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 firstname.lastname@example.org.