Maybe your child has been playing recreational sports and you’re wondering if it’s time to advance to a more competitive level. Might it be time to try out for a travel team?
"Make sure your child has a real passion for the sport,” advises Rafael Draper of Roosevelt, president of the Long Island All American Dream Team travel football. If you’re certain that’s the case — because the child ultimately has to make the most effort — here are eight questions to ask yourself before deciding to take the plunge:
1. Is your whole family prepared for the travel component? Some travel teams solely play other teams across Long Island; others travel out of the region and the state. Even Long Island-based travel takes effort; a Dix Hills team might play a team in East Hampton, requiring several hours of travel time for a less than one-hour match.
2. Are you willing to sacrifice other weekend activities? “What other events are we not doing as a family today because Billy has a travel game and we’re going to Connecticut?” asks Steve Padaetz, managing director of the Ronkonkoma-based Long Island Junior Soccer League. It can become a challenge for families to schedule vacations because of games and tournaments, and parents may have to divide and conquer to get siblings to different commitments, says Tom Hopke, a co-owner of the Jericho-based Long Island Tigers Baseball Club.
3. Are you on board with a rigid structure? Your child may be expected to make it to multiple practices each week and possibly training sessions as well, in addition to weekend games. “Don’t expect to come and go as you please,” says James Laird of East Meadow, whose three daughters all played travel softball with Hicksville-based Team Long Island. Kids can’t skip practice “because you didn’t feel like getting up that day or because you want to go to the mall with your friends,” Laird says. Parents will need to get their children to practice sessions and may need to take time off from work to do so; carpooling is not as easy when team members are drawn from all over Long Island.
4. Is your child dedicated enough to play year-round? “The majority of sports at the travel level are 10- to 12-month commitments,” Padaetz says. With girls’ softball, for instance, “you play in the fall, you practice and work out throughout the winter indoors and then you start the spring and summertime schedule,” says Angel Mangual, owner and president of Team Long Island. That can preclude a player from playing other sports.
5. Have you done your research? “Find out what the organization has done, where their kids have gone to school [to play college ball],” Laird advises. Look at the paid coaches; what’s their experience? “There’s no substitute for a good coach,” Hopke says. Ask about playing time, advises Thomas Michaelson, president of Bethpage based 365 Lax, a program of lacrosse clinics, travel teams and private lessons. Players should get equal time on the field; also ask what the team’s roster size is, he says. More players means less game time per player.
6. Is the expense in your budget? Laird estimates that he spent $10,000 a year for three daughters to play travel softball; this year, for instance, his daughter Jenna, 17, is traveling to Portland, Ore., Boulder, Colo. and Huntington Beach, Calif. for tournaments. That means airfare, housing and meals as well as team fees. Families also frequently pay $50 an hour or more for weekly private instruction, and there are equipment costs. “I probably could have paid for my kids’ education with all the money I spent,” Laird says. Some teams do have financial aid available for families that need it.
7. What’s your end game? “As the kids get older, they’re playing to get recruited. We go to big tournaments where college recruiters get to see the kids play,” Mangual says. Parents need to be realistic, however, about any potential financial payoff. The competition for athletic dollars is incredibly intense, and the number of students who actually get scholarship money is much smaller than what people think, Padaetz says.
8. Have you factored in the nonathletic benefits? Kids master life skills from being on a travel team, says Kristen Brown, 25, of Levittown, who played travel softball with Team Long Island and earned a full ride to play at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. “Being able to balance academics, weight room, practices, your social life, your sleep — it sets you up for success in the future,” Brown says. She made lifelong friends with teammates, she adds.
And parents may love the experience as much as the kids do. “The experience is incredible,” says Rob Izquierdo of East Norwich, whose son, Lucas, 9, played football with Long Island All American Dream Team; father and son traveled with the team to Atlanta for a tournament. “We got to meet people from all over Long Island. We sit down, we have dinner, we bond. It was an experience that my son loved, and I really enjoyed also.”