If you have a child playing baseball in today times you certainly understand about the explosive growth of so-called “independent” or “AAU” travel teams and leagues. Travel ball could be a gratifying experience for your child and for the entire family, but opting for the right travel baseball team includes many things.
Think about the travel team’s mission. I strongly support independent baseball if the team’s mission is to offer athletes an environment in which to develop the skills they will play at the high school and college level. Frequently, I have seen teams whose primary goal is to win trophies, games and titles. Because they are not devoted to creating a system and program with long-term goals, players and parents become such and disillusioned teams end up quickly disbanding. On deck batter
The most effective teams have written mission statements which prove that the team is committed to training and player development; present clear rules codes of conduct for parents and players; and establish practice and game expectations for players and coaches. Select a team that is committed to educating the whole child in athletics, including athletic values, nutrition, leadership, and athleticism skills.
More notably, seek out a team that actually delivers on that commitment in my 25 years of coaching; I have found that while most teams are good at talking the talk about these values at the beginning of the season, very, very few walk the walk by delivering on its promises during the season.
Think about the commitment of time that will be required, either yours or your child’s. Independent teams require total parent participation. A parent “not involved” or not entering into some way on the team is usually unacceptable.
Ask yourself and your family whether you can handle the fatigue that constant weekend travel, late weekday nights and the extra demands on your time are likely to cause your family.
If you are considering starting an independent team be prepared to make a time commitment equal to or more demanding than that required by a serious part-time job.
Consider the cost, which can range from as little as $500 to as much as $6,000 per year, not including travel expenses for motels, food, gas and tolls. The number one reason so many independent teams fold is that they don’t represent good value.
Ask if it might make more sense (and cost fewer cents) for your child to continue playing in a “house” or local program but support his training with private instruction.
Who will be coaching your child? Many independent teams nowadays employ excellent coaches who are not dads of team players. Good travel teams have several talented, informed, and compassionate coaches. Head coaches must act as CEO’s not committee chairmen. Vision, drive and the pursuit of excellence are absolutely required characteristics. It has been my direct experience that a number of the most innovative teaching coaches today opt to coach travel teams. Many prefer this environment to coaching in the school system. Players who are the players? Most teams have and are created with friends or local all-star teams who desire to play at a higher level of competition. That is why many do not have tryouts. They produce invitations. 25% of all players are not in the 99th percentile. Half of some towns’ all-star teams can’t qualify for elite playing status. Be very clear as to the actual talent standard that teams use.
How many players on the team? I strongly believe that travel teams carry too few players on the roster.
I would love to see fewer teams with more players that have the organizational and financial stability to last longer.
Tired arms, limited pitching depth, family conflicts and vacations, boredom and the lack of the necessary commitment can put a team in a bad predicament if it has to play 8 games in four days in July. College teams who play 50-60 game schedules have 28-35 players.
Too much, too soon
Safeguard your child’s health. Most players 10-11 years old have no concept of the physical stamina and conditioning that is required to play at an elite level. As we always observe combining house and travel team schedules can be and has been dangerous to a child’s health.
Pitchers’ throwing schedules should not be based on the ability to play in two different leagues with different rules for innings pitched. The pitcher’s total weekly pitch strength, count and rest conditioning between appearances are the sole considerations for play.
Exhibit Teams/Exposure Camps
Many young age-group teams are formed to showcase individual talent. This only matters for sophomores and juniors in high school that would like to play college ball. PERIOD.
College showcase teams fall into two categories, non-profit and for-profit. Good consumer practices should be observed. The most suitable policy is to look for several referrals from last year’s team parents.
Exposure camps also might be tricky. Ask what universities were represented at last year’s event. Pass it by if these guys refuse to tell you. It is a waste of money, time, and precious energy to attend a camp if the schools your child is interested in attending will not be represented.