Often as parents, we are confronted with some tough decisions regarding our children and their participation in youth sports. One of the most debated decisions for some is to choose between playing baseball for a “recreational league” or a “Travel League” or both.
Before you read on, please keep in mind the views expressed in this letter serve only as a tool of reference and are not necessarily the only point of view on all there is to know about "Travel Baseball" or the “Travel phenomenon”.
As in every other youth sport, Baseball is no exception to the “Travel Team” alternative. If you ask around, I’m sure you will find that each and every sport that is available for your child to play; there is an opportunity for your child to play on an age appropriate “Travel Team”. In order to help families decide what is best for their children and their family, our organization hopes this letter will help shed light on some of the differences between the two programs.
Travel Baseball is, by its design, an avenue where select local, regional, or even national travel baseball teams are formed at specific age levels (7u, 8u, 9u, 10u, 11u, etc) to allow players normally close in age or the same age, to compete against like aged players. For example, 8 year olds play against 8 year olds, 10 year olds play against 10 year olds, etc, etc, etc. Unlike "recreational leagues", for example, that combine 10-, 11-, and 12-year-olds on a single team, travel players are limited to a single age group. Playing on a Travel Team designed to allow players to compete against other Travel players, at the same age or close in age, offers many advantages for any player that chooses to play Travel Baseball. One of the advantages that Travel Ball has over most “recreational leagues” is that it solves the combination player age dynamic by pairing players that are similar in age, physical maturity, and skill level. This advantage provides Travel programs and their players with more consistent and much more competitive play. Another advantage is Travel Baseball Clubs teach and play in leagues that require their players to play games for the most part under the guidance of MLB rules, with minor exceptions, (No collisions are allowed in some leagues, substitution rules are relaxed, and safety of players is priority #1). Playing by rules that mimic MLB, especially at an early age, will provide your child with the tools and instincts he or she will need to excel and grow as a player. One of the big advantages here is lead-offs (50-70 program or above) and stealing, and defending against the same.
As you can probably surmise, Travel Ball is an entirely different game from your traditional recreation or Little League game. Most recreational leagues have unequal skilled players playing with each other. The fact that there are 9 quality players always on the field, all the time, allows the travel players to compete, excel, and depend on each other more so than a recreational team. Another difference is Travel Players have to earn playing time, which is a great life lesson. In addition, there are no minimum playing time rules, except for playoff eligibility. The advantage here is that Travel players face the top competition available so each player’s abilities will be challenged and tested, which without question will in the long and short term help to accelerate and develop their skills. Travel teams are primarily comprised of All-Star caliber players within a specific age group that wish to compete at a higher level or “the next level” of play.
Parents all over the country are realizing that stepping up to “the next level” of play can’t be accomplished solely by relying on “recreational leagues” alone. The greatest disadvantage to travel baseball, as in anything that is worth doing is that it requires great sacrifice, both monetarily and time-wise. However, it is an investment. Travel baseball prepares players for playing baseball at “the next level”, whether that means middle school, high school, college, or professional. It’s like anything else, you are preparing your child for the future, and as any parent knows, preparation is the key to future success.
Travel ball has and will continue to be a stepping stone for players who would like to hone their skills, in order to attain their future goals of making a middle school, high school, college and even a professional team. Having similar skilled players practicing and playing together for a number of years offers the consistency and the competitiveness that America's pastime demands. One distinct quality that travel programs have over “recreational leagues” is that Travel team managers and coaches are usually comprised of either paid professionals or in most cases volunteer parents that were former players in high school, college, or even the pros. In addition, most travel teams/clubs are exactly like recreational leagues, you must pay-to-play; however, some organizations, like the Outlaws Travel Baseball Club are non-profit youth organizations that provide every opportunity for their players offset the nornmal expeditures associated with travel ball!! This is accomplished by attaining corporate sponsorships, grants, and team fund-raising to off-set registration fees, tournament fees, equipment, and uniform costs.
As described above, under the “recreational league” model, children ages 10 can be playing with children as old as 12. Now on the surface this may not seem that drastic; however, physically an average 12 year old baseball player with moderate baseball skills should and most times will dominate some of the best 10 year olds. Thus, one of the more distinctly important differences of “recreation leagues” verses “Travel Ball” is the skill level. Skill levels of "recreational leagues" have been and will continue to be a mix of skilled and lesser skilled players. This skill mixture can create many potential issues within the "recreational league" ranks. One very serious issue is safety. Safety in any sport is always priority number one for any youth organization; however, without fail, year over year, in recreational leagues better skilled players are paired up with a player of lesser skill during warm-ups, drills, or even prior to or during games. This inevitably leads to senseless injuries because the lesser skilled, less physically mature, player just can’t protect him or herself. Another issue that occurs more than one might think is that the better skilled players are overlooked as knowing what they are doing and do not get the same much needed attention and reps as lesser skilled players. Some parents have ventured to state that in some circumstances this lack of instruction, the gap in skill and know-how of both recreational players and coaches, and the gap in physical maturity of the players are the number one reasons why many families decide to forgo playing in traditional leagues and primarily play travel baseball. Thus over the past 5 to 7 years there has been a mass departure from the traditional leagues format of attaining proper instruction, developing the proper techniques, and acquiring the skill sets necessary to compete at “the next level”. This departure, without question, is because of what the Travel Baseball phenomena has to offer.
Some might say, "Travel Baseball is not for everyone" and after reading some of the information above I'm sure you would agree that this statement without question is very true. However, if you are one of the people that feels that travel baseball might be something you would like to experience, than you must understand some additional fundamental differences between your typical recreation league and travel baseball clubs.
Travel Baseball is considered by its design to be a higher level of competition and a forum for some players to compete against some of the best local, regional, and national competition. Ideally, travel coaches would like for each parent to clearly understand the differences between "recreational" and "travel" baseball prior to deciding if the travel forum is best suited for them as a family.
“Travel baseball” demands a big commitment from players and their families. Vacations and other family activities normally take a back seat as parents priorities shift to accommodate practice schedules, fundraising events, and games in the extreme cases could be across state lines and even the country. Some communities are responding with travel programs of their own, like the Outlaws Travel Baseball Club that complement, rather than overshadow, local play. These programs also ease the burden on players and families by scheduling fewer games than independent travel teams and keeping the travel circuit smaller and closer to home.
Again, unlike “recreational leagues”, travel baseball does not guarantee equal playing time for every player on the team. Playing time is ultimately the coach’s discretion which is usually based on a combination of factors: Attitude, Work Ethic, Knowledge of the game, Performance, and a players commitment to their teammates and team. Thus, players must earn playing time, earn their spot in the batting order, and earn their position on the field by performing at a high level during both practices and games. As everyone knows, baseball is a team sport, so every position is very critical to the success of the team. That being said, travel players will be put in positions that are best suited for them to best help the team.
"Travel Ball" offers the same ideals, core principals, and life lesson learning experiences as "recreational leagues"; however, what most people don't realize is that with "travel baseball" one of the major differences is that players are no longer sheltered from the possibility of failure or lack of participation. Travel baseball players will be compared and evaluated against his/her peers.
As stated above, each player will now have to compete for a spot on a team’s roster, much like the environment that players would experience if trying out for their mid school, high school, or any other organized baseball club.
Most adults are familiar with the simpler days of the past, when everyone went to their recreational league, and signed up their child, for the upcoming season. A few days after registration and a tryout, the child nervously awaits the first call from his coach, letting him know the name of the team that eventually selected him. After, the child happily anticipates receiving his new uniform and what it might look like. Soon after he would go on to his first practice and finally meet his new teammates. Unbeknownst to "Little Johnny", this entire process, (under a recreational environment), is designed to create equal participation and to eliminate as many chances for failure or disappointment as humanly possible. In essence, their child is going to play regardless, since Mom or Dad has already paid the league registration fee. Nowadays, a new opportunity exists which wasn't available, in the "olden days". "Travel Baseball", has now become an attractive idea that has become almost a "prestigious" entity! I'm sure many of you often hear about proud parents having discussions about their "Little Johnny", who is now a travel baseball player and how proud they are to be part of their respective clubs.
Ultimately, all of us as parents want what's best for our children and parents don't ever want to see their children fail or experience disappointment! After all Baseball, as we all know, is supposed to be a fun sport! However, if parents continue to make things easy for their children and continue to only expose them to the local egalitarian environment offered by "recreational leagues" than without realizing it they might be doing more harm than good to their "little Johnny". As previously stated, Travel baseball’s greatest advantage is fielding the most competitive team possible that allow players to improve their abilities through age appropriate high-level competition. If you would like to experience “the next level” register online to become a Berkeley Outlaw.