With the proliferation of travel teams in many sports, finding the best fit for your young athlete has become almost as much of a challenge as competing on the field. Interviews with experts in a variety of related fields allowed our Journal News/lohud sports team to craft six key points to consider when picking a travel team.
1. Find the right coach. The coach should make learning and fun top priorities, and understand your child has commitments outside the lines. As your child becomes more advanced, his or her coach should have the knowledge base to help a high-level athlete improve.
2. Set a budget. Costs to participate with some travel or club programs can run from $2,000 to as much as $20,000. It adds up quickly, and travel costs are rarely included in the sticker price.
“Maybe 1 or 2 percent are going to get that money back from a partial scholarship,” Yorktown athletic director Fio Nardone said. “When it’s all said and done and you add all that money up, I’m not sure it’s the way to go.”
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3. Prepare for the time commitment. Some club teams compete year-round. Most take full advantage of summer vacation, so expect to find your lawn chair on a sideline rather than a beach. Realize that the other parents and kids will become your family’s social circle.
4. Be a smart consumer. Your kid will want the $400 bat used by the cleanup hitter. There’s peer pressure on parents to spend money on the newest equipment, but do your research first. That money may be better spent on strength or skill training — or saved for a new glove.
“It’s a parent’s money on the table a lot of the time,” said Karl Erickson, a faculty member in the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports at Michigan State University. “It’s definitely a piece of the puzzle we need to understand. We need to look at why parents are making these decisions in the first place. They don’t want to be seen in the community as limiting their kid.”
5. Stay out of the way. After sitting through private lessons, practices and games, parents consider themselves experts. They’re not. Have all your discussions about playing time before the season and avoid criticism of other players, coaches and officials on the car ride home.
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6. Remember: Your child is not as good as you think. There are roughly 35,000 high schools in this country alone. Even if your son or daughter is the best athlete at his or her school, he or she has lots of competition.
“Parents drive everything,” North Rockland athletic director Joe Casarella said. “It could be a father who played a certain sport who feels like he has a great background in it, or a mom who sees that the neighbor’s two kids are doing well and they got scholarships. But they were 6-foot-3 and her child’s 5-foot-2.”
ABOUT THE PROJECT: Journal News/lohud sports writers Josh Thomson and Mike Dougherty, along with photojournalist John Meore, fanned out this past spring and summer to investigate the growing world of youth sports in the Lower Hudson Valley for this series, Pay to Play.