travel teams and youth sports in general

So I have a kid in little league and I’m very involved. He’s pretty good, if I do say so myself.

Our team is undefeated in our local little league and several travel teams come by our practice to talk to parents and try to recruit them to their travel team. Some require a complete commitment and you have to leave little league because you can’t do both. Other will work with the little league schedule and basically just jump around from tournament to tournament but they eventually transition these kids into full time travel team status. These travel teams act like joining their travel team will give these kids an edge in college admissions, they talk about their relationship with U Va and Georgetown, etc.

Our little league is about $150/season or $300/year (expensive as little leagues go). Travel baseball runs into the thousands per year.

I am trying to keep our team together but we keep losing kids one at a time to travel teams. Did I mention they’re 8 years old?

They asked my wife how serious we are about baseball and pretty much badmouth local little league as bush league. My wife thinks that 3 nights a week is already too much, they want 5 nights a week plus about $2000 over the course of a year plus camps, clinics and personal training that sounds like it can build up to at least twice that.

I keep telling these parents that their kids ought to do different sports in different seasons but there is this push for specialization at fucking 8 YEARS OLD!?!?! Parents feel like their kid is falling behind or something. Its like baseball is part of their resume or something. And these travel teams seem to prey on these fears that their kids are going to get left behind somehow if they don’t specialize in a single sport when they are still in elementary school. WTF!?!?!

The end result is that the little league gets leeched of about most of its best players and that means there isn’t enough of a concentration of good players to make it really competitive and it ends up turning into a bush league. This is the curse of living in a higher income area, a few thousand bucks is well within everyone’s budget and it can attract coaches that played professionally but in the end 90% of the kids are never going to play past high school… about the same as you get in less affluent places where the local little league is the only game in town.

Sure there is a place for travel teams to concentrate the best players in an area to play at a higher level with teams that are concentrated from another area that is far away, but these travel teams seem to play the vast majority of their games against other travel teams that are within an hour or so of each other. That’s only a slight improvement on the local little league geographic boundaries. There are so many goddam travel teams in the area that they don’t have to actually travel to play a game.

Travel teams give parents something else to brag about.

My niece’s son is 10 and is playing in a state championship soccer game this Sunday at 9:30 am. That is stupid.

My brother, the kids grandfather is a church pastor. Guess where he will be on a Sunday morning, not at a soccer game.

And then complain about it in the next sentence.

From what I’ve seen, having a child on a traveling sports team takes up as much of a family’s resources as having a child with severe autism, cancer, Down Syndrome, etc. No, I am not exaggerating.

Don’t get me wrong. There is a place for travel teams but when you are trying to recruit HALF of a local little league team, you are just looking for decent players that won’t embarrass themselves and can pay the freight, you are not creating a team that can travel and challenge the best players in other places. I would put our little league all star tournament team ahead of most travel teams that recruit from our little league.

Before these travel teams started dropping by, things like college preferences were probably in some dim dark corner of the parents’ consciousness. They knew sports could help but their kids in a generic sense but these travel teams are laying out roadmaps to Princeton and how their travel team can get them there. Its Nucking Futz but it preys on hopes and fears and these parents are smart people and they are falling for it.

Even rec teams are infested with bad parents and coaches who take the game far too seriously and don’t follow league rules. Note to the adults: it’s not about you.

So…you are pitting the competition for your kids teammates? What do you propose that there only be one avenue for kids baseball in your area and it should be your league? The parents are free to decide what they want to do.

Let your kid enjoy the game. Listen to your own advice and realize that it’s the team camaraderie that’s the most important thing, whoever’s on the team.

you have pretty much summed up my thoughts.

  1. I am very skeptical that an 8-year-old child can be accurately identified as a legitimately baseball prospect, even projecting out to the age of twelve. At that age a child who is simply stronger, faster and more coordinated than another child will dominate any sport, even if in the long run it may prove that their athletic aptitude is not specifically suited to baseball. There will be a huge difference just between 8-years olds born towards the beginning of the eligibility year and ones born at the end.

  2. I wholeheartedly agree that it is best for a child’s athletic development to play many different sports, a fact that in fact is amply demonstrated at higher levels of baseball, or any sport, really. Even if your kid becomes a legit prospect, scouts are leery of young men who only play one sport. It’s a point of suspicion.

  3. They’re eight. A schedule of the likes you describe is likely to burn out most little kids.

So many Little League parents are convinced their little sweet pea is the next Mike Trout and scams like these prey on their fears. Trust me in the 500,000ish-1 chance your little precious is talented enough to cash in as a major leaguer or 100,000-1 chance he’s scholarship material, scouts will find him.
Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

I don’t think there is genuine competition for the talent of my kid’s teammates. I think there is competition for the thousands of dollars that travel teams charge the parents of these teammates. With a little encouragement, a parent can get visions of college preferences or even scholarships dancing in their heads. Parents can do whatever they want but they are getting pitched by the travel teams and I don’t think travel teams make any sort of sense for an 8 year old.

These kids are all pretty good but IMO its too early to tell who will even be good enough to play in high school varsity.

They’re going from 3 events a week in the Spring and Fall to 5 events a week plus summer baseball camps, private coaching which basically turns baseball into his life. I don’t think that is a good way to get kids to enjoy the game.

The travel teams talk about the higher level of competition among travel teams and frankly its probably true but only because the travel teams have leeched the local league of many of its better players. There would be more than adequate levels of competition at the local league level if half the good players didn’t leave for travel teams.

There is certainly a place for travel teams, particularly for the 13 and 14 year olds (little league is not very good around here after 12 yo) to keep the kids into the game until they get to high school. But, every year they keep digging deeper and deeper into the pool and now they are recruiting 8 year olds.

Well, the odds are not really THAT bad. Something like 5% of high school varsity baseball players will play in college. It may not mean a scholarship but about half of those will be recruited athletes which means they got into a better school than they might otherwise have gotten into. About 10% of college players get drafted into the minor league. About 5% of minor leaguers will play major league ball they draft 1500 players to the minor league EVERY YEAR and there are only 700 players in the major league where careers can last decades.

So there is only a 1 in 4000 chance that your kid will play in major league baseball but there is maybe a 1 in 40 chance that your kid will be a recruited athlete if he makes your high school varsity team, the chances are higher if your local high school has a phenomenal baseball program and regularly makes it to the state championship or something, our local high school are not like that. Its really not something you want to hang your hat on but its not impossible.

I also don’t think these are scams per se, they are trying to grab talent earlier and earlier because kids tend to stay with their travel team and by the time they are 13, there is a top tier travel squad on the travel team and maybe a second, third, etc tier squad. All paying full freight and supporting the travel team organization, but only one of them is the “real” travel team. The coaches are frequently former professional minor leaguers, local school coaches, etc.

It’s not nearly that high. The number of kids who start playing baseball in a given years in the United States, where the OP resides, is hard to figure but 1.5 million is presently a decent guess. The number of Americans who will debut in the major leagues this year is… fifty? Something like that. The ratio is rather grim.

On top of that, most people who play big league ball do so for very short stints and make so little money from it that they’d have been better off doing something else.

Youth baseball involvement in the USA is declining, and the semi-professionalization of it is one of the reasons why.

That’s not exactly right: how good of a school might they have gotten into might be very different if they hadn’t been playing ball (or lifting weights/whatever in the off season) 20 hrs a week starting at 8.

For an eight year old playing baseball, paying that kind of money is ridiculous, and depending on what you mean by “travel” it is absurd. You can get good coaching and competition in baseball, basketball, or football locally just about anywhere. If you’re talking about lacrosse, soccer, volleyball or hockey (not Canada or the northern tier of US states) then you have to travel to get good qualified coaching which is very important for development of young kids. Still, that involves travelling 30 miles to a club team’s home field for games and practices. Out of state tournaments are a waste of money unless you’re on a top-tier team and have great players. The top tournaments (where the college coaches are) require you to apply and your team’s resume is scoured and if you measure up you get invited.

11 or 12 is not unreasonable, though. You’ll know by then if your kid as a chance in hell of advancing past high school ball. If not, you’re just subsidizing someone else’s kid’s chances. Still not “travel” though. Out of state travel is for a) a once a year reward for the kids or b) a necessary thing for the very very best 15 or 16 year olds with a real chance at a college scholarship.

I should have said 1 in 4000 high school varsity players will make it to the major league. I figured one in 20 minor leaguers would see the major league but you are saying its more like 1 in 30 which makes it 1 in 6000 high school varsity ball players will see the major league. The average varsity team has something like 15 players. So something like one player out of every 400 highs school teams each year will see a player end up playing in the major league.

I never thought of that but I think you may be right. Its one thing to have a travel team that is basically the unofficial all star team of different age ranges but we really shouldn’t have travel teams for kids under 12 or so. It pushes the game towards niche status.

Parents, don’t worry about your kid not getting enough of a particular sport. They’ll get sick of it in a few years and take up hackysack and skateboarding.

And y’know what? They’ll still get into college, or go off and do something amazing without it. My kid who was a devout swimmer is now playing Ultimate Frisbee while in an Ivy League grad school, and the kid who played baseball is much happier as a skateboarder (and not any of this X-Sports Try To Get Sponsored stuff, just Skatin Fo’ Fun).

Gymnastics. My 12-year-old is a competitive gymnast. Has been since she was six. We travel all around the south for meets. Hundreds of dollars per month, thousands per year.

But she’s done this year. She’s had enough. She’s in great shape - which is the goal - but she’s done with it.

But I see the coaches - at her gym and others - recruit kids for the team who should just be working out and getting some exercise and doing their homework. Kids who will never finish top 100 in any real meet. But it pays the bills, I suppose.

As for the scholarship thing? If they put the $200+ per month into a standard, no-frills 529 plan the kid would go straight into school and have her bills paid. 18 years of savings will get the job done pretty efficiently.

Gymnastics is kinda a special case among special cases. Not only do you have to travel to measure yourself against the best, if you’re not on the National Team radar at 12, you’re pretty much done. College is still a possibility, but even those athletes were top tier as early teens. That sport requires intense individualized training that is damn near a full time job. The best in the world peak at 16 or 17. I’m so glad my kids chose team sports.

An imaginary town has a meeting in the early spring to find out how many kids want to play baseball. Once they have a number, they decide how many teams they need, and whether they need to buy more helmets and other protective equipment, and bats, and new balls, and whether there’s enough left over to mow the field, and so forth. A couple times a week, everybody drives to the field, and the kids run down there while everybody else stays well back, opening picnic baskets and visiting, but ready to drive somebody to the hospital if a hard slide results in a broken leg. On the field, the kids choose up sides, the way they always have, even picking an umpire (he’s the kid they may not always like but everybody trusts–you know him? I do) and pretty soon the game starts. After a while the game is over, and some of them won and some of them lost, and nobody cares because it’s time for dinner and their adversaries this week will be their teammates next week, and ice cream trumps all.

This post brought to you by the year 1969 and Tang[sup]TM[/sup].