The Nuances of Travel Baseball Teams

 

Travel baseball has taken over youth baseball across the country. There’s this belief that a travel team and a higher level of competitive play will propel a child to a higher place. That belief is misguided. Some of the best times of my youth were played on the local Little League field in my hometown with my friends from the community. As a lifelong baseball player and coach I have seen how travel baseball has changed the dynamics of Little League, what we called Pony League, high school, and college baseball around the country.

Since 1990, when I began my coaching career, I have seen the growth of travel baseball change the complexion of how players interact with coaches. How is a high school, junior college, or four year college coach supposed to coach a player who takes individual instruction from other coaches, travels on other teams to play, and receives different coaching strategy from other coaches? Then they come to their local high school team and question every aspect of how the head coach coaches them. The head coach becomes an enemy because the player who has 3-5 different coaches knows and understands the game better than them.

Then it carries over to the junior college or the four-year college they choose to play for after graduating high school. Most college coaches (some high school coaches) will not put up with this type of nonsense and will remove them from the program. Therefore, they transfer to several different schools in a five-year period unless they are able to understand that they play for the coach who is currently making all the decisions about who plays and how he wants things done. So many players can’t make the adjustment and eventually quit baseball altogether.

Travel ball is not cheap. Participation fees average about $2,000 per player per year. Teams may invite players from anywhere in the region. Since tournaments and games are usually in other towns, players and their parents must spend many hours commuting. Year by year, they go from one travel team to another, switching teammates and uniforms, with the name splashed across the front of the jersey usually signifying something other than their home town. I would love to see youth baseball get back in the local communities to help develop the community and school spirit there once was. If a player is good enough the recruiters and professional scouts will find them. You don’t have to travel all over the country to be seen.

By Dr. Bret Simmermacher

Dr. Simmermacher is the Chair of Sports Coaching at the United States Sports Academy, and can be reached at bsimmer@ussa.edu.

 

7 Comments

  1. Jack Marcellus Sr. July 11, 2016 at 3:55 pm

    Your position is shared by many and I also would love to see some sanity returned to youth baseball, however, you only gave one side of the story. What about the kids who actually are coached by someone who does not know much about the game or maybe even care all that much? Please don’t think it does not happen because I’ve seen it. The explosion of these travel teams did not happen by accident. They grew because there was a void. This conversation is much like the one that criticizes tutoring centers… If everything was so wonderful and everyone was so satisfied there would be no need for thousands of supplemental education centers. Yes the travel team thing is probably out of control and yes much damage has been done to local play and I would love to read comments about how and why that all happened in the first place. Talk to a young kid from a tiny town who may be the victim of town politics or playing the same position as the coach’s son. Or talk to a few kids from very big schools who have been cut without the coach ever seeing them perform in competition….This is not a simple problem however it is an important one that warrants attention and better solutions. Thanks for starting the conversation.

     
  2. Bret Simmermacher July 12, 2016 at 7:45 am

    Thank you for the comment Jack. Having coached baseball for some 26 years at the high school, junior college, and major college levels, my belief is that these travel teams didn’t start because of a void. They started because of the politics that you discuss in your reply. Parents that think they know more about baseball than others within the community they live, that actually don’t care or know the game, but have money and are able to travel with their son and a group of others. The bottom line is everyone is always looking for a new and better way. The fundamentals of the game have gone by the wayside, injuries have increased, and the meaning of team has been thrown out the window. It’s all about me and what can I get by playing travel baseball. The days of parents telling their son you need to practice a little harder to impress the coach are gone as well. Whenever a player or their parent hears that they aren’t good enough right now they run and look for the nearest travel team that will allow them to play with them. That’s not the answer. People should look at the statistical data the NCAA puts out that shows in black and white that there aren’t many that earn athletic scholarships or even move on from high school to college or from college to the pros. If you are good enough they will find you. The simple solution is to stop chasing a dream that most can’t reach and allow kids to be kids and develop the local teams and talent. If you’re not the superstar that’s the way it is. Not everyone can play that role.

     
  3. Bret Simmermacher July 18, 2016 at 8:15 am

    Given the fact that youth sports coaches are volunteers, the United State Sports Academy is dedicated to enhancing the quality of coaching at all levels. To that end, the Academy offers a free online course, “Introduction to Coaching.” The course provides an overview of the important aspects universal to coaching all sports. Topics explored are ethics; sports administration; coaching methodology; conditioning and nutrition; injury prevention, immediate care, and rehabilitation; and sports psychology. Anyone interested can go to http://records.ussa.edu/community/index.cfm?action=main.browse&ATVL_ID=31&loc=FR .

     
  4. Rod Kuykendall July 20, 2016 at 3:49 pm

    I enjoyed your article very much, Dr. Simmermacher, I believe it to be accurate and true. I also appreciate the comment made by Mr. Marcellus, though, as I feel his comments are also accurate and true.

    I sought and earned my Masters Degree from the USSA partly due to this issue you address. It also includes other traditional sports such as volleyball, softball, etc.

    I have been coaching since 1989 and clearly (in Southern Oregon) the quality of coaching has decreased considerably over the last several decades. Most of today’s coaches at the high school and middle school levels are only mildly interested in the sport they coach. Most Athletic Directors have limited options of coaches to fill vacancies. Parents often become the paid coaches or volunteer coaches increasing how pygmalian coaches seem to be permeating the traditional sports systems.

    The club systems have grown so much, because here there is a demand for them. There is a demand from parents and student-athletes for better, more responsible coaching – which is understandable – there is also a selfish side as it is not uncommon for parents seeking to promote their own children over their peers.

    It is saddening how this is pulling athletes away from the traditional systems, but as leaders in these traditional systems, we need to change and improve our methods to better meet the needs and demands of our student-athletes and their families. The demand has shifted, so we need to shift the system to better meet this demand.

     
  5. Kristie Sheppard July 21, 2016 at 3:02 pm

    Excellent article, Dr. Simmermacher.

     
  6. Bret Simmermacher July 25, 2016 at 8:23 am

    Thank you for your comment Rod. I feel the club coaching aspect hurts the middle and high school coaches tremendously. I saw it when I coached high school baseball in Ohio. I coached baseball at the junior college level for six years and saw this happen every year. We work and work with these players all year long on the way we want them to play the game and they go on summer break and come back with new ideas and what they feel are better ways to do things. The bottom line is they play for the high school coach in their school district. Some are better than others, but the cure is not to try to seek out other avenues of coaching.

    If people would look at the statistics that the NCAA puts out maybe the mentality would change. Let’s use baseball for instance.
    There are 486,567 high school players and 34,198 NCAA participants, 7% of the overall high school participants move on to play in the NCAA, 2.1% move on to the NCAA Division I level, 2.2% to the NCAA Division II level, and 2.7% to the NCAA Division III level. This means 93% of the players who play high school baseball never move on past that level. This also shows me that the need for players to receive this so called high demand for quality coaching at the club level isn’t working very well.

     
  7. Bret Simmermacher July 25, 2016 at 8:24 am

    Thank you Kristie.

     

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