Think Twice About Travel Teams
Your kid is a pretty good little athlete, and you're thinking you ought to move him up to a higher level of coaching and competition-that is, a travel team. Should you do it?
Hard to find 20 years ago, travel teams are now a fast-growing part of the youth sports scene. Kids as young as 8 travel across state lines to play hockey games or compete in basketball tournaments; even travel teams that are locally focused may spend an entire weekend at a tournament 50 miles away.
Sure, the pressure is there: Parents may be told that if their children want to make the high school soccer team, they had better start travel ball at the age of 10. And to make the 10-year-old team, they need to start travel ball at age 8.
But while there is no doubt that a season or two of travel ball-with paid coaches, twice-a-week practices, and travel to play the best teams-can make your child a better youth player, there is a lot less evidence that he or she will continue improving rapidly. Or that it will lead to a college scholarship. Indeed, the odds are stacked against you: One sports institute found that, of about 87,000 seniors playing basketball in high school, only 1,560 won scholarships to Division I colleges.
The downside is worth considering. Your child may not succeed at tryouts. Can she handle being cut? And, if she does make the team, she may ride the bench. In the competitive leagues, only the best athletes play the most.
Then there are the threats of injury and burnout. Orthopedists report an alarming increase in youth sports injuries, especially from repetitive actions like throwing a baseball. Burnout is a real concern to coaches-some kids who have played intensively since age 10 are just flat-out tired of the sport.
Last, there is the toll on family life. Alvin Rosenfeld, a child and adolescent psychologist in New York, cites figures claiming that in the past 20 years, while structured sports time has doubled, unstructured play time has shrunk by 50 percent, family dinners by 33 percent, and family vacations by 28 percent. The cause, he says, is "hyperparenting." The answer? "You have to let kids be kids."
This story appears in the December 25, 2006 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.