When you first start playing fastpitch softball, whether in recreational/little league or high school, usually the initial idea is to just play. No one cares about much else except getting better at the basics and just enjoying that process. Then you hit a ceiling. There are others who have surpassed you by leaps and bounds, making the all-star team or moving up to Varsity, and you come to find out that they have been playing year-round on a travel softball team. You figure you want to get as good as them so you ask…..
What is a travel softball team?
This loaded question will get you many responses depending on the experiences had by each individual player and/or family. However, taking out any bias one way or another, a travel softball team is made up of a group of student-athletes from different areas that have teamed up to play in more competitive games to either increase their rate of improvement or to get recruited by a college.
If you don’t have interest in either improving dramatically or playing in college then do not join a travel team. The expectations and work ethic on most of these teams is meant to mirror a college level program. As such the amount of time and dedication needed to keep up with the practice and game schedules, as well as the cost of playing on these teams, is not worth it.
If you are sure you want the challenge that being on a travel team will give you then there is one more thing you must understand. Playing travel softball, or any club/travel sport, is very expensive! The cost of games, tournaments, hotels, gas, food, equipment, etc. can rack up pretty quick. And the coaches are no longer volunteering their time to teach your daughter basic skills. The coaches at this level take coaching seriously and have added responsibilities of creating a network to help promote their athletes to college recruiters.
The expense varies from program to program and even team to team. There is no set rule for how much you will spend. A monthly ‘due’ that helps pay for the coaches time and various smaller tournaments/games is common and can range from $100 – $300 per month if not more! That does not usually include the initial ‘start-up fee’ of purchasing the teams uniform(s), bat bag, helmet, cleats, and so on. Again, this cost varies.
To avoid having a negative experience in the world of travel softball you’ll need to do your homework. You’ll also have to be completely honest with yourself and your (or your athletes) abilities. Again, most travel teams are not meant to help you learn the basics. From day one you should be able to get on that field and play with the potential athleticism of a college athlete. A travel coach is not required to give anyone playing time. A travel coach is not required to teach you (or your athlete) the basics.
Basically travel softball coaches are not required to do anything!
Your homework, therefore, is to research teams by talking to other athletes, coaches, parents, umpires….anyone involved in the travel softball arena. Find out which coaches will be a good fit for you and your family. You will be spending a lot of time with the people involved with any travel team, so ensure you like the vibe the team you join gives off.
How do you know which team is right?
Go watch them play at a local game or tournament without them knowing you are looking to join. In fact try to be as inconspicuous as possible. Notice the parents demeanor, the athletes confidence (or lack of), witness the coaching style. Try to figure out if this is a team you think you can see yourself being a part of. If so, talk to the coach and schedule a tryout.
Every team handles tryouts differently. Some are one-on-one and others have big groups of athletes. Either way you should be prepared! Your skills are on full display as well as your emotional control (both parents and athlete). This is where the coach evaluates whether or not he can best help you reach your goals. This is also another moment to figure out if the team is still a good fit for your family, so take it all in.
From this point on you have many personal decisions you have to make. The more honest you are with yourself, your abilities, your time-commitment, your finances, the better off you will be no matter what team you are on.
Lastly….big organizations versus small organizations.
In trying to find a team you will come across the ‘big names’ is the travel softball world. While I will let you form your own opinion about each understand that travel softball has grown, whether good or bad, into a business. As such there are brands, and with brands come knock-offs.
Then you have your smaller organizations/teams. Usually these teams have a parent of one of the athletes coaching the team. This brings in the possibility of favoritism and, when this amount of money is involved, could cause issues when it comes down to who will the coach be pushing for more?
My opinion? Get the coach, not the team name, that fits best for you. I have known coaches who have daughters on teams who do things the right way. I have seen the benefits of being a part of the bigger organizations. I have also seen the negatives of both. With a solid plan and a honest assessment of your unique needs you will make the right decision for you.