When it comes to your child playing a sport H.A.W.K. Baseball understands you want the best for them so in this blog, we hope to clarify what travel ball is, what age to consider to start, how much you are expected to invest and what to look for when deciding what travel ball team to join.
What is Travel Ball?
Baseball is a beautiful game and is enjoyed all over the world. Baseball is often referred to as America's National Pastime. Baseball has had a very active role in the shaping of this nation. From the Civil War to Civil Rights and all points in between and beyond, the game of baseball supports and reflects many aspects of American life, from culture to economics and technological advances. Youth travel baseball started roughly 20 to 25 years ago and in 2012 it slowly began to start at younger and younger ages. In 2023 we are seeing a decrease in traditional little league and pony league baseball registrations but a huge increase in travel ball teams and tournaments attendance. A large part of that has to do with parents seeing value in having a trained coach in travel ball over volunteer parents as coaches in little league. Let's get one thing clear though, NO 5-12 YEAR OLD IS GETTING RECRUITED FOR COLLEGE BECAUSE THEY ARE A PART OF A TRAVEL TEAM. A child will be recruited based on what value they bring to the program and it is crucial that regardless of what team your child goes onto, they want it bad enough to train on their own. Also, no college coach is going to take on a player who can't hold their grades, so prioritize that first before baseball. If your child is struggling with school, please shift your focus to finding tutoring, education support, and/or study group for your child before pursuing a baseball team. A college coach will take an average player with a 3.5gpa over a great player with a 2.5gpa. It shows discipline, time management skills, and that the coach will not have to worry about your child's eligibility to play due to their grades. So please, do not choose a travel team based on the thought that it will get them into college ball. Instead, consider your child's age, the commitment you want to make, your financial investment, and what the program stands for.
At What Age Should My Child Start Travel Ball?
In the travel ball world, they have different age levels that have a (U) next to them, which stands for (under). So if a team is a 12U team, then it is 12-year-olds and younger on the team. Kids can always play up but they are not allowed to play down. Make sure to consider this when putting your child into a team. If your child is 12 but excelling at their age, it is recommended to move them up to a higher age group to encourage a more challenging experience.
Ages 5-9 years old H.A.W.K. Baseball does NOT advise any parent to invest in travel ball. Instead, put them in multiple sports, work on balance, strength, speed, agility, and/or group training working on foundational skills for baseball. Your child is way too young to be playing travel ball especially when they are still learning how to add and subtract numbers and how to communicate. At this age, let them have fun and try multiple sports to find what they are good at and each sport challenges their body differently. Coach Drexel states, "I recommend children to do basketball for speed and agility, gymnastics for flexibility and body awareness, and baseball because it's the greatest game of all time challenging kids physically and mentally. Being a part of any sport in addition to baseball will enhance a player's abilities, so if anything, have two to three sports that your child enjoys and is skilled at. You never know if your child has God-given talent in a different sport even though you really want them to play baseball."
Ages 10-12 years old: H.A.W.K. Baseball advises kids to still be in multiple sports and do a travel team during summer or when off-season of other sports to play higher competitive baseball, along with starting to learn the new rules. For example, leading off the bases, balking on the mound, pitching from the stretch vs wind up, and more. This will mentally prepare them as they learn the game at a higher level of competitiveness and as rules change. Also, many families will realize at this age that their child is a shark in a pond at the recreational baseball league but an average fish in the sea in the travel ball world. Coach Drexel states, "I was a great player in little league baseball but man was I below average player in travel ball when I just first started out."
Ages 13-17 years old: H.A.W.K. Baseball advises families to attempt to get their child into a high school travel team and/or into a travel team that has a connection to the high schools in the area to support your child to the next level. Tryouts can only provide so much to a coach, and unfortunately, it is much easier for a coach to pick a player that they are familiar with than to take a chance with a new player who is a little better but they have no relationship or experience with. If a player truly stands out, they will be noticed and accounted for, but when two kids are close in skills and age, the coach will choose the player they know and have a relationship with. That is why we recommend getting onto the travel team of the high school or connecting to the high school so that your child is exposed to the coaches and starts to develop a relationship with them. This won't guarantee their spot on the team, but it will help.
How Much Will I Have to Invest?
On average a parent will invest $500 - $2,500 per month! You can find teams and organizations that are cheaper than that, including H.A.W.K. Baseball. Some teams will charge big upfront entry fees and monthly team dues, for example, a $400 entry fee and $150 monthly team dues. Others will do just monthly team dues, which are typically higher, but no upfront team entry fee. The average travel ball monthly cost is around $500; however, you can expect to invest from $500-$2,000 a month to be a part of the team and travel. In addition to the team dues, parents are investing in private lessons and new equipment yearly. You can also expect to invest a lot of time, including your weekends, at tournaments. The majority of tournaments do not give out schedules until the Thursday or Friday before the weekend of the tournament, so you won't be able to plan for the weekend. This means you are expected to be available for whatever game times are thrown your way. On top of that, if it is a two-day tournament, you won't find out when your Sunday games are until the end of the day on Saturday. As a result, you will have to sacrifice weekends with family and friends once a month, every other week, or possibly every weekend depending on the team your child joins. Travel ball is a huge commitment and requires a lot of effort and dedication, so selecting the right travel ball program will make a huge difference in your experience.
How to Pick the Best Team for Your Child & Family
At this point, you have decided to invest in travel balls for your child, but you're now wondering what to look for when searching for travel teams in your area. The first thing you will want to evaluate is if it's a team or program. What are the team values, level of commitment, and investment required? The first thing you want to watch out for is teams run by parents. This is because they can tend to have favor over who they play and where they put them. However, they do have the benefit of having the same kids playing together for several years, which results in them understanding one another's roles and responsibilities on the team. When the team is a program, it is typically run by well-trained coaches and a team of people who are focused on the growth and development of the players. You can trust that their hard work will reflect the program's ability to grow their kids' athletic abilities. In addition, organizations will typically have several different age levels and teams, and the team typically moves up as the team grows older. For example, a team that is 10U will have players turn 11 so they will stop being a 10U team to start playing as an 11U team. The next thing you want to know is what the team's core values are and what they stand for. H.A.W.K. Baseball stands for Faith, Attitude, Effort, Communication, and Compete. We teach our players to carry these things on and off the field, as these are the five things the boys have control over. Reach out to the team you are considering and ask them what their core values are. Some teams will have core values and some won't. Coach Drexel states, "As a coach, I have seen teams with values that are taught daily vs. those who just play ball. I see a huge difference in how the kids carry themselves on and off the field. The teams with values are more prone to having great sportsmanship, good attitudes, belief in their teammates, and are usually more coachable." With H.A.W.K. Baseball, we take away the results of losing and winning to focus on our core values. If the kids play with all five core values and lose, we are still proud of them. If they win but do not withhold the core values, then we connect and work with them to better focus on our core values. If they win and withhold the core values, then we enforce how they withheld the core values and are happy that they won. No matter what, the core values and the kid's character take priority over winning. We highly recommend you truly take time to reach out to teams and learn both their core values and what they teach on and off the field. Pay attention to how they respond and what they talk about the most. The next thing is to understand the commitment required of you and your child. There are year-round teams, quartile teams, and summer/winter teams. Year-round is highly recommended as these are typically the teams that are most consistent and have more foundation but require more commitment. There are also some teams that do not allow kids to play little league and play for the travel team at the same time. If you want your child to experience travel ball and little league, keep this in mind and ask if they allow that of their kids. Once you find that out, then you will want to find out when they do tournaments/games, scrimmages, and practices. Consider when and where they have these events so you can consider both transportation and time that will be required. Once you get all this information, you will begin to truly understand what team is best for both you and your child.
We hope that with all the information provided you now know what to look for when searching for a travel baseball team and are better prepared to make the decision for both you and your child. We invite you to also consider our FCA H.A.W.K.S baseball travel team. Visit hawkbaseball.org/travelteam for more info.