Some kids are inordinately talented. Many read beyond their years, or act shockingly well on stage. Others solve in moments math problems that take those years older ten minutes to complete. These students have in-school opportunities to hone their skills and pursue their academic passions. But for those students who find their talent on the field, development can be harder. Sometimes, a bi-weekly practice isn’t enough to guide an athletic child to their full potential. Parents of these children feel that they need to give them another opportunity for development; they consider signing up for traveling youth sports teams.
The question is, should they? Let’s consider a few pros and cons.
A travel team is exciting! It affords children opportunities to meet interesting people and visit new towns on a regular basis. Moreover, the shared experience of traveling sports provides the foundation for close inter-team friendships. These team bonds ensure that a child develops an understanding of what it means to commit to something. While a young athlete might ditch the neighborhood kids during a pickup match to watch television, they would think twice about abandoning their team members during an away game to do the same.
Neighborhood games cost parents relatively little beyond the upfront expense of athletic clothing. Travel teams, however, can demand considerably more. According to Travis Dorsch, an assistant professor at Utah State University who regularly studies parent engagement in youth sports, parents often spend up to 10% of their gross yearly income on their child’s athletic career. For middle-class parents who make $50,000 per year, that percentage comes out to roughly $5,000 dollars per year.
Moreover, travel sports also demand a lot of time from parents and children alike. For families who work from home or have one parent at home with the children, the commitment might be manageable. However, this obligation can weigh more heavily on a family when parents either need to ask off from work or miss their child’s games.
Joining an athletic team provides children with regular opportunities for exercise and encourages them to eat more healthfully. In our couch-potato culture, this is an undeniable plus for health-conscious parents.
A full 70% of youth athletes leave sports before the age of thirteen, according to a report from the National Alliance for Sports. The reasons behind this vary, but the primary motivator seems to be a lack of fun. Unfortunately, youth sports has the potential to turn into a stressful obligation, rather than an exciting extracurricular activity. With the amount of time and energy parent spend on athletics, children may feel pressured to perform well and become too stressed to enjoy playing.
At the end of the day, the choice to join a traveling sports team falls to one person: the athlete. If parents are able and willing to support their child through their athletic career, then they should; however, those unenthused about the sport shouldn’t be pushed into playing.