We’ve discussed the numerous potential drawbacks of travel baseball. So, why do it at all? What are the benefits?
My family hasn’t always been believers in travel baseball. We were very slow to adopt. Originally, we saw it as a waste of money and completely unnecessary. We cautiously joined in when our oldest son was 12, but we’ve been converts ever since (our middle son has played travel ball since he was nine and our youngest since he was eight).
The benefits of travel baseball are going to be different for each kid. But here’s a few things that stick out…
1. Preparation for High School
I’ve heard from some parents who wonder why kids play travel baseball at all. Why not just play high school ball? I think this is a difference in the way things work, depending on where you live.
We live in the Denver metro area. High schools are large (about 2,500 students at our high school), and competition is high. While most high schools have four teams (varsity, junior varsity, sophomore, and freshman), there’s no guarantee you’ll make the freshman team. And while that may be the easiest team to make, a very large number are unable to hang on through varsity.
While it’s not impossible for a kid to make the freshman team and even survive beyond while only playing rec ball, it would be incredibly rare. It would need to be a kid with incredible natural ability (again, this may depend on geography).
This isn’t about politics. High school coaches don’t care if you played travel baseball or for which team you played. But playing travel ball, with all of the benefits we are going to discuss, helps prepare kids for high school. While travel ball won’t guarantee you’ll make the high school teams, the experience you get will give you a much better chance.
2. Level of Competition
Yes, you can just play rec ball if you want. But, there’s something special about playing baseball against high performing teams.
Playing against high-level teams is what helps you get better. They push you to your limits. They help you see where you need to improve.
You might be able to get that competition locally. Better yet, you may travel to tournaments in other parts of the country where some of the best teams play.
These are challenges you will not see at the rec level. And that may be fine for your son. But if your son is passionate about the game and is a high performer, it’s one of the many benefits of travel baseball.
I can’t speak for all rec and local leagues. But more often than not, these are constructed to be more casual. You can expect to play 10 or maybe 20 games in a season.
While the load for a typical travel baseball team is going to vary, a single tournament will typically consist of four or five games. The regular season may consist of 10 to 14 tournaments.
The 11u Spiders played 58 games this past spring and summer season. We’re wrapping up a light fall season where we’ll play another 17. Depending on where you live, 75 games may be near the bottom of what to expect. Warm weather teams may play 100 or more games in a year (I’d argue that’s pushing what’s reasonable).
You can do the math. This year, our Spiders have all had more than 200 plate appearances. Start thinking about the innings played in the field. That’s a lot of opportunities to fail, learn, and get better.
You’re not going to get anywhere close to that volume of reps in a typical rec league. And reps are usually going to be against lighter competition that is less challenging.
Maybe you simply love the game and want to play it more. The reps you get in travel baseball will give you that. Those reps will help uncover what you’re good at and what you need to improve.
4. Get Better
If your goal is to get better, improvement is incremental if you have a limited number of games and a limited number of reps. But travel baseball gives you the option of getting high-pressure reps against strong competition. This adversity gives players wanting to get better a huge advantage.
I love stories of kids who only played rec and low-level local ball and succeeded into high school and even beyond. Just know that this is extremely rare. It’s difficult to improve without being challenged.
Travel baseball also typically involves facilities with the latest technology and experienced instruction. It’s part of why the entire package of travel baseball is more expensive.
While these resources don’t guarantee a travel baseball player will improve at a faster rate, it’s a huge advantage.
5. Bonds with Teammates
Yes, you will form bonds with your teammates playing rec ball, too. But, once again, the amount of time you will spend with your teammates in travel baseball is far greater. As a result, the bonds may be deeper.
You’ll see them nearly every day. You’ll win and lose with them. You’ll go through the ups and downs. It’s what brings people together (if it doesn’t tear them apart first!).
While travel may be seen as a drawback, it’s also a benefit. It all depends on how you look at it.
The travel allows you to see parts of the country you might not otherwise see. You get to play against teams you might not otherwise play. You get weekends in hotels with your friends. It can be a ton of fun.
Our 12u Spiders are going to Cooperstown in 2020. It’s a trip that you would never take as a rec team, and it will result in memories you can’t replace.
It’s Not for Everyone
This post isn’t intended to convince you that everyone should play travel baseball. They shouldn’t. Don’t play travel baseball if you don’t love the game. And your ability will also color whether or not it makes sense.
It’s expensive. It’s exhausting. It can be drama-filled. But, if you find the right team with the right coach, teammates, and families, it’s an incredible experience.
Is your child good enough to play travel baseball? Does he love it enough to play the number of games that are played? Does he want to play in high school? Does he want to play beyond? These are all questions you should be asking.
Are there any benefits that I missed?
Let me know in the comments below!