SportsProf

(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.

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Wednesday, November 03, 2010

More on Travel Sports: How (and Why) Do People Do It?

My daughter came home the other day from school having completed her season. She was (somewhat) pleased with the results, although her team's overall record belied an unfortunate skid near the end of the season. Her team got off to a great start, but, unfortunately, it didn't improve all that much over the course of the season. In the end, all of the games were close, but the losses stemmed more from self-inflicted wounds than the other team's having outplayed them. All that said, she was feeling pretty good about things.

Then she gets word that to put herself in the best position to play at the next level, she should play "travel." In this case, the closest team is 40 miles away (tough traffic to boot, but I would suggest that any travel to get you 40 miles is tough), and that would require two practices a week and games on the weekend. As my daughter offered, "How could that be possible for us to do? There's homework, there's our family, there's having a life."

She's a pretty smart young teenager.

I've addressed at some length the "why," and what I haven't reported on was a visit my wife made to a forum held locally a month ago about how to pay for college. The speaker told the audience that almost no one gets into schools for their athletic ability or gets money to do so. Of course, some people do, but it's a precious few who are that fortunate. That said, let's examine some reasons for making a big travel commitment:

1. Your kid is that good, transcendently so, and might have a shot at playing in college.
2. Your kid loves the sport, it's her top priority extracurricularly, and, it's a good way to occupy free time (as opposed to posting about favorite hair bands on Facebook). And, to boot, the travel to practice is ten minutes each way and the travel schedule doesn't involve more than a mile's drive.
3. Your kid doesn't love the sport, but mom or dad has a compelling reason a) to make the kid into a top-notch athlete or b) mom or dad has a compelling reason to coach an elite team. (Note to all parents: be very careful about who you let coach your child. You might not love all of the teachers in your school district, but presumably they get vetted carefully before they're hired and many of them know how to teach at an age-appropriate level; you really don't know what training and talents a travel coach has, and your kid will be spending much more time with a travel coach than almost any school teacher).
4. You are ever hopeful that despite being born short and slow and with bad hand-eye coordination your child will have mutated genes that will enable him to throw a fastball 98 miles an hour or hit one that bends at 82 miles an hour. So, you buy the best equipment, hire coaches, get your kids on teams and push and push because you want your kid to be a Major Leaguer, a pro or to get that elusive college scholarship and you think that despite all the odds, your kid just might be the one.
5. In addition to the above, you have the time to do so and won't drag unsuspecting, innocent, less athletic kids along and turning them into all-day spectators and what has to be for a kid or kids who need to be active a dreadful experience of following and watching and not being the priority. Also, your kid gets to play with kids that she or he likes (and, perhaps year after year, although where I live kids tend to migrate from team to team year after year because of various opportunities and political situations that seem to manifest themselves all the time).

Hopefully, you can select 1 or 2 and 5, but not 3 or 4.

As for the how, that's what I have trouble figuring out. We have very busy lives, we want our kids to be well-rounded, but unless we can have a kid play on a local team, we don't have the time to be able to drive the distances that people tend to drive to take the kids to practice and then to games. So, here are some proposed alternatives for the "how" part of the equation:

1. You're one of those top 1/10 of 1% income people who has a chaffeur who can take your kids from place to place.

2. You're one of those top 1% income people who has a nanny or au pair who can take your kids from place to place.

3. You have a lot of relatives nearby (aunts, uncles, young, retired grandparents) who are very happy to take your kids from place to place.

4. You have a bunch of good neighbors who are happy to take your kids with their kids (particularly if your kids are polite or are otherwise good influences) and not ask for much in return other than money for gas and food (and you can provide the Harry & David gift basket at holiday time).

5. You have a flexible work schedule that enables you to carpool with similarly situated parents of teammates and therefore not have to drive all the time.

6. You have a flexible work schedule that enables you to do all of the driving.

7. You have a very willing, non-working spouse who either is the coach, loves the sport, is a devoted parent or an outright martyr who will do the driving because, well, it's his/her duty.

8. You maximize all of your vacation time at work, have an understanding boss and somehow make it all work.

9. You're nuts.

10. You have an only child so you and your spouse can play a zone defense and divide up the driving and the vacation time from work you need to use up and/or you have local family who can help.

So, as for the "how", some of it is outright exhausting and almost impossible to make work. Some of the combinations of the "why" and "how" can describe different parenting styles, from devoted and loving to obsessed and deranged to devoted and loving and obsessed and deranged to "well, everyone else does it, so I have to also" to "I go along with the herd and don't think about the consequences" to "I think it's great" to any combination of the above.

For most people, this paradigm doesn't make sense, at least to me. It takes away from community (and for those so inclined, it isn't "green" because it involves a lot of driving and use of gasoline), it can overschedule kids, it can cause repetitive motion injuries and it isn't always for the kids, among other things. Where people get into trouble is where they are "wannabes," and the devotion/obsession/commitment/reasoned respect for travel sports can attract those who fuel themselves with the (false) hope that their kid can be the one. And then it's an opiate, promulgated by grown men and women who want to coach because, well, they want a championship team and by equipment companies who will always make a fortune selling the better bat, better glove, better training aid to that parent who thinks that the extra piece of equipment could turn a lightbulb on in Johnny or Brianna, make them eligible for showcase camps and interest from colleges.

For the elite playes, "travel" makes sense in many ways. The kids need to play against the best competition to improve, to show the evaluators that they're worthy, to get recruited, to get invited to the showcase tournaments. But most kids don't qualify. That's a hard thing for parents to admit, but perhaps no harder than for a parent to say, the feeding frenzy that compels dragging along a family, paying four figures, getting up at 5 a.m. on weekends, is lunacy, even if many others are doing it. It's hard not to follow the herd, even when it's bound to be disappointed.

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