Watered-Down Talent: A Consequence of Travel Baseball

When I grew up in the 1980s, we all played house league. At the end of the season, the best players made the All Star team, which then competed against other community All Star teams in a post-season tournament.

Then youth organizations decided to create teams that played a part-time travel schedule and a part-time house schedule. This later evolved into the development of full-time travel teams with significant tournament schedules, sometimes requiring out-of-state travel and overnight lodging. Games increased from 30-40 games per summer to 60-70 games, sometimes more.

Not only did the amount of games increase, so did the number of teams. Towns and communities which once offered only one travel team now have several options to choose from. Previously considered an honor to be selected for travel baseball teams, now anyone willing to travel on weekends and afford the registration fee can play travel baseball.

The existence of numerous options is a major problem with travel baseball.

In the past when kids did not make their travel team, the lesson was to work harder and try out next year. However, with multiple options currently available for many eager travel players, this message has been eliminated.

Now, many parents shop their kids around like free agents. Parents look for teams with the best records and most trophies. Kids who were cut from one travel team simply tryout for another. Parents of those children who were unhappy with playing time simply form their own teams.

Last time I checked, sitting on the bench and learning how to support teammates from the sidelines is a valuable lesson that all kids should learn. No wonder we as high school coaches are seeing more and more incoming freshman with spoiled attitudes and a strong sense of entitlement.

Naturally, the existence of multiple travel teams waters down the talent level per team. Now, most travel teams have at least three or four marginal players on the roster because the best players in each community are spread out over several teams.

Not only does the existence of multiple travel teams water down the talent level of each team, but it also waters down the number of quality coaches. Let’s face it – great coaches do not grow on trees. And when I say great coaches, I don’t just mean coaches who know baseball (and believe me, there are very few of those).

Great coaches are those who can teach and manage the game, as well as understand the emotional and social development of kid. Great coaches carry themselves with class, honor, and integrity, and teach life skills. These coaches are so rare that the odds of finding several in one community are slim.

And while I admit that there are probably just as many bad high school coaches as there are bad travel coaches, many high school coaches are either trained educators or certified by respected coaching organizations such as the American Sport Education Program (ASEP). In addition, high school coaches must be accountable to school administrators and athletic directors while following various policies and guidelines as established by state high school associations. In contrast to this, the majority of travel league coaches do not possess the proper training and experience to work with kids, and most do not have to be accountable to anyone for their decisions, behaviors, and conduct.