Baseball traveling teams, or “Travel Ball” as it is commonly referred to, has a lot of positives and negatives. I often get a lot of questions from parents who have athletes anywhere from 9 years old to 18 years old. The most common question is: Should I sign my child up for Travel Ball? My answer (which I’m sure you’re hoping for a simple one) is yes and no. After reading that you may be thinking to yourself, “Wow, thanks for the help.” or “Can’t you just decide yes or no?” To which I answer, “You’re welcome!” and “No.” Here’s why.
Travel Ball for baseball started some 20 years ago but didn’t become what it is today until about 10 years ago. At the time it was a great idea, right? Get the best players from local areas to play on one team and go compete around the country to play against the best competition you can find. Families pay a good chunk of money to get their sons or daughters to compete at the highest level, college recruiters go and watch, and the chances of earning a scholarship went up. It was a great idea for athletes and also a great business idea. You often hear that baseball is a business. While that is most definitely true at the professional level, it most certainly shouldn’t be at the youth level. Unfortunately, that is what Travel Ball has become: a business venture for people looking to make money by selling parents and athletes on the idea that if they play for your team, they will play college baseball.
Now organizations and coaches will tell you that if you want to make your high school team, you have to play with them. Most all of that is utter nonsense. There are some teams that have great coaches who truly care about teaching the game and thrive on helping players reach the next level, in respect to his or her current age. But to the majority, it’s simply a paycheck. It is doing what most of us do; go to work each day, try to do a good job, but mainly doing what we have to in order to continue getting paid. Now in the business world, people can get promoted for doing a good job. In the Travel Ball world, promotions don’t exist.
So what now for these coaches? Suddenly you’re paying not only for playing on their team, but you’re paying them for private instruction. And parents do that for two reasons. One; my child does need some extra instruction so I’m willing to pay for it, and Two; If I pay the coach for private instruction then my kid will play. The latter of the two is simply ridiculous but unfortunately true more often than not. I’m sure I’ll get criticized by coaches for my opinion but oh well. But the reality is I’ve done both sides. I’ve played on travel teams and I’ve coached travel teams. I’ve played college baseball and I’ve coached college baseball. I understand both sides completely.
I do think private instruction is good and I do think playing travel ball is good. Hey, I personally still give private baseball lessons because I enjoy making athletes better and it’s also good money on the side. I’m no saint in this. I’m a capitalist just like most Americans. I’m just being honest about the whole travel ball idea. Like I said, I coached travel ball. I will never again coach a travel ball team because I don’t agree with what it has become: a business. Young athletes are told that they have to commit year round, living and breathing baseball. Now I don’t know about you, but when I was young I wanted to play every sport. I played 4 sports year round and that made me into a better overall athlete. This is something I will get into another time as I believe young athletes are now limiting their athletic potential. But back to my point. When you make baseball into a business, you tend to not care as much about the players learning the game. The coach is there to write the lineup card, manage the game, and then talk about the results after. Teaching kids about the game has gone out the window.
The main problem with baseball becoming a business is everyone thinks they can do it. So now you have a lot of parents thinking they can make money by putting together a travel team. And they are right. They CAN make money, but they are organizers now. They find tournaments, sign up, find hotels, places to eat, etc. They are called paid coaches but more like paid organizers. It’s now a job, not a passion, and as a result the kids are not actually being taught about the game the way they should. Now don’t get me wrong, there really are a ton of great coaches out there. What I’m saying is that there might be 10 different travel organizations in your very own city and the coaching expertise has now been watered down. It’s not fair to the kids or to the parents who spend thousands of dollars each year because they are told you have no choice. Again, this is all just my opinion but it’s not coming out of left field.
I have been on all sides and have seen and heard most everything regarding travel ball. And with that, I guess it’s time to explain my answer of yes and no in regards to travel ball. I’ll break it down into two separate paragraphs. One will explain yes and one will explain no. Yes. Playing travel ball is a good thing because it gives athletes a chance to travel to different cities and give them a new experience. It is also a good thing because they will be exposed to coaches who have played at a higher level and most have a good understanding of the game. If the team your child is on is a very competitive team, it is extremely good because they will be playing against the best around the country. That will give them an honest idea of how good they truly are. No. Playing travel ball can be a waste of time and money. It is expensive to play travel ball. Not only are you paying what could be thousands of dollars to be on the team, you’re then paying thousands of dollars for travel costs each year. Plane flights, hotels, rental cars, food, etc. Not to mention it’s a waste of a weekend. You travel somewhere to play 4-5 games and go home. There is no instruction because they tournament operators have to keep the games moving. Coaches tell you that the only way to get better is to play. And I agree 100%. But the only way to learn and get better is to have multiple practices where the team is going over the mistakes made at each game and then apply what they’ve learned into future games.
Unfortunately, most kids aren’t learning the game anymore. They are being told to get some extra instruction (which you pay for) and that’s how they’ll get better. And extra instruction is a good thing. I just think that it should be included in the overall costs when playing for a travel team. One other thing is that you may be playing on a team that just isn’t very good. What’s the point of going to a tournament every weekend and getting smoked? It just ruins a player’s confidence.
The other thing about travel ball is that it can take up the majority of your time. There is no need to play baseball year round starting at the age of 8-9. Kids need to play multiple sports in order to develop skills that improve their overall athleticism. So to recap, it is good to play on a travel team to gain playing experience and exposure. However, it is over-hyped in terms of making people believe it is a requirement in order to play at the next level.
The bottom line is; if you’re good enough, colleges will find you. No matter where you are, if you have the ability to compete at the next level, you will be found. I’ll talk more about the idea of being “Found” in a later post.