I’ve read articles and personally heard comments criticizing youth “travel” teams or tournament teams. Statements like “clubs are getting rich off youth sports” or “you have to play on these teams to get exposure”. In general it seems, like a lot of things, what one hears most is criticism. Sure, there are some organizations motivated more by money than the love of the game and take advantage of some players and parents. There are also some naive parents that have been misled or are uninformed. It’s a slippery slope to get sucked in. So let’s be clear. There will be no pot of gold (in the form of a big scholarship) in return for the investment in sports travel. Other critics include rec coaches and program directors that feel travel programs threaten their survival and the health of the sport. And yes, it can be financially challenging.
Those are the stories that make headlines and impressions. But, it’s not all bad. Here’s my take on the upside.
I have six children playing sports and the older half of the gang play on competitive teams that sometimes play out of the region. In the last 14 months at least one parent and player has been to Baltimore, Washington D.C., Orlando, Las Vegas, Palm Springs, Los Angeles, Houston, Shreveport, Austin, New Orleans, Denver, and Vail. Philadelphia and Richmond are coming up. To some, this must sound completely crazy. Actually, now that I have written the list, maybe I am crazy. Note to self.
However, consider this. With a family of 8, we cannot take the classic American family vacation; 8 plane tickets and a week at Disney or Washington D.C or Yellowstone every summer, or the ski trip at Spring Break. Every time we are out of town with the whole gang we need two hotel rooms or a house or condo. Next time you are planning a vacation, also plan to take your neighbor’s family and pay their whole way. That’s what it’s like economically.
Sports have provided my family and I exposure to a country and culture we otherwise might not have. Some trips are just one parent and one player if it requires air travel and occurs during the school year. On those we always stay an extra day for tourism. Yes, it’s too bad that not all the kids have been to Universal Studios, jumped in the Pacific Ocean, seen the White House, or the spectacle of Las Vegas. And it’s too bad we haven’t all done it as a family, but each of us is getting to experience things that otherwise might not be possible.
Other trips that can be reached by car, often the whole family goes if there are no other conflicts. The last two summers we spent 10 days in Denver and Vail as our family vacation while attending two tournaments. We rented a condo at an off-season rate and had a great time riding bikes, seeing sites, and just hanging out in the Rockies. In a recent school project one of my daughters indicated “Colorado” as her favorite place to go. Had her older sister not played there, she wouldn’t know anything about Colorado.
Financially, it can be tough. I’m always envious of the parents that are sales professionals with a bank of hotel points and air miles that can participate for little expense. Most parents need to get creative, plan ahead, and look for deals, or sign up for rewards programs to make it work. Other ideas include “volunteering” to add some value to the program. Possibly serving as a statistician or videographer or event manager, which might be rewarded with a discount on team fees.
Regardless of each person’s situation, do it for the right reasons. The kid is first and sports should be fun. There are plenty of stories of bad experiences. Like I mentioned; that’s what makes news. I have my kids on teams where their teammates are their best friends and they connect with their coaches who are also very important people in their lives. I wouldn’t spend money on anything otherwise. Also, don’t forget the other parents. There’s always “that one” mom or dad, but ideally one wants to be surrounded by other families they feel comfortable with and enjoy. If these dynamics aren’t in place don’t spend hard earned money being chewed out on the field and left out at the team dinners.
I read an article several months ago by noted speaker and author John O’Sullivan that included this paragraph about our broken youth sports system:
This system sucks. It sucks for parents, many of whom do not have the time and resources to keep one child in such a system, never mind multiple athletes. There are no more family trips or dinners, no time or money to take a vacation. It causes parents untold stress and anxiety, as they are made to feel guilty by coaches and their peers if they don’t step in line with everyone else. “You are cheating your kid out of a scholarship” they are told, “They may never get this chance again.”
Yes, our system does have some (or a lot) of problems. His article covers a number of issues and my snippet is largely taken out of context to his theme. The part I’m trying to emphasize is sports can be all “go go go” and “money money money”. Capitalize on opportunities to bring your family together, not ruin the experience. It doesn’t last long. The bottom line is “travel teams” and playing out of town can be a great experience if you have your “why” in check, the kids love their teammates, they love the game, and they play for fun. There are no strings attached and no expectations. So do it for the right reasons. See the country. Have some fun.