Single-Digit Soccer: Why play travel? What you think is wrong

You’ve seen plenty of skepticism in this space — and at U.S. Youth Soccer — about separating “travel” players from “rec” players before the age of 12, much less the age of 10. But the skepticism isn’t about the idea of having “travel” experiences — being paired with good teammates and good coaches, playing similarly skilled teams, and actually traveling more than 15 minutes away … on occasion. On the contrary, my sense for now is that “travel” should be open to more players and less exclusionary.

If you can make a strong case for or against that argument, please meet up with me at the NSCAA Convention in January. Or leave a comment. I want to hear all the arguments.

But today, I’m going back to the roots of “travel” from the parental perspective. Perhaps it’s just to smack around a few of the more elitist and ignorant (a redundancy?) people at a local parenting message board, but I think some other good may come out of my ranting here.

The question is this: Why do kids play “travel” at all?

The assumption some people make is that they play “travel” because their parents think they’re truly awesome players who are going to be the next Mia Hamm, Messi or some other player they’ve heard of. And yes, a few of those parents exist:

(No, I don’t know why this conversation is taking place in Beijing.)

Like all single-minded people, they fail to see that other people’s thoughts are more diverse. They think everyone wants the same thing. And so you see these people on message boards saying Club X is ripping off players by … letting them play travel when they’re not that good.

I never said this argument made sense.

In any case — some travel parents are more realistic and well-adjusted than the mom in the video or the stereotypical scholarship-chaser. They know their kids are likely to go no further than the local high school team. (In fact, in some cases, that’s the ultimate goal. Making a high school team isn’t easy.)

They play for these reasons:

1. The bonding experience of playing on a traveling team.

2. The training to keep up with the game so that they can play in high school, or in intramurals, or as an adult — or even a higher-level travel player should the opportunity arise. (Remember — puberty and growth spurts have a funny way of shaking up kids’ athleticism, and as much as we’d like to pretend athleticism doesn’t matter in soccer, those wonderful ball skills mean little if everyone on the field is three steps faster.)

3. Rec soccer can be frustrating. Teammates might not show up. Parent coaches may or may not know what they’re doing.

All of which are legitimate reasons.

So is it fair to accuse clubs of swindling parents by letting them spend extra money on a soccer experience that’s a little more serious than rec?

Consider the other things your kids might do. Piano lessons. Karate. Musical theater. Gymnastics. Ballet.

Are you spending money on those things because you think your kids might get scholarships or professional opportunities? Probably not. Should you be offended if some other kids who’s less talented than yours is taking the same class or visiting the same teacher? Definitely not. If your kid goes to an Ivy League school, should you complain about all the kids going to other schools in the U.S. News Top 25? Of course not.

So why do we get bent out of shape that our local “travel” clubs aren’t excluding more kids?

Published by

Beau Dure

The guy who wrote a bunch of soccer books and now runs a Gen X-themed podcast while substitute teaching and continuing to write freelance stuff.

One thought on “Single-Digit Soccer: Why play travel? What you think is wrong”

  1. Travel programs often leave rec programs with fewer coaches especially if a child has to choose between one or the other. Rec programs often have to reach out and become travel programs themselves just to keep a league going. The cost of a travel program leaves parents with less money to spend on other things. It creates a pay to play system. Travel programs require more time of a child and parent and taking away time for families to do other things. Traveling to soccer games causes auto wear and tear and more pollution. Travel programs may not be as invested in the local community spending more money on coaches than local fields. If there is no long term reason to invest in a travel program for many parents, one wonders why there is such a large need in the first place.

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