I love sports, always have and always will. As a child, people often called me a tomboy, a name I wore like a badge of honor. There was no better gift than a warm up jacket with my name embroidered on it or new cleats. I spent more time at a ball field or gym then I did at home.
Of course, I went on to marry a jock, who loves all things involving a ball. I mean it, he will watch any sport on TV, from bowling to tennis to hockey. Picture a grown man screaming at the TV at 2 a.m. in his Lakers jersey as Kobe misses a shot, and you have my husband.
So, it comes as no surprise that our children are naturally athletic. They have played soccer, basketball and baseball to varying success, but what they both love is volleyball. When my oldest was in eighth grade, we learned of club volleyball, and since then, we spend our winters watching her, and now her sister, play a sport they love, while cheering with parents and coaches who have become our extended family.
Over the years, I have come to have a love/hate relationship with club sports. When I was playing, club/travel teams were for elite players or for teams that qualified to play in a state championship. We would have bake sales or car washes to raise the money to pay for the trip, go for the weekend, and hopefully return with a trophy.
Club teams are standard for many sports and all but mandatory if your child wants to make their high school varsity or get an athletic college scholarship. Before you jump head first into the world of travel club sports, here are a few questions to ask yourself.
1. Can you afford it?
Make no mistake … club sports is a big business. Yes your child will improve as a player. Yes, your child will gain invaluable life skills they will use for the rest of their lives. However, it will come at a cost.
Club fees vary depending on the sport and where you live, but on average, fees range from $1000 – $4000 per season for one player, whether it’s volleyball, soccer, or baseball. These fees are just to play and don’t include the uniforms, equipment, and travel costs like gas, airline tickets, hotel rooms and meals. Depending on the number and location of tournaments and whether you are buying cleats or knee pads, plan to spend an additional $500 – $2000.
So before sign up to drive hours away to watch your kid quite possibly sit the bench more than you like (which leads to question #2), take a look at your finances and make sure you have the ability and desire to take a large chunk of money from your budget.
2. Is your child skilled enough to compete on a club team?
Unlike rec league, there are no rules or guarantee that your child will play in every game, or even one game. I have watched many parents sit through an entire two-day tournament just to watch their child sit on the bench and not play a single game. This may seem harsh, but it is the reality of club play. It does not matter that you paid the same amount of money as the starters; whether your child plays or not and how much they play is based on their ability and attitude.
Most rec leagues are coached by parents or college kids who want to teach the players the basics of the game. Of course they want to win, but the ultimate goal is to make sure the kids are having fun and learning the fundamentals of the game. With travel clubs, the coaches are paid and normally very experienced in the sport. Not only is it expected that the players know the basics, but also that they have already mastered most skills and are very good or even exceptional at playing the sport.
Even with club teams there are different experience levels, so make sure that your child is placed in the correct division to assure that he/she gets playing time and is able to learn from the experience instead of feeling bad because he/she just can’t play at the same level as the other players. It is very important to be realistic about your child’s ability and whether they are able to handle the pressure that can come when winning or losing a championship rests on their shoulders. Which leads us to question #3.
We’ve all seen that parent – the one who makes sure their kid has the latest and greatest equipment, yells at the ump after every “bad” call, pushes their kid out of the car and onto the field, constantly brags about how he is the next Michael Jordan. And what is the kid really doing? … counting dandelions in the outfield, more interested in buying ice cream from the concession stand than practicing free throws, begging to leave practice early so she can go to the movies with her friends. I admit, I have even been that parent, recently telling my daughter that she would go to practice and like it, especially considering how much it was costing us. (Ok, not my finest parenting moment, but give me a break … we have two playing and it’s expensive!)
As parents, it’s a fine line we must walk between supporting our kids in becoming the best they can be and pushing them to be more than they ever dreamed. I see parents who often push their kids to their absolute limits, and I often wonder if they are helping the child achieve his dream or living their dreams through the child.
When deciding whether to play a club sport, it is important to discuss with your child what will be expected of him/her and whether this is something your child really wants to do. Be honest with yourself and your child about their skills and desire to play at that level. We faced that challenge this year when my oldest told us she didn’t want to play club this year because she was burnt out. We had to have a long conversation with her about what she wanted to do in the future and if that included playing volleyball at the next level. She ultimately concluded that she did want to play in college, so playing club this year was a must to help her reach that goal. Based on her level of improvement, it was definitely the right decision.
4. Does your family have the time to commit to a club sport?
Being a member of a club team not only costs you money, but it also takes up a lot of your time. Teams normally practice 2-3 hours, 2-3 times a week, and, depending on the sport, the season can last 6 months. A tournament can take any where from 1-5 days, starting in the early morning and not ending until the evening, and that doesn’t include the time it takes to get to and from wherever the tournament is being held.
You will most likely have to miss a few days of work and school in order to attend the tournaments. If you have other children who are also playing a sport or who are participating in other events, be prepared to miss someone’s game/recital/performance. I suggest having a family meeting to discuss the commitment everyone will have to make in order to make a club sport fit into your routine.
For us, this year wrecked havoc on our schedule – between the two girls, we had practice 3 nights a week for 2 hours, which amounted to 3 hours when you added in travel and practice running late. From the first weekend in January to the first weekend in April, we were at a volleyball tournament EVERY WEEKEND, which included 6 overnight and two 3-day tournaments, one of which was in Atlanta Easter weekend. See what I mean about commitment?
Parenting an athlete participating in a club sport is not for the weak. It takes time, money, patience, and quite frankly, more energy than I often have. But in the end, it was well worth it as both girls learned a lot, had a good time, and deepened their love of the game. We also grew closer as a family as only being trapped in a car every weekend with each other can do!