Buzby: Look before you leap into youth travel sports

jonbuzby@hotmail.comNovember 3, 2013 

The fall youth sports season is quickly winding down, which means if you are the parent of a child currently playing in a casual or recreation league, if you haven't been approached about playing on a travel team in the spring, you will be soon -- either by your child or a coach.

It used to be that the only athletes who played on travel teams were the stars. Today, if you are willing to put the time and money into it, there's a travel team out there for anyone regardless of ability.

Too often parents get sucked into the trap of thinking their children have to play travel sports if they want them to become really good. So, parents eagerly sign kids up, write the check -- the first of many, by the way -- and enter into an entirely different world.

I have two suggestions as you ponder this decision: First, talk to some parents on the team you are considering; and second, think about joining a less serious travel team before launching into one involving extensive travel.

Get opinions

There's no better expert on the life of a parent involved in travel sports than the parents themselves. So before signing on the dotted line, be sure to talk to a current parent on the team your child is interested in joining.

Do yourself a favor and talk to two sets of parents -- one with a lot of travel experience and one who just finished their first season. The veteran parents are already hooked on travel sports and you'll hear nothing but the positives. The rookie might be more willing to share the actual cost, time commitment, and other negatives that aren't in the fine print.

The alternative

My niece is currently playing on a travel team and the best part is that the actual travel is just to nearby towns. And by nearby, I mean less than 30 minutes.

There are no overnight trips involved and because of the proximity of the games, meals can still be eaten at home. Food is one of those expenses parents don't consider when joining a travel team, until they look under the restaurant line item on their credit card bill and lose their appetite.

This "in between" league allows the family to experience a bigger commitment (two practices per week and sometimes two games on the weekend) than the typical recreation team (one practice and a game).

What a lot of parents find after one year of travel sports at any level is that the player has no interest in any more of a commitment than the casual travel team, and in some cases, he or she chooses to go back to playing at the recreation level.

I have nothing against serious travel sports. My son played two of them for several years. I just know from experience the commitment to them is greater than most people think.

So do some research, and take a small step before a big one, if you can.

Contact columnist Jon Buzby at JonBuzby@hotmail.com and follow him @YouthSportsBuzz on Twitter.

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