In today’s world, you will see so many parents sharing stories about their young athletes playing in travel programs of a variety of different sports all over your social media feed. This might have you feeling pressured about putting your own child into travel sports, but it’s important to understand the basics of youth travel sports leagues as well the pros and cons of travel sports in general.
If you are only familiar with your local recreational league, this is going to be a lot of information to take in. We all know that it’s important for our kids to have daily physical activity and to find a sense of purpose, but travel sports teams are definitely in a league of their own!
What Are Travel Sports?
Travel sports are the best way to get your child accustomed to high-level sports. With the rise of travel teams in all sports, there is no shortage of teams available if you are willing to live a lifestyle that revolves around travel tournaments, private lessons, and other factors that go into making elite teams.
While joining a travel league might not make or break whether or not your student athlete makes their high school team, they do seem to play a factor in opportunities beyond that. Let’s look at some of the pros and cons of travel sports.
Pros and Cons of Travel Sports
As with all things in life, there are pros and cons to traveling sports. Being aware of each side of the coin is important when making your decision of whether or not this is something that will work for your child and your family.
- Learn what hard work looks like at the highest level
- Life skills such as teamwork, leadership, communication, and dedication
- Widens your network of contacts with college coaches and teams
- More one-on-one coaching at your child’s skill level to encourage player development
- Have fun while also challenging yourself by competing with other elite-level athletes
- Good sportsmanship, even when the stakes are very high
- Team play to utilize all of the different skill sets on your team
Now that we have looked at some of the pros, let’s also consider some of the cons that come with travel sports.
- Depending on the league, you might be signing up for a year-round commitment
- Traveling long distances for tournaments
- Risk of injury and burn-out from playing more frequently
- Costs of signing up for the team, uniforms, hotel rooms, equipment, and any other related fees
- The time commitment for the entire family, can end up taking away family vacations and other events, especially if you have multiple children
- Increased pressure on your kid to perform at a high level all of the time
Different Goals for Different Ages
Now that we have talked about what travel sports are and the most general pros and cons, it’s time to dig more into what you should be looking for, depending on your child’s age and skill level. You wouldn’t expect a high school senior and a third grader to have the same goals at the same time.
First of all, you want your child to have a great experience when it comes to trying different sports for the first time. Young players are still learning and developing, and when they first start out, it should simply be because they want to have fun and play.
As they grow and develop, you can then move on to more specifics, such as learning the fundamentals necessary in each sport, working on building specific tactics and strategies, and continuing to increase their knowledge and level of play.
Club teams are a great way to take the next step once your child really shows interest and love for a specific sport. This will put them in with some of the best players in the area and also with a high-level coaching staff.
As your journey progresses, be sure and listen to your child as their interests and goals might change as they go along. Sometimes even very talented players can lose their fire for the game, and you have to make sure you are still doing this for them and not for yourself.
Best Age to Start Travel Sports
While there isn’t a specific number of when is the best time for your child to move up from rec league play to a competitive travel team, there are some parameters that seem to work the best overall.
Typically around middle school or ages 12-14 is when young people have shown to have the maturity, and physical ability to do well at a higher level of play with better players in their sport.
You will definitely want to take the time to try and find the best team that is a good fit for your child, as travel coaches can often make or break their spirits when it comes to the large amount of time they will spend together.
It’s easy to get caught up in a race for a college scholarship or other outside factors, but travel teams offer a lot more than that for yourself and your student-athlete. You will build relationships with the coaches and other families due to all of the time spent together through the years. You will experience adversity and other emotional moments together, building character in your athlete along the way that can turn into some essential life skills moving forward.
If you are thinking about starting your child on a travel sports team and are looking for other parents to talk to, we encourage you to start a conversation in our forums! We know that this journey can be a bit overwhelming, and it’s always encouraging to hear from others that are on the same path!