LOCAL BALL OR TRAVEL BALL?
By Marc Philip Agar
August 26, 2021
This topic gets people riled up and vocal. Do I really need to travel to have my children play ball? Well, it depends.
Summertime ball, commonly known as travel ball, evolved out of the need to get one’s older children known and seen by college recruiters and professional scouts. Depending on your purpose for traveling out of your region and state, there are good arguments on both sides of the issue. I will conclude, however, that the advantages of traveling to play ball will probably at some point outweigh the disadvantages.
IS THE CHILD-ATHLETE GOOD ENOUGH TO STAY HOME?
Some may argue that a parent does more good for their child by keeping them home in the summer than traveling to play elsewhere. That argument is generally generated by a local coach who typically runs a hometown team. This same coach is often one of the coaches at the high school. Coaches have several well-founded and well-intentioned purposes for wanting your child to remain at home.
For one, it keeps all the local team kids together and they can continue to build chemistry and develop together. This approach is often used for kids who have not reached high school yet, but are approaching high school age. The idea is for coaches to work with the kids and the team using their structured, proven and preferred methods to help instruct and raise their individual skills to the next level. Some of these team members may ultimately be asked to play on the high school team (while still at the middle school level). Hence, the kids practice together, bond and build more chemistry, as they prepare for their eventual high school years.
WILL YOUR CHILD-ATHLETE BE MOTIVATED TO GET BETTER AT HOME?
If your child is good enough, the argument is you do not need to go anywhere. The recruiters and scouts will find you. This is true. However, if you ask the question in another way, the answer is a different one. If you ask whether your child is going to get better enough and improve enough by staying at home, the answer could shift the other way.
It is true you can be extraordinarily effective in improving one’s skills at home. I have often advised players and their families to follow their local coach’s wishes and to remain at home. After all, you know where the gym is and you do not have to go far to find fields for a productive practice session. Generally, you can perform on a routine schedule, eat correctly, sleep in one’s own bed, and feel comfortable.
Travel ball forces you to change up your entire routine. You go to different places, sleep in motel/hotel rooms, and awake without your kitchen refrigerator nearby. You start to make some basic adult-like decisions: when to go to sleep, when to get up and eat breakfast, and when to retrieve the clothes from the dryer (just a few of many examples).
When your child remains at home, they are playing with and against the same players. There is little on the field they do not know about each other. Each knows the others’ strengths and weaknesses, and they approach each game knowing how to relate with their teammates and how to handle their opponents.
By traveling, a child-athlete sees players they have never played with or against and they know nothing about their relative strengths and weaknesses. At pregame, they begin to assess the other players. During the game, they are forced to adjust to the other team’s abilities. This enables the players to better understand “strategy” and the need to “change up” their game.
STIFFER COMPETITION AND ELEVATING YOUR GAME
At the same time, players who are the best in their hometown may be facing stiffer competition and be forced to raise their “individual games.” This is very beneficial as they are not remaining stagnant and complacent in their current skillset. After all, if they do not step up their game, they are not the best and will fall behind. Moreover, if they are not the best, they recognize quickly they better work harder and improve or ultimately face being “beat out.” Further, by being away from home, they are not beating up constantly on their neighbors, causing the formation of local, unproductive rivalries. Remember, the kids will eventually attend the same local high school. A good, healthy, competitive rivalry can serve as a good thing. Contrarily, an unhealthy hatred of a future teammate can be detrimental.
Facing other unknown kids, forces a team to be a team, allowing each player to lift up the others as they have to rally as a team against a rival (not themselves). Thus, it helps with kids learning to make good decisions, forming life-long memories and friendships, as each kid tries to elevate their individual games together.
Ultimately, the paramount question is what approach is best that particular summer to improve one’s skills? Sometimes the conditions are perfect at home for development. At times, the necessity to travel involves the need to see others who are better than you. Without that, kids will often neglect to see the need to improve nearly as much. Often, they will not work as hard nor do nearly as much to get better. Tough, different competitive travel teams will change that view quickly. Suddenly, the kid is in the gym, on the practice fields, and “hungry” to progress. If not, they will find themselves falling behind and no competitive athlete ever wants to be left behind.
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