Each year millions of families across America are faced with the big sport decision of whether to sign up for a recreation or travel team. On the surface this decision may not seem like a big deal, but drilling deeper there are many potential consequences to consider. Specifically, differences in sport competition, fees and costs, travel (duration and distance), and number of games played are factors every sports family will need to weigh before picking a league for their child.
When it comes to selecting the type of sports league for your child keep in mind it’s not a “one size fits all” decision. Some kids with lesser talent may not be a good fit for travel leagues; conversely, more talented student athletes may find recreational leagues detrimental to their future sport skills growth. Practically speaking, this means a lesser talented student athlete risks being overwhelmed (and possibly even a greater risk for injury) playing over his head in a travel league, and an otherwise potentially talented student athletes might not see her potential reached playing in a less intense sport system.
Travel sports leagues can be intense, both with on-field expectations as well as the numerous commitments families make in both travel and spending concessions. At the same time, student athletes who love playing their sport (and have potential to excel in the sport) can make exponential gains in their athletic abilities by playing under talented coaches and against equally talented student athletes. Additional pros and cons of travel leagues include:
- A precursor to college sports with respect to the seriousness of competition
- Opportunities to play against the best competition
- Opportunities to travel to parts of the country one might not otherwise
- Can be expensive when including travel and equipment costs
- Kids run a greater risk for sports burnout stemming from the high volume of games and practices
- Greater risk for injury from playing so many games
Kids who participate in recreation leagues play fewer games, play against more modest competition, and typically don’t travel very far (if at all) to play games. For many kids this kind of a balanced sports schedule provides exactly what they want with respect to intensity, and leaves time after to engage on various other kid activities and interests. On the other hand, kids with a great interest in a particular sport and who show potential talent may find themselves held back by playing against lesser competition and fewer games. Other pros and cons to consider:
- Most kids enjoy playing recreation sports, and find the more moderate schedule beneficial by allowing time for other life activities
- Kids risk less burnout by playing a balanced sports schedule
- Kids risk fewer injuries playing fewer games
- Recreation leagues are sometimes coached by adults with little, if any, experience in the sport they are coaching
- The lighter schedule may pose problems for kids who aren’t ready for travel sports, but still want to play more than what rec leagues offer
- In some communities playing rec sports early in life may limit later, more competitive opportunities if kids fall behind their peers who played travel sports
Deciding on the type of sports league for your kid is a big decision and should not be taken lightly. Sit down as a family, list out all the pros and cons relating to the decision, and listen closely to your child’s opinions as he or she will be most impacted through the experience.
What factors do you take into consideration when making this decision? If you have experienced either of these types of sport leagues, what advice can you share?