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20

Jul, 2018

How to Choose a Travel Baseball Program

Parents truly do care about their kids. They want them to have fun playing a sport they love, excel at, and hopefully will play for a long time. In an effort to make this happen, many parents consider moving their kids from a community league to "travel baseball". 

Usually, the results are not anywhere near what was expected. I've heard a million horror stories about travel teams that promise the world, and end in drama, high prices, no training, and disbanded teams looking for their next travel team fix. Its no fault of most coaches, who usually are player's dads. They are typically great people who just want to help out the team. Honestly, no matter where you play baseball at a young age, the main goal is to have fun and create good memories, and most teams do this. Some for MUCH less money, and MUCH better experiences, but fun none the less.

However, when a team or program starts to promise things like college recruitment, long-term development, showcase tournaments, etc... then they start to classify themselves into another category and should be held to a higher standard. I am asked all the time about which baseball programs are good, which trainers are best, and what is right for youth baseball. I'm happy to answer.

So... If you are one of those parents that want to try out the "travel" thing - I have a few pointers for you. Here are some wonderful questions you should ask when choosing a travel baseball program:

BUT...before we get to the questions, please note the word PROGRAM. Because if its just a team - the answer is NO - just... no. 90% of "travel teams" out there are no better than their rec league counterparts. They have minimally better talent, the same (or worse) coaches, a lack of organization, and are motivated mostly by winning trophies - All this at a much higher price, financially, mentally, and physically. Please don't become another one of the stories of kids that tried a travel team only to be disappointed and playing for a rec league again anyways.

If you want to move on from the community league - you should ONLY be considering a development program. One that has qualified coaches, a focus on practice, individual training, and the love of the game. One that promotes a perfect unity between the joy of the game and true player development.

So...back to the questions you should ask:

Why was this program started?
Is this a dad starting a team because their rec team did well for a few years and thinks they need "better competition"? Is this a coach that has a track record of moving between baseball programs? Is this a group of kids that refuse to be separated from each other and are starting a team just to play together (only to be separated next year or in HS anyway)? Is this about making money/fame for a coach or player? Is this a truly qualified coach or group of coaches that love the sport and are expanding their services to better serve the community?

The motivation behind starting this program is critically important because every decision will always be made with that main influence behind it. Whether its money, fame, winning trophies, raising good ball players - whatever, you should know what the real motivation is - not just what the coaches tell you. Do your research, please.

Are the coaches qualified, or are they giving lip service?
Does the coach have any playing experience after High School? Does the coach have a history of training players and getting them recruited by colleges or pro teams? Has this coach ever been fired or ask to leave another team? If so, why? Does the qualified coach(s) have enough time in their schedule to train and coach every player?  

Not all good coaches need pro experience, but if you can't find anything about this coach online, its smart to assume they don't have any real qualifications. Volunteer coaches are great. Stateline Baseball has some of the best around, but when someone gives you lip service about all the great things they have done - do yourself a favor and research it before you put your kid in their hands.

How much will this really cost?
Most really good baseball programs cost between $1500 and $4000 a year for true player development. This is because of the time it takes paid professionals to train your kid. Costs rack up with things like facilities, uniforms, trainers, equipment, insurance, etc...

Then, in addition to the program fees, you can also expect to pay thousands of dollars from things like time off work, hotel stays, dinners out with the team, additional fan gear, and that fancy chair you need to make those long baseball weekends more comfortable. 

Because of the high cost of professional coaching, the programs doing the most for your kid are usually higher priced. However, not all high-cost programs deliver value. Some lie about their experience, and many charge way more than they are worth. You should find out if the fees cover everything or if there will be additional costs for things like training, facility memberships, uniforms, tournaments, gear, and online player profiles. Always beware of programs that nickel and dime you. Also be concerned with programs that promise high-end results and tournaments, but only charge a few hundred dollars. 

What is the training schedule?
How many times per week will you be training? What kind of training will you receive? Where will the training be held? Are you going to more tournaments than you are working on player development? Is there a plan at all, or are they just winging it all the time? Is it the same training over and over, or are the kids advancing and learning new skills as they go through the program?

If there isn't a focus on training, or if they claim there is, but they can't show you a plan to back it up - beware!

Is the focus on playing tournaments, or developing athletic skill?
If the focus is the number of games - beware. Games are NOT a good way to train players. Game experiences test and enhance the training received in practice. Nothing is more important than practice. Winning a few trophies at 11 or 12 years old does not equate to good baseball players. No recruiter or scout cares how many games you played, which tournaments you entered, or how many trophies you have. They care if you are a good baseball player. They care about your work ethic and focus on continual development.  

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Travel baseball programs are not for everyone. Honestly, it's not for most kids that participate in travel baseball now. For those that want it, or need it - I highly encourage you to ask these questions in addition to any others that are important to you and your player. It might be "just baseball", but the time you spend, the money you throw at it, and memories you make with your family are far too valuable to waste on something that will leave you disappointed.
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