Your child tells you she wants to try out for a travel sports team. Before saying yes, it’s important that you realize just what you are getting yourself into.
There are a lot of positives about having your child play on a travel team, be it soccer, basketball, baseball, softball, football, hockey or any other sport. They will most likely make great friends, have plenty of fun and improve their skills.
But it is not just a commitment for your child; it is a commitment for you — and even for other members of the family.
If your child is asked to try out for a travel team, and if he makes the team, it’s a nice accomplishment. If means someone feels she has the ability to play at higher than the recreational level, and you undoubtedly will feel a sense of pride. And that’s when the fun begins.
Expectations are much higher with a travel program. There will often be several practices a week, and your child is expected to be at the practice site on time and until the end. That means arriving early so your child is ready to practice at the assigned time, dressed for practice with cleats on and equipment handy.
Practices can be scheduled any time or place, especially for hockey, where the lack of facilities will sometimes lead to an early-morning or late-night session.
Depending on the location of the league, you will need to leave the Island for the games. You and your child must be ready to leave well before game time. You will be expected to be at the field an hour or so prior to the game, and since you will need to travel at least one hour to reach the field, you will need to leave the Island at least two hours before the start of the game.
Your holiday weekends? Forget about barbecues or family gatherings. Expect to spend Memorial Day, Labor Day, Fourth of July or other weekends with your “new family” at a tournament in another state.
And while the seasons will have beginnings and endings, travel doesn’t end. It’s a year-round commitment in many cases, since there’s probably always a tournament somewhere.
Travel coaches expect a full commitment. Your child probably can play other sports — as long as the other games and practices don’t interfere with the travel team’s. Have a championship basketball game when there is travel soccer practice? Your child will be expected to be at soccer practice, unless the coach is willing to bend.
This has led to more children specializing in just one sport, something many experts lament. The three-sport athlete has become a rare occurrence.
Playing on a travel team can also be pricey. Between registration, uniforms, equipment, your part of the trainer’s fee and tournament fees, many teams may require you to put up $1,000 a year. The sport and the age group also impact the total — and that’s not counting the cost of gas, tolls, meals on the road and hotel fees during tournaments.
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Many travel teams don’t promise playing time, so you could be making this commitment even though your child could play very little if he or she isn’t a starter. You may disagree with the coach regarding your child’s role. It may not matter.
Your child will benefit from practices and the advanced training, and will undoubtedly improve as a player and benefit in other ways. Still, this may not be enough for some parents.
Don’t let the pride you feel in your child turn to worship. Some parents of travel players fall into the trap of catering inappropriately to their children; their kids were selected to be on the team and are now “stars.” Big mistake.
Travel sports are an opportunity to teach your son or daughter responsibility. Make them in charge of making sure they have their equipment and water, and make them carry their equipment to the field. You are not their servant. You are their parent.
The travel experience can be fun and rewarding. Your child will be part of something that will improve his or her self-esteem, will have fun and might even make lifelong friends. Chances are, you will also develop good friendships with other parents.
Knowing what to expect and the potential pitfalls before saying yes to the opportunity will help keep the experience a pleasant one.
Joe LoVerde coached youth sports on Staten Island for nearly 40 years. He’s also a longtime newspaper editor and sportswriter.