Parents whose kids are top-tier competitors [edited title]

Our own Snake Plissken has shared that his daughter is playing on the US National Volleyball team competing in the Pan Am games (way cool). His casual mention in response to how she got on the team was a bit abbreviated to say the least. I thought it may be fun for others who have kids that play a sport at a high level share their experiences with the good, the bad, the time, the expense, the travel, the friendships, the drama, etc. Mods, I hope you can keep this here rather than moving to the game room since it is more about a lifestyle choice (no, I wasn’t born this way) than about a specific sport or team and could easily apply to band, dance, etc families. I also didn’t want to make this an “Ask The” thread (although I’m happy to answer) as I don’t want it to just be about my experiences… I’m interested to see if what Snake has experienced in competitive Volleyball is as all like what I have experienced in competitive Soccer.

I’ll try to start off fairly brief (not) but I could easily fill a book.

I have three kids… a daughter (Jr. in HS), a son (Freshman in HS), and another son (8th grade). The two oldest both play soccer on a national level (not to be confused with the US National teams though) in that they travel all over the country to compete and are consistently ranked in the top 20 or higher in the national rankings (highest were 4th and 6th respectively). My son is training on a team that is a feeder program for the MLS. My youngest plays Lacrosse which isn’t as popular here in the Midwest so his is more regional, but they are one of the top teams in the Midwest and they make at least one trip a year to the East Coast to play the top teams there (they often kill us). I’ll start by focusing on my experience with my daughter although all have been pretty similar (Lacrosse though seems to be taken a bit less seriously though).

Anyway, my daughter started playing at age 4 on a team at the YMCA moved to another recreational league a few years later and started travel/club play at 10. Last year the club moved to a new sanctioning body/league (Elite Club National League) and as a new club we were put in the B division. Her team won the national title this year and have moved up to the A division. My daughter although very small is very fast and plays starting forward. Last year she verbally committed to play Division 1 NCAA soccer for a private University under full scholarship. There realistically isn’t a professional career to bank on, but fortunately she is also very bright and picked the school she did because of their pre-med program.

Travel… we go all over. We are from central Indiana and are fortunate that the top club in the State happens to be local. There are other kids who drive in 2+ hour three nights a week to practice/play with our club. Some places we have been in the past year (off the top of my head) include Raleigh NC, Denver CO, Orlando FL, Green Bay WI, Zarapeth (?) NJ, St Louis MO, and countless trips to surrounding states anywhere from 2 to 5 hours drive away. Add my soccer son and you get Memphis TN, Birmingham AL, Davenport IA, Green Bay (I got a twofer with my daughter on this one), St Louis (different time than my daughter), and again countless shorter trips. The youngest took us to Detroit (oh yeah, now that I think about it my other two were both there as well at different times), Baltimore MD, and Traverse City MI, and again shorter trips to Cincinnati, Columbus, and Chicago.

Cost… way more than I want to think about, but this is our “hobby”. Club fees average about $750 per season and team fees are maybe around $500 (these are per kid in soccer, Lacrosse is less). Uniforms are around $250 but we wear them two years. Equipment… around $100 a pair which last a year or so. (LAX gear is more initially but most lasts a long time) Then there is Gas, Airfare, Hotel, Food on the road, Charter Bus, etc. All adds up. Current estimate is around $5k (per kid per year). Much less for LAX and when they were younger.

Training… the teams usually practice 3 times/week during the season (there really isn’t an off season anymore for soccer) for around 1.5-2 hours per session. Almost everyone does some private training at least once a week as well.

People… this is where I could write a book. We have made some great and very close friends through these sports. I’ve met people I probably would never have crossed paths with otherwise. I’ve also met some great and not so great kids. Coaches who are wonderful and some who are nuts. Of course there are also the extreme “soccer moms” (not limited to females) who are absolutely nuts. This group for better or worse (mainly better) is our social circle now.

I think I’ve gone long enough but I’d love to hear other people’s stories and am curious if their experiences are similar. And yes, you are welcome to chime in that we are all nuts and are living through our children and turning them into something horrible. I frequently believe the nuts part, but my kids all have one simple rule… the day it stops being fun we quit.

Our experience is very much like yours. Athletics was a huge part of my wife’s and my youth. I spent alot of time playing catch with every concievable kind of ball with my 3 daughters from the time they could walk. I taught them the skills and rules for softball, soccer, football, basketball and hockey. We never forced them into any sport, but enrolled them in anything they wanted to try. They all started out with soccer and T-ball as soon as they were old enough. I believe part of the reason they were so successful was that they were prepared and knew what they were doing from day one. They dropped out of soccer after a couple years. Their main sports were softball and basketball.

My oldest discovered volleyball in the 6th grade. My wife played in college so she was pretty excited. She signed her up at Northern Lights which is the top club in the state. The schedule was very similar to Spuds. The fees were 5k a year which covered unis, instruction, and travel for the kids. We went to qualifier tournaments in Omaha, Orlando, and Denver every year. My daugher is 6’2 and made a splash immediately. This drew attention from every D1 coach in the country. My other daughters joined the club at the ages of 13 and 11.

All three of the kids have always played at least 2 sports. One was a swimmer, my oldest also played basketball and softball. My youngest plays softball as well. Like spud these activities pretty much became our social life. Its been a great way to set an example for the kids. In sports, you will always deal with parents that cant control themselves, horrid refereeing…etc. Through this, we have been able to teach them how to lose with dignity, and more importantly, win with class.

I was insanely proud when I first saw my kid wearing the maroon and gold. Her very first match was against Notre Dame. That moment cemented it in my head, that this was all worth it. My wife told me she couldnt hold back the tears when she first saw her wearing her countries flag on her uniform this week in her first international tournament.

I also didnt imagine a pro career for her, but she just signed a contract for a team in Japan. It is her plan to go to grad school, and keep playing with an eye on Rio for the 2016 Olympic games.

I don’t have kids…but I coached volleyball for three or four years. I ran a high school JV team, assisted on the varsity team, and coached club teams in the off season.

I was lucky enough to take a boys 16 and under team to Junior Olympics and take 3rd…and I took a girls 18 and under team to a national tournament (not JO…we didn’t qualify). It’s an amazing experience, and I know the kids and parents really enjoyed it.

Most of “my” parents were awesome. They drove anywhere…helped shag balls, run concessions…whatever I needed. And they were willing to get out of the way when I had to do my coaching thing. For the club people, they understood that all the girls were getting to practice, but winning doesn’t mean everyone plays equally. That’s not the type of club we were, and not what they wanted. (We did make sure people got playing time…but winning was important.)
One tip…if you have a 15 year old boy…and he goes to a national tournament in New Orleans…you might want to go along and make sure he behaves…

First of all, thanks for starting this - because this is the Dope and you expect nitpicking, I would recommend changing this thread’s title to “Ask the Parent Who Supports their Top-Tier Athlete Kids” or something.

*My *kids play Travel Soccer; my kids do *NOT *do what your kids do :wink:

Are you able to maintain other interests besides your kids’ sports? It hasn’t been an issue with us - our kids fit into the typical local-division type sports, so we have weekly practices and games, maybe a few hours a week - so the fact that my job is very demanding, I play guitar, read a lot and just need downtime in general (dammit) can work.

I don’t know any figure skaters, but hockey families seem to have it pretty tough, with very early practices, very late games, etc. But the ones that commit are like freakin’ Marines in their passion…

Changed thread title from “Travel athlete parents please share,” because I for one had no idea what a travel athlete was, also to make more inclusive, per the OP.

This is something I’ve always been curious about, when watching the parents in the stands at Olympic games — what have you gone through to get your kids here?

I am in no way in the position you all are in, but have a very small taste of it. My two teens are in a high-school band that is consistently the number 1 band in the state. They frequently travel to regional competitions, but are usually bested by bands that march year-around instead of just the fall. It’s a big jump from the small high-school were I was in a (pretty good) band 30 years ago. They practice all the time and there are fees out the wazoo.

I keep up with pretty much the same interests I had before… just not as much time for them. I love to cook, I try to keep my yard and house in reasonable shape (some may argue how successful I am in this category), and I’m a car guy so I like to tinker and get to a few shows a year. I’ve got the day off today and plan to take the two dogs on a hike in the woods somewhere.

As far as the kids other interests… similar to Snake, they all played other sports briefly… Tee-Ball, Football, Basketball (funny enough, my 5’0" daughter and not my much taller sons), swimming, martial arts, and cross country. Other than that my daughter for example is a class officer, is involved in some student leadership groups, and has a boyfriend… which is nice from a dad’s perspective that she doesn’t have too much time for. I was a musician when I was younger and I tried to pass that down but it just doesn’t seem to be in any of my kid’s genes.

The nice thing is once they get a bit older they hit a point where they take up less of my time. My daughter just walked by, said “bye” and took off to drive herself to practice. They also get to the point where you can put them on a bus/airplane and hear about the results without making the trip yourself. I keep dreaming about what my wife and I will do with all the extra time and money before too long.

Thanks for the title change… in my world there are two levels of sports: Rec (recreational - stays nearby) and Travel (Travels all over to compete). I forgot that wouldn’t be normal to others.

That’s really cool… I had no idea there was a pro women’s volleyball league. There is one in women’s soccer… everyone has heard of Mia Hamm, but other than the very top few it isn’t a great living. Around $20k would be a good salary. My daughter did mention recently though that if she is offered a contract she would like to play for a year between pre-med and med school. She decided the year couldn’t hurt and it would be really cool to say she played in the pros.

My interests are pretty much focused on my family and home. I was on a dead run from time I was 14 until I was 45 years old. I literally worked 60 to 80 hours a week. I’ve spent the last 3 years replacing and repairing joints I trashed in my youth. I’m just happy to see my kids doing well, and that I have a great marriage of 26 years.

I am sure you have stories about obsessive “stage mom” parents and such. How do you work to maintain your (and your kids’) perspectives?

When your kids are at the pinnacle of their sport, and you are helping them train/stick to their schedules, and they want to give up on that exercise, or that day or for a period of time, etc. - how do you know when it is time to let them take a break vs. making a point that this is the type of choice that separates champions from everyone else?

I struggle with this with my kids from an academic standpoint, which is where they excel…

These are great questions. Honestly, it isn’t my drive that pushes them, it is theirs. I really don’t care that much if they play or not, but I do care that if they convince me to invest a certain level of time and/or money that they follow through with it. My youngest played travel/club soccer for a year but it was clear that his heart wasn’t into it. We talked and he admitted he was doing it because that is what his older brother and sister did… and he thought he was supposed to. He then discovered Lacrosse and I can’t keep him away from it. If anything there are times I’d like to skip a practice and the kids tell me it isn’t an option. Now if they ever say they want so skip I have no problem letting them do so as they probably have a good reason.

An unfortunate side effect is they sometimes get to take breaks they don’t want to or expect to due to injuries. We are the sort that chooses to err on the side of caution. This is where your “stage mom” comment really hits home… I’ve actually heard parents say they don’t want to take their kid to the doctor because they know they will tell them they can’t play. This truly disgusts me. I would love to be able to say my kid played in the state championship for 14 year olds, but I’d much rather say that they could function normally when they are adults. My son got a concussion shortly before the state championship run. The doctor said he has told players they can’t play in the Super Bowl and he has no problem telling them they can’t play in a youth championship. I agreed with him 100%. Turns out he was released in time for the finals and went on to win the championship. Had we pressed it earlier, we may have had an easier time in the early rounds but it just isn’t worth it to us.

As far as keeping up with academics… this hasn’t been a problem. In fact, my kids are better students than I was. It really irritates my wife when my daughter doesn’t start her homework until late in the evening, but I keep reminding her that what she is doing seems to be working. She got mad yesterday when she got her SAT scores and ONLY got a 750 in math . Apparently it is something they appear to be born with because I’ll freely admit I’m lazy.

I had a great long screed typed out about my friend’s kids who are in regional level competitions for about five sports between the three of them, while being well balanced, academically confident and the driving force for their own achievement.

But really; What **Spud **said.

My eldest daughter did this in soccer. In Colorado, and I think in most of the country, competitive club soccer is a pyramid. The wide base are leagues in the “Challenge” category, the middle is “Classic” (with fewer teams), and the top is “Premier”. The very capstone is called “Elite”, which consists of one league of about ten teams. This league is composed of the 150 or so best players in the state. Within the different levels are tiers, e.g. Classic 2, which is below Classic 1, which is below Premier 2, etc. My kid started at a small club in Challenge at age 10 (that is the start of competitive soccer), was recruited to a much larger club at 13, where she made Premier 1. At 16 she made Elite. She was also on the state ODP player pool.

She had lots of letters from D1 schools, but no offers. They all wanted to see her play in the fall tournaments of her senior year in High School. She was below the highest tier of players - she was a back-up recruit in case one of the big schools lost a recruit they thought they were going to get. She had a number of D2 offers but the schools were small and not really close to home, and the offers were partial, while she was a top student and had already been accepted to the state’s flagship university.

Just before the fall club season was to start, she landed awkwardly on her right foot during an indoor game, and an MRI showed a torn ACL. That was it for club and high school soccer, and the end of contact from D1 schools.

During her rehab, we talked a lot about her future with the sport and about college. I was really torn - I wanted to see her sign a letter of intent and be on a college team, while on the other hand we are a family that takes education very seriously, and any of the D2 schools would be a huge step down in quality from CU, where she could always walk on. Within a few months, she decided on CU and the walk-on route. (Walk on means she is given every chance to make the team, but not on scholarship.)

In the first game of her high school final season, her coach worked out a deal with the opposing coach that she would dress and start the game, but only be on the field for a few seconds as the opposing team would take the kickoff and promptly kick it out of play, far away from her. Thus she earned her fourth letter. That game also saw our all-state goalie take a boot to the mouth, breaking her jaw and putting her out for the season, as well as another girl who had also had ACL surgery reinjure her knee , requiring a second surgery. It wasn’t too much later that she told me that she was just going to give up the competitive game and focus on her studies in college. She is now a junior majoring in geology, and I couldn’t be prouder. A club teammate is a goalie for the Buffs, and both last year and this said that the CU coach agreed to give her a private tryout for the team, but she turned it down both times.

Was it a tragedy? No, she made all the decisions and this is what she wanted. She just finished a geology lab that had her in the mountains twice a week mapping something or other, and she simply wouldn’t have been able to take that class if she were playing. They don’t offer the class in spring due to snow.

Story aside, a few notes.

Soccer is a very rough game, especially for girls. Injuries are a given. My daughter broke her arm, tore the ACL, and had three concussions (in three different years.)

High school soccer is meaningless in terms of college recruiting, as it is in many sports. Club is all that matters. Top tournaments like Surf Cup in San Diego and the Dallas Cup in Texas are swarming with college coaches. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one at a high school game. Many top players will not even play HS after their sophomore year due to club commitments and the risk of injury.

It is expensive. I think our fees between coaching, club dues, and tournament fees ran close to $2K. Travel is just as expensive, if not worse. A typical out of state tournament with one parent and child attending would run $600 for airfare and $500 for lodging and food. There would be three of these a typical year. That said, it wasn’t a hardship for us, and we loved to see her play. It was also probably a lot less than if she was into horses or a number of other pastimes.

We were lucky to have a mostly drama-free team and group of parents, which I would say is not typical. Our club had their own tournament, and I volunteered as a field monitor, which basically means picking up trash, keeping dogs away from the field, and giving the officials water at halftime. I had to help restrain a coach from physically attacking a female referee, no more than 17 years old, in a U-12 game. U-12!

Someone asked upthread about parents pressuring the kids to play. Some do, clearly, but few that I encountered. My kid would make me drive her to practice in heavy snow just in case it wasn’t snowing at the practice facility 10 miles away. She* lived* for the game. My eldest is 5’3" and 120 lbs, and her sister (HS sophomore) is 5’7" and still growing. She just finished her volleyball season in HS. She has all the athletic ability of her older sister, and showed it by playing on the freshman team last year (never having played volleyball before), starting this year on the sophomore team, being moved to JV a few games into the season, and finishing the last six games on Varsity. But she’ll never sniff a college scholarship. She has none of the internal drive and tenacity her sister has. There are very few, if any, top athletes who get by on talent alone. They have something extra that makes them excel. Call it drive, desire, whatever. It exists, and they have it.

A applaud your decision. Education should always be the first and foremost. Unfortunately we have some girls/families in our club who don’t get this. If they aren’t playing for North Carolina they aren’t doing something right. There are some great D3 schools, but unfortunately they have no athletic money.

This is a huge thing that people outside of the environment don’t know. My daughters High School team is ranked number 1 nationally in the coaching poll, and are playing in the semi-state tomorrow.People locally who aren’t involved keep telling me this should be huge in getting her recruited… they don’t know that this already happened over a year ago. We occasionally get a coach or two from the area… good schools like Purdue, Notre Dame, and IU for a game. The club team however goes to a showcase and we easily have 50 or more top coaches at a game.

This is also one of my biggest conflicts. My daughter’s team won the region 2 USYSL championship at U13, meaning that they beat the state champions from 13 other states. She and some other team mates wore their championship jackets to school and nobody noticed. She made the 7th grade second basketball team and she was announced at school, everyone was giving her high 5’s and her locker was decorated. For High School, she has her picture and is quoted/mentioned in the paper almost every week. People congratulate her all the time on a win against a nearby team, but have no idea that she won a national title a few months earlier. I mentioned earlier that my son trains with a feeder team for the MLS… there is talk that they won’t let them play High School starting next year so they can continue to train at the higher level. There is no question that the training/competition is much better than at High School, but I’m not sure I want to give up the peer recognition they get from High School play.

Yeah, I wish I could say this. Once the recruiting kicked in the crazy factor for some people kicked into overdrive.

I’m very happy that my kids club makes high school play a priority. I was very proud to rep my school, and I’m happy that my kids feel the same way.