree with everything you said, I do not run my program like that and at times get criticized for not being all about the win.I will sit my son faster than I will sit any of my players. I play all my kids. I reward my kids who attend every practice and will start them over a kid who may be more talented who misses practice. What kind of lessons are we teaching our players if we start the kid who misses practice so we can get the win? I coach because I love baseball and I love my kids.
          Everybody loves a winning team. We love to root for winning teams, compete on winning teams, and watch our kids compete on winning teams. Of course, there is nothing wrong with that. However, I think loyalty is such an under appreciated and overlooked character trait when it comes to winning.
          Just as all people love a winning team, all loyal fans dislike front runners. You know those people who were New England Patriot fans in 2017 and then became Philadelphia Eagles fans in 2018. Or those Lakers fans from back in the day who now root for the Golden State Warriors.
          When it comes to professional sports, front runners are par for the course. Non-loyal front runners are as old as the teams they jump ship to from year to year. What’s changed however, is their numbers. I would argue that loyalty in sports is now at a all time low. Loyalty is just not valued as much as it was when I grew up,. I think a big part of this comes from what parents are teaching their kids through youth sports. A fairly recent market trend in youth sports is the emergence of travel teams for the average spots family, not just the elite. For some sports such as baseball and basketball, these travel teams have existed for years.

          So this is how the front runner culture is taught in my opinion to kids in a nutshell. The culture is for kids to compete on the same lower tier team for 1 or 2 years while they are up-and-comers, then jump ship once a Gold Pool team recruits them.
          The result is that most lower tier teams never get a chance to move up to the Gold Pool. Often these teams eventually dissolve due to frustration. The kids are taught all that matters is being on the best team, and that loyalty to a team is not important. The kids are robbed of the lessons learned of building a team up from the bottom and working up to the top with a group of friends and teammates.
          This is obviously just my opinion of the lack of Loyalty in todays culture to find the next best thing. But my hunch tells me that this is happening all over youth sports. I may be old school in my thinking, but my dad taught me to always value loyalty and hard work over a put together winning in team that may win from time to time tha never has the same roster of kids every tournament. I want my kids to have those same values. It’s clear to me that the purpose of youth sports is about teaching these values. If more parents don’t get this message, the front runner, win at all cost mindset will eventually take over the entire culture.
          A friend sent me this great perspective a coach shared about the culture that echoes my sentiments:

          “Our children will not have the opportunity to remember matchups and rivalries developed over years, because everyone’s roster changes drastically from year to year and let me tell you why.
          It is because there is an epidemic of parents and youth players looking for the next best thing. I am going to use my experiences at the club level during tryout time as an example. Parents and players are frantically trying to line up the best situation for our kids and many people’s moral compass and the ability to see the big picture is going out the window”.

      2. Aaron, you are spot on. Travel sports and even education has become a bragging right for parents and is ruining kids and families. The parents that say it isn’t are validating their choices. If everyone just kept their kid in Rec then the competition and fun would be enough. Why do 10, 11, 12 year olds have to travel all over the country “to find good competition”. I guarantee they could find it in their backyard or right around the corner…but no, those kids are gone traveling to another state or country because “no one is good enough nearby”…not true! Burnout is real and science is proving that this is truly unhealthy and unrealistic lifestyle for kids.

      3. LOVE EVERYTHING YOU SAID. IF I can add just one caveat,every kid may not be a winner,but they can all be competitors,giving all they got. And travel teams are not necessary to compete in my opinion.

  4. I’m from a family of sports. And my Mom was a taxi , she drove me to soccer practice dropped me off and picked up my brother from football practice. Drop him off at home finished dinner. And either Mom or Dad would pick me up(mostly Mom). We played all our games on Saturday and the only games played on Sunday were the championship.
    This is my beef with youth sports of today. Sunday was, is and should always be family time. Todays sports has no regards to family time. I think local youth sports should only be on Saturday unless its playoffs or Championships. Or maybe In the late afternoon. Sports is defiantly a valuable asset in any child’s life. But FAMILY should always be first I’m just sayen!!!!

  5. It’s parent driven. We do not need to travel six hours to play a team in Ohio when there are 400 teams in Illinois we can’t beat. It’s all about parents egos. Missing school to travel? What message are we teaching our youth?

    1. Parents ego! Spot on. Parents live vicariously through their own kids. Travel sports gives parents “water cooler” talk on Monday mornings. A chance for the parent to brag which only reflects a deeper emotional void in the parent.

  6. I foresee the 3rd graders whose parents can afford to put them on a travel team already wandering the halls with an elite attitude. I see them ostracizing and bullying the kids who lead a more rounded life. I see their parents hanging out drinking beer at the every weekend, don’t want to grow up, all focus on sports tournaments. I see the kids growing up and not even participating in high school sports because they are burned out. Rather than spending time with family they spend time hanging out with their team…drinking beer and being cool just like mom and dad were. They’ll have little vision of the world beyond the narrow confines of the gym.
    In my town there are travel team games, not just tournaments, on Sunday mornings. With the demise of family time, and Sunday church I see these kids growing up to worship the multibillion dollar sports industry. Their priests narcissistic, spoiled, overpaid, criminal sports icons.
    I see these sports kids growing up with little idea what to do other than sitting around their garages gulping down cheap beer, with little introspection, less culture, and nothing but memories of their 3rd grade glory days.
    Be a real parent. Play WITH your kids, go out and volunteer, go out and explore the world as a family, build a tree house, and yes an occasional Saturday morning little league game.
    In the long game travel team sports are the pinnacle of mediocrity. I’ll withhold my name to avoid being accused of sports glory heresy.

    1. I find your reply interesting. I am the founder and director of a teen community center. My family participates in countless hours of community service projects. We cook as a family. All three of my children have participated in travel sports. My husband and I do not drink alcohol. Neither of us played the same sports as our children. We encourage our children to try everything and we allow them to take whatever they love and push for the skies. We demand 100% effort in all endeavors, especially academics. We are a middle-class family and our children would never “wander the halls as elite.” They understand that, as parents, we sacrifice so that they can participate in travel sports. We make this sacrifice so that they never have to wonder if they reached their fullest potential. Our family time only grew stronger as our first child made his first travel league. We eat out as a family more. We see more places as a family. In between games, we have explored water parks, museums, historical sites, and much more. We are a Christian family that makes it a point to study the Word and praise together. Going to church every Sunday doesn’t make a person a Chrisitan. Our eldest child did choose to play ball throughout high school, however, he understood that academics were what mattered most to us. He is currently a student at the University of Kentucky (out-of-state) and is there on an academic scholarship. Our other two are not in high-school yet. Our goal is for our children to be well-rounded in all aspects of life. Travel sports is important to them. We continuously reinforce the same question with our children, “Do you love it? As long as you love it, we will continue to let you do it. When you no longer love it, its time to quit.” (as long as it isn’t mid-season because we always finish what we start.) Playing travel sports isn’t for every family, but has been a blessing for ours.

      1. YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY CORRECT! Funny thing is…. they’re usually living a big lie. But hey, gotta portray the perfect family life. They’re a joke and most smart people see this.

  7. To all the parents who promote travel sports during the same time their kid is playing for their middle school and high school teams, are obviously clueless about what team is all about. There is no such thing as playing on any team and playing on another team at the same time. How in the world can you say you’re an athlete that is trying to be a team player??? So these idiot parents, are brainwashed into thinking their kid is better off being pushed, and forced into all these practices and games during the same season on different teams. Think again???? Tell me what professional sport player you know of, that’s allowed to play on any team while playing on another team at the same time…….??????? That’s right, you can’t because it’s not allowed and even if they could, they would obviously be more suspect to injury or a career ending injury from doing too much at one time. Try imagining Tom Brady playing in a football game, and then having his parents rush him off the field and tell him to eat a snack or whatever on the way to another practice or another game right after. You stupid parents however think that these kids are able to do this for years and years. And let’s talk about what team means, for the idiots that seem to be detached from reality. If Tom Brady got hurt in the begining of the NFL regular season because he slid into first base playing for some travel baseball for adults, because he was told that he has good potential for making a pro baseball team. What do you think the fans of New England would think of him and how in the hell do you think his team would feel that he got hurt playing for ANOTHER team???? EXACTLY!!!! Let’s say for instance that your son or daughter is running track for a well known high school track team and she is part of the 4×100 meter team that has a chance to win in the state championship. But you and your silly coach, athletic director(that obviously has no business being an athletic director for allowing an kid to play for a school program and travel at the same time), along with yourself, have your kid playing travel soccer at the same time and unfortunately your kid tears their acl during a soccer tournament a week before the state track championships. Now is that a team attitude now that you just ruined your track team a chance to win the state championships in the 4×100 meter and also get the recognition they deserve with possible college scouts coming to the state championships????? If you want your kids to play travel then have them just play travel and don’t have them play for their school at the same time. As a former athlete, I wouldn’t even want someone on my time that’s not strickly about playing on my team. It’s not even fair to the kid that gets cut and couldn’t make the team and lost spot on the team to some clown who was allowed on the team that already plays for some travel team while playing for the school team. Now let’s say that one kid that beat them out of that spot breaks their arm while falling down at a travel game??? Is that fair???? Dumb parents, and coaches with no back bone, and athletic directors that are seriously clueless have allowed travel sports to take over middle and high school sports. It’s all about money and false promises. Some of these parents are so focused on this travel stuff that they aren’t as worried about their kids academics on the same level. Your kid can be the best in the country in whatever sport, but guess what, if thier grades aren’t good enough to get into that college, then your kid isn’t going anywhere. And for the idiots who said that travel sports are good for bonding and the experiences, you are just as clueless and obviously never played sports because you get a better bonding from playing sports for your school with the same players for all of your middle and high school years, than you would playing for all these different travel teams and leagues over the years. Imagine if your kid switched to a different school every year from 4th grade to 12th. What idiot would say that’s a good bonding???? Who the hell would know you at your high school reunion???? Parents should created an academic travel team rather than sports travel teams. Or maybe a common sense travel team for parents. I remember New England fans getting mad just because Tom Brady jumped off a little cliff into the water while on vacation with his family because he wanted to have some fun. What if he played hockey during the off season???? And kind of real effort do you think any athlete can really put out if they have a brutal practice or game and go to another practice or game on the same day or even the next day??? If pros don’t do it then don’t ever think your kids can.

  8. I wonder if travel team parents would feel the same way if their child was heavily into computer gaming and programming. Would they think it was wonderful that little Jenny missed school because “she had a gaming tournament”? Would they allow her to spend hours and hours on the computer every day, week , month, year around? Would she only see grandparents and family only twice a year because “she has a game”? Of course not! Travel teams are for adults living their own failed dreams, and of course for the marketing teams who cash in on the stupidity.

    1. I am a travel team parent and am on the local baseball league board and coach baseball, coach youth basketball and football. We have 2 children and they are heavily into computer gaming and programming as well as sports. We live in a small town and the regular season for the sports around here result in less than exemplary coaching and the level of play can sometimes make us coaches smile….So, here, our children can play with their friends, however, if they want to excel at a sport the opportunity is available only if we get parents together, sometimes from towns up to 30 miles away, and create an “all-star” team (in the case of Cal-Ripken baseball) or get enough kids to play football (9 kids came out for my sons 7th grade team). So, yes you have some situations where parents are living vicariously but you also have parents who are just trying to give their child some memories, build some friendships and yes, even get a little competition instead of having to measure how fast you can throw a ball at your local, non-traveling, teammate. And when they wanted to join the science Olympiad team and travel 260 miles to Bozeman and compete against teams “traveling” from all over the country, we spent the time and money. So, you can find all sorts of negatives for “travel” sports but you can find just as many positives

  9. Travel soccer is reaching an epidemic societal level. The constant push from the clubs to travel more and more and farther away is taking away from valuable family time and childhood development. Everyone wants their kids to be active, stay healthy and socialize.

    However, what was once localized games has morphed into national leagues where elementary school age players are getting on planes and missing school to play soccer on the other side of the country on the weekends.

    At the same times the “clubs” are on the constant push for more private training sessions. The costs are outrageous. People are robbing their 401k’s for a 12 year-old to chase their parent’s dream instead of their parents putting that money into a 529.

    The delusion with many of these parents runs deep and they have no idea of what they are into and how deep they are drowning in it.

    And the one’s, the parents that sell their kids to these clubs where their child leaves their community and their own home and moves out of state to play on a farm system pipe dream scheme… those parents are selling away their own kid’s souls, childhood and education for nothing but to appease some greedy charlatans and to brag about it to their friends.

    It’s a sick system. Take a deep breath. Walk away. It is ok. Stop the madness.

  10. I so agree with Tom Brady – sore subject in our family as some agree with travel teams and some don’t. My point is 1 sport at a time and I get so angry when girls leave a dbl header game to go to practice for a travel team so now you put this game in trouble of not having enough players because you have to leave. Our son played 3 sports back in the day and never left his team to go to another. What about burning these kids out. You only get 1 childhood and parents are taking that away from them. Also if you think keeping them busy keeps them away from drugs alcohol and sex. NOPE you just delayed their expeirmenting with these things. Yes some may not do them at all but lets be real here. Also how many of these kids will go on to professional sports if this is what you are thinking. Isn’t their education more important? Just saying!!!

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      Well, said Nita. I hear that kids are not playing for their high school team so they can play for a travel league. As you said, and we know, only 1% of athletes get a athletic college scholarship.

    2. Education is always first, Student-Athlete. Families just have to find the right program. Scholarships are available at all levels even kids are open to going to who’s offering. No everyone not going D1 or D2, but D3, NAIA, JUCO and other independents exist now.

  11. I actually agreed w Tom Brady before I got My 4 kids involved in travel sports. I played travel baseball as a kid and remember becoming burnt out by highschool. I also missed some great vacations with my grandparents that all my siblings and cousins still talk about.
    So I kept my kids in the house league as long as I could, with hopes they could occupy their summers playing sandlot ball, and just being kids. The problem is its hard to get a pick up game goin when no one is around! All the nieghborhood kids were involved with some organised sport or activity.
    It seemed like the few that were around, werent really the type of kids I wanted My boys to get close to, so I caved in, and before I new it, all 4 were playing both Travel Hockey and Travel Baseball.
    In hindsight I made the right move based on how things had evolved. If Im lucky before my grandkids are of age, they will evolve back to a more reasonable blend of family, academics, being a kid, and sports…. and in that order!

    1. That is the same way I see things… I send my kids outside, and there is not a soul in sight, even on a nice summer day. It’s not just the fault of sports – most middle to upper class kids are scheduled to the hilt. On the other hand, there are more options for the kids than just travel sports to fill the kids’ idle time.

  12. I think travel clubs are putting pressure on todays youth. In addition, in some ways, it does take away from spending time with your family. I have spent some holidays taking my daughter to tournaments, such as labor day, memorial day, etc. Some organizations use “3 day weekends” to put together a tournament. Also, it has become the norm that that chances of teenager playing at a higher level in high school (Varsity) are slim to none if you do not play on a travel club team because its become a common misconception that players who have been playing travel club are better and more experienced. So, children and parents are misguided and feel their child needs to play on a travel club team if they even want to play in high school. Some high school coaches even put pressure on student athletes to play in club teams, sometimes more specifically theirs. And so these players often feel that pressure of having to play club. Some coaches don’t even allow their athletes to play a different sport. Being that I have a son and a daughter playing sports, I see that it is worst with boys as appose to girls. But one thing that i have learned with my daughter who plays basketball is that i always give her a choice. And that all we can do as parents is support their decision 100%. You will be surprised to see that when you give your kids the responsibility to make their own choices in regards to sports, often they decide to play. And when they do, they work harder and get better because they chose to do it for themselves. I had the option of putting my daughter in a travel club team when she was just in 4th grade. I was fortunate enough to come across another parent you gave me the greatest advice. He said, “Let your daughter tell you when she wants to play club ball and play basketball year round. She will be hungrier and will be as good or even better than her teammate who has been playing for years. He said that it wouldn’t happen overnight but but it could happen in a year.” He was right!!! My daughter didnt decide to play club ball until her 8th grade year. As a freshmen, she was a starter on the JV team. She is now playing varsity as a sophomore. Her a few of her teammates from her travel club team who have been playing since 4th, 5th or even 3rd grade are still on JV. And my daughter plays gir a D1 high school.

  13. After 8 years of the travel ball nonsense I wish I knew then what I know now. Brady and Kobe Bryant are correct. We should have never put our boys in travel baseball it was a waste of money, waste of their summers, waste of time, and burned up one of my sons arms. Youth sports is such a racket now. These poor kids lost out on so much. The travel sport industry will die when they have kids of their own and don’t put them in this. We had the “elite” travel baseball team complete with the bug eyed crazy over competitive coaches for 10-12 U and of the 12 “studs” on those teams only four boys are even still playing baseball now. The rest got sick of it or chronically injured. Interestingly the four still playing are the four that the coaches thought were scrubs. Yeah; save your money, your sanity, and your kids health. So not worth it.

  14. I love the comment “ just put the money in the bank and pay for college!” A scholarship is not why my daughter plays travel softball at a very high level. If that happens, great! To be the best, and that’s what her and her teammates are striving for, you have to play the best.
    Unfortunately that involves traveling when you live in Michigan.
    We have had the greatest experience playing travel softball. My only regret will be the sadness I will feel when it’s over.

  15. My son has been playing Travel Baseball for 6 years (Ex-Wifes idea) and its a total waste of time and money. The arguments have always been around the misconception that one must play travel ball in order to be competitive in the future. This is complete non-sense, parents fail to realize the x factor….genetics. Being a stud baseball player at age 12 means nothing. I’ve watched kids that were stud players up to about age 13 (puberty age) and once the real x factor kicked in, the stud was no more than an average player with every other kid that played rec ball. I’ve seen kids that have never played travel ball, go to High School and make the Varsity team. Why? Yep, genetics! Excessive playing can only go so far, eventually the kid is either going to be genetically/physically able to play at a high level or not. Lets call this what it is, a fool and his money are easily separated and someone came up with a great sales pitch to parents. I agree with others that have said to put that money into a college savings plan and you’d have your childs college paid for.

    In another post, someone states that his kids play to be the best and that’s what its all about. Really, being the best is what its all about, man I hope not. I hope they are getting much more than just being the best at some no name travel team that in 10 years will mean absolutely nothing to them. Set expectations higher for our kids in the realms of education, family, and character…..sports is a hobby, not a life style.

  16. I think travel sports are totally the tail wagging the dog. In many cases the parents that are hard core about it, were mediocre athletes in their day and are now trying to live vicariously through their kids and have this notion that if their kid excels at a sport that it is somehow a positive reflection back on them. I have also seen travel sports cause siblings of the athlete to feel that their interests are less important because they are having to leave home every weekend and sit in a car for extended periods of time, stay in hotels, freeze on the sidelines or in the bleachers. Only to return on Sunday afternoon and back to school on Monday. The cost is another issue…and for some parents who haven’t done an adequate job of saving for college, they are now digging themselves in an even deeper financial hole by paying to play, uniforms, fuel, lodging, meals etc. and to ultimately not have their child receiving a full or even partial athletic scholarship. I’ll take the math-lete over the athlete any day…and I competed in college athletics with a partial scholarship.

  17. I wish that there were no travel sports ever again. I have a daughter who my ex-wife pushed into soccer for years and years of my life and I had to run around against my will chasing a stupid soccer ball with them just so I could see my daughter. They blow smoke up your butt promise telling you your child is exceptional and you’re this is the best way in other leagues like rec ball are inferior and I won’t get a scholarship that way and is just a bunch of hype so the travel people can make a lot of money charging parents thousands of dollars a year. It’s also beneficial for the Convention centers and hotels and restaurants because they make thousands of dollars off of these parents ripping them off. They don’t respect the Lord because they play on Sundays and take away from kids going to church and take away family time from parents instead of spending time together they’re sitting there watching one person play one sport. I think it’s a big money sucking rip off and one of the worst things this happened to American families. I’ve also seen tournaments were first place gets a big ribbon and trophy and second-place gets the same ribbon. How does that teach competition? Me myself my kids will never play on any travel team and the only ball I will chase is may be rec ball or school ball or church leagues and we won’t play on Sundays!

  18. Travel sports is ridiculous and it’s all about the money. I was beginning to think that “my thinking” was wrong because I just couldn’t see the value in travelling out of town for tournaments. It’s nice to know that Tom Brady and others have the same opinion. I’m amused at the number of parents that consider this “‘quality” family time. Seeing the “almost turned pro” coaches promote their academies and extras reminds me of the greasy used car salesman from a b rated movie. This is my last weekend away from home to play soccer and I know I may be an outcast when I tell the parents that this is the end of the line for me being fooled. I love seeing my boys playing and I push them to give 100% every minute they are wearing their jersey. I like seeing them humbled and heartbroken because I know their character is getting moulded. The lesson I’ll teach them now is “ Life is short, our time is precious and our resources have limits. Let’s think about how we use them.”

  19. Travel sports have their place, particularly in smaller towns where there may not be enough kids to play in recreation leagues and for those who want more competition. Also, it is a good fit for some families, as noted in these comments, who take the time to turn tournament weekends into vacations, and bond as a family as they travel to different locations and meet new people.

    However, the pressure, expenses, and the politics behind travel sports is a big life suck, also noted in these comments.
    I live in a city where recreation softball and baseball are pretty big and there is enough teams and competition to accommodate anyone who wants to play. But travel teams are big here too, and there is the belief that travel teams and players are better than recreation teams and players, and that is not always the case. Here’s why:
    The last two years, I’ve seen a big exodus of kids who’ve played travel ball for years, coming back to play recreation ball. This is due to a variety of reasons, including, but not limited to: Finances, burnout, and politics.
    Many of the recreation teams, in my area, have anywhere from 3-6 players per team who’ve played a signifiant amount of travel ball. So any given recreation team has a considerable amount of travel team ‘talent’.
    At the same time, I’ve seen about the same amount of kids leave recreation leagues for the travel teams. Those leaving for the travel teams tend to be mediocre, while many of the top notch kids remain with their recreation teams. Many kids who play on travel teams do so not because of their ability, but because their parents can pay the club fees and such. Therefore, a good number of kids on travel teams are really no better than many of the kids on the recreation teams. Also, I’ve seen travel teams form, then disband after only one season due to poor organization, disagreements among the coaches, and mismanagement of resources.

    With all this being said, kids who don’t play travel are not given a fair shake. When it comes to school sports, they may not make the team at all, or will not start if they do, or will not play varsity, depending on the varsity coach. Many of the parents of the travel team kids “schmooze” with the varsity coaches, and some travel kids do make comments to the recreation kids that their abilities are ‘sub par’ and they have to play travel if they want to be taken seriously. I’ve seen recreation kids, who have natural talent and abilities, play better than some of their travel team counterparts, and not make varsity. I’ve seen most kids who played travel made varsity, regardless of their abilities. Many of them just ride the bench and don’t get much playing time. But they do get the status of being on ‘Varsity’.

    Also, while many travel people love their travel teams, and feel like they are one big family, that is not always the case. Little clicks and bullying in the form of exclusion tend to happen from time to time on teams, be it school, recreation, or travel teams. But the affects can be harsher with a travel team. Get excluded from an outing or sleepover with one’s recreation team…it is easier to brush off, go home, watch some tv or hang out with a friend who is not affiliated with the team. But have a travel team exclude a team mate(s) from post game dinners, festivities, and the like, in another town…that can be a whole new level of torment.

    I have nothing against travel teams for the kids, and families, who want to do it. I just don’t like the pressure to try out/join a travel team due to the presumption that one must play travel to be be considered for a travel team And I definitely don’t like travel kids being favored over recreation league kids when it comes to school sports.

    It also makes little sense to me to drive miles and miles to practice across town, or in another town, on a travel team, when recreation teams have practices and games right in one’s own neighborhood or nearby locality.

  20. Pyramid Scam. Does this term ring a bell? Sadly it does for me after having kids participate in travel sports for a decade. I wish we had the time and money back and I wish we had focused on doing other things. Don’t get me wrong. Sports are important but not to the degree that we’ve crossed over from reality into sports fantasy.

    Once you join one of these travel soccer clubs you’ve sold your kid’s childhood over to people who are not really interested in your kid but are only interested in your money. It’s a sick system and it really reminds me of a cult-like mentality. And it’s hard to stop drinking the kool-aid. It’s hard to escape.

    You sign up and you pay for the year. Then you find out that this one’s kid and that one’s kid is getting private lessons from the club. Those kids start getting the picks and the perks. So you better sign up for privates too or you will fall behind.

    Next here come the extra tournaments. You got to participate in those too if you want your kid to retain their spot so you pay for that too. Oh wait though. Here’s the camp for this and for that. And you need speed and agility training too. And if you want to be on the elite team you need to do all of that.

    And you need to buy new jersey’s every year for $300 plus too.

    But there’s more. Next they start combining with other clubs and bringing in guest players. You watch kids whose parents have shelled out thousands see their kids sidelined for better p(l)aying parent’s kids now. So you got to pay some more to keep up with the Jones’. And the big-wigs and politicians their kids are playing and their parents are paying. Can you keep up?

    Then there’s super Y and there’s club academy. Send your kid to go train with an MLS academy now. More money. But if you don’t you will get bumped by someone who will.

    The fun’s gone. The money’s gone. I know people who rob their retirement to pay for a dream that’s in reality a nightmare but you’re hooked. You’re part of the club. You like rubbing elbow’s with the big-wigs. You like getting drunk with the other parents during the tournaments. Well the parents that are there. A bunch are off at another tournament somewhere else with the other kid(s). There’s some trouble on the horizon. So much for family time…

    What this all about? Is this what it’s supposed to be about? Will your marriage last? Will finances last? You probably have already paid out in travel ball what college would have cost? What about the wear and tear on your vehicle? Not to mention your marriage. Your soul. Your life.

    After all this is your kid getting the scholarship??? No.

    So what have you done? When you kid is 25 are they going to look at you and ask why did you do this to them? What couldn’t they have had a childhood?

    Why was it always soccer, soccer soccer?

    One positive from this mess with Covid was the travel soccer epiphany. We sat at home for an entire spring with no travel soccer. We found out what life was again. How nice it was not to be driving every weekend 3 hours here and 5 hours there. Not having to get up at 6 in some hotel to be on the field at 7. Having a coach from your organization you’ve never seen before coaching your team. In the cold of a March rain and snow. Only to play the game and go sit in the hotel until 3 or 4 to play another game. And then repeat the next day. Then drive back late. Get up early the next day to go to work and school. Homework over the weekend anyone?

    Free your mind, your wallet, your time, your family and your soul. Travel sports for the most part are not what they seem. Let it go. Just let it go and find your life again.

  21. As a parent/coach and “old schooler”, I always say we must be willing to adjust. As the world grows/changed, so does the things in it. My son played on a local team and then a travel team, he enjoyed the travel team more. I enjoyed it more because I watched the quay of coaching in both and saw greater on the travel team.

    I believe it all depends on the environment you are in and the program. I thought it was crazy to have have 2-3, possibly 4 football games that n a weekend until I saw it live; great experience. The organization we are associated with focus is on character building, family, and community and they use football. I have to truly credit the coaching staff, who coaches every kid and actually teach the game. So in making a sexy to participate locally or travel will all depend on the program and does it for with the kid and the family.

  22. Here is the Trouble with Travel Sports. 1.) It is medically proven that repetitive sports injuries are increasing due to athletes being required to focus on a single sport for an excessive amount of time during a year. 2.) Most athletes are multi-sport athletes, so Travel is canibalizing the athlete’s body. During baseball season, the athlete is going to baseball practice, but then going to 7v7 practice and after that Basketball practice. Giving none of the 3 sports a 100% capable athlete. 3.) Ask any Top Level Coach and they will agree that they prefer multi-sport athletes. Because the athlete is required to use different muscle groups, learn to play with different coaches and teammates. Even if the multi-sport athlete is behind in skill to the singular sport athlete, the coach still prefers the multi-sport athlete. Playing with the same teammates and coaches for years in a row does NOT build a better athlete. They become comfortable with their role and those of their teammates, and do not grow by having to learn additional skills. As a coach, parents are often confused on why we do not practice 1-2 days leading up to our biggest competitions, then I explain the rest the athlete’s body needs to perform at a peak level, and they still disagree….but after the athlete’s performance they see the incredible results, and buy-in while I have the athlete, but then go back to overworking the body when our season ends. Allow your athlete to become better, and minimize travel sports, and let the athletes focus on 1 sport at a time. Don’t punish your child with sports, allow them to enjoy sports! Athletes with great character and work ethic will Always succeed, without punishing them. Coaches – quit focusing on YOUR winning record and take an interest in what is best for the athlete!

  23. This was a good read and def hit in some of our beliefs. We have 3 kids 2 of which are girls and are naturally athletic and competitive. We gave avoided travel until now because at 13 and 11 most of their town league friends are in elite club teams and they feel left behind both socially and athletically. ALL of their friends are in very expensive club travel sports(cheerleading, soccer and fur mibebuts lacrosse) I don’t know if there’s much more wealth or if our friends are just going into debt paying for this. It’s just crazy but if we don’t have them this opportunity they gave NOTHING to do because once town teams end, $$$$$ club teams start and again absolutely nobody around. It’s very frustrating and difficult 😞

    1. Sorry that last post had many typos but the gist is: without putting your kids in a travel team you are isolating them from ALL of their friends and they then have nobody to hang with in the summer. It’s so sad. What do we do? Keep going into debt for our kids to have their relationships or stop them in the cycle of craziness in my opinion. They can’t just go out and play like we did in the 80s
      There’s nobody to play with EVERRRRR

  24. I have pondering this debate about community leagues vs travel.

    Background: we live in the Midwest, my son’s play lacrosse, lacrosse is currently not a sanctioned HS sport in my state, I have three kids (8, 12, 16).

    My oldest has played lacrosse since 5th grade and showed remarkable skill at an early age, far above the skill level of his peers. He often played up by two grade levels because of his skills and HE wanted better competition. He was asked to try out for a select travel team, he did, and he made the team. We have traveled over 10 hours for tournaments in both field and box lacrosse. He has played up two years in tournaments. He is not a big kid, but as a face off specialist with other abilities, he is sought after for our travel program.
    He is a great player, but by no means is he the greatest.

    He started varsity as a freshman for his HS team and received Rookie of the Year. To be honest he has no competition and without joining the travel team he would not have grown to where he is now. He would like to play in college but hasn’t determined if that means DI, DII, DIII, or NAIA.

    The travel team is not coached by dads but is owned and coached by ex-DI lacrosse players.

    My middle son also plays lacrosse, but he is not like my oldest. He is definitely a good player and is much better than his peers, yet he doesn’t have the drive, aggression, or work ethic as my oldest. So, we are reconsidering travel for him.
    My youngest is a girl and she is playing everything at the moment.

    So are travel teams worth it?

    I think it comes down to the kid and his/her abilities and work ethic. For my oldest, absolutely travel lacrosse is for him. His determination and abilities have flourished due to the travel program. Yes, it is expensive and hard on the family. We are often questioning the necessity of it all and then we see him play and we know that he would never get that competition, experience, joy, and growth if he simply plays for his HS.

    Will he get a scholarship or even be noticed by colleges? Lacrosse coaches do not watch my state’s HS games and would not travel to see one kid play against poor competition. So, it is necessary for us to travel to the east coast, play many tournaments, and participate in showcase/training sessions to understand how he stands against better players in his sport. We film everything and record his stats against top national programs so that we can share with college coaches when the time comes for recruitment.

    He did travel baseball for many years, and we only traveled 2-3 hours away max and had really good competition. For lacrosse, that doesn’t exist where we live.

    It does suck and is a financial burden, but there are very fun times, good memories, great team parents and kids, growth experiences, and he loves it. Plus, it is good to get your butt kicked now and again. Builds character, encourages growth, determines your fight, and humbles you.

  25. My son has been playing Hockey since age 5, like Tom Brady my memories were the same all sports organized by us kids really no parents ever involved! Everybody played, we had massive fun; don’t really remember any disputes except over a ball or strike; but that usually ended in a do over! Nobody really cared if you won or lost! Play enough you get to experience both. My son playing organized Travel hockey at 8 years old and the coach thinks it’s about winning nit teaching the fundamentals, sportsmanship and how to be a good teammate! I have a conversation with the coach and tell him I expect the above from hockey and if thats not what my son is going to get then we are in the wrong place! Fast forward u12 travel same nonsense, coach is only worried about winning at all cost! Instead of developing good hockey players! After all up till U16 it’s really developmental hockey! I talked to a younger coach ex d1 player and he said you know I won a lot of tournaments when I was 12 and I could not tell you where those metals are now! So that’s how much it really meant!

  26. In large part and for most kids, travel sports are a complete money grab and a means of parents living out their childhood dreams vicariosly through their kids or to be part of a weekend social club. No, your kid is not that good at sports to justify tying up his and your time all year long. Eventually he will burn out and hate the sport you’re forcing him to play. My kids are getting to the age (8-9) where this is starting to be discussed and I have to say I hate how parents and money grubbing travel leagues perpetuate a system that is not in the best interest of 95%+ of kids.

  27. Yes I agree with so many of your points. I am actually sitting in the parking lot of a youth sports basketball game wondering if we have made the right decision. My daughter has always played basketball with her high school teammates in the summer. Practices were close it was fairly inexpensive and she loved it!! She has access to our local gym and just loves to shoot and practice for hours. Quarantine was awesome…they just spent the whole afternoon shooting outside. Our HS coach suggested her freshman year to put her on a more elite team…we declined. That summer many of her friends just decided not to play so we decided the next year to have her join a team. We will travel hours and states away, she will spend less time in the gym and outside, it is more expensive, there are so many people on the team so less actual playing time (but against better competition), less time with my two younger kids. My child is not an investment but when you think about all those things I listed above it makes it seem so. I can’t decide if what we are doing is the right decision.

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