The connections and friendships created by youth travel teams may be a game changer.
I have noticed a considerable amount of articles discussing the horrors of summer travel teams for kids’ sports. I have noticed them mostly because I am a coach of a summer travel basketball team. It seems that every travel team believes that they are the best in the nation – even though their realm of play is at best, limited. Our team is named after a sponsor (Team MAC), but the joke is that we are going to change our names next year to the Prestigious, Elite, Select, Premiere Hoop-Stars.
I have to admit that most of the articles have some pretty good points about the perils of extreme travel ball while offering only a limited upside. The fraction of kids who get their college paid for is miniscule and an even smaller portion of those go on to the pros. So why spend hours and hours of your summer (okay, year round) pushing your adolescent athlete to excel while risking burn-out, injury, and financial ruin?
Truthfully, I have been asking myself similar questions. However, I also have had some more selfish questions running through my head. Why am I spending all this time organizing fund-raisers, choosing tournaments, making travel plans, and let’s not forget – coaching teenage girls voluntarily? Is it for the glory? Well, not exactly …
Here’s the thing, we are not what you would consider a great team. We win occasionally, but not a lot. We are from a rural part of Ohio and not all that close to any significant sized city. Our players come from schools with enrollments generally less than 100 per class. We absolutely ask the best players from the area to play with us – and the vast majority of them do. But, we struggle to compete with the large city teams. When I say struggle to compete, I mean we get stomped on.
Not only do we have a smaller pool of potential players, but because the schools are so small all of our girls are at least two sport athletes with most playing three. During the summer we are competing for their time with volleyball, softball, soccer, running, and swimming. We generally lose to the school teams when it comes to the “time game”. We practice when we can with the players who can attend. Getting the kids to the tournaments is our main goal.
After a few recent appalling losses to teams who have the girls who get the full-ride scholarships to top-tier colleges, I sat down with my daughter and asked her if she really wants to keep doing this. I explained to her that it is doubtful we will ever be competitive against teams from Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Indianapolis, or Detroit (all our recent losses). After all, if I was playing on a team that was getting clobbered, I’m not sure that I would want to keep going.
Her response took me by surprise. “But you said we had a lot of great moments and that we are getting better with every game. You can’t stop doing this, we love it! Please keep doing this until I’m out of high school… Please!!!” My daughter has no misconceptions about the likelihood of playing at the next level – and neither do her teammates. They love to play the game and see that they are getting better with each game played, but the real reason they want to play is the connections they are making with their teammates. The friendships they have formed would have been unlikely otherwise.
I believe that our lives are all about the connections we make. Because these girls are from very small schools, it is rare to find classmates who share their same passion for athletics. Reaching out to neighboring schools has opened up their resources. It is so fun to go to my daughter’s regular season games and see the kids that play on our travel team. It is incredible to see the true camaraderie cross the rivalry lines – as evidenced by all the selfies these kids take together wearing opposing uniforms.
As of this last weekend, we are officially done with our travel season. I was able to talk to most of the girls after the last game to see if they were interested in continuing in the program – they all responded with a resounding “Yes!” I guess I am in this for three more years.