Expensive culture of youth travel sports teams questioned

By Joe Yamulla || Sports Editor

            As times go on, things change. That’s inevitable. We grow and advance as we step further into the future. Sports are an incredibly important part of countless lives. We may not realize it as much as the phone in our pocket, but the way sports are set up and run across the country is incredibly different than decades ago. Yes, we still shoot the same ball into the same basket. We still swing our bats and catch with our gloves. The ice and hockey puck are still unchanged. However, youth and amateur sports have gone under a recent revolution with travel teams. Everywhere, parents are paying thousands of dollars for their kids to play on travel, showcase, or AAU teams by the time they’re nine years old. Yes, these teams are competitive and very beneficial for your son or daughters abilities in that respective sport. Despite this, travel teams are killing youth sports.

            I myself am guilty of it. For years I played travel baseball. I played showcase baseball and dropped hundreds of dollars every weekend to travel to different tournaments to showcase my abilities. However, I was never that fond of it. I much preferred playing for my high school team, and for that reason never stayed incredibly committed to it. For many sports, especially baseball, playing at the collegiate level is impossible without travel ball. Unless you are an absolutely gifted and unique physical specimen like LeBron James and take your team to annual state championship games, you will not get the scouting attention you deserve. Most scouts spend their time at showcase events and AAU tournaments when it comes to basketball. As a matter of fact, in my hometown there was an excellent baseball player who didn’t even play high school ball his senior year. He only played travel, and went on to be recruited at Gettysburg College. This sounds great, but there is an epidemic at hand– not every kid can afford to play travel sports.

There is a surplus of talent in various sports across the country that goes unnoticed. The craze and obsession of travel sports has taken away the value in Little League Baseball, high school baseball, and other forms of amateur sports for kids ages 9-18. I grew up playing Little League, and I can honestly say that it was the greatest 4 years of baseball I have ever played. I’ve played my whole life up until graduating high school. There’s nothing like innocence and passion of Little League. There is no stress over failing and wasting $500 of your family’s money spent on the weekend. Unfortunately, Little Leagues across the country are losing numbers. This trend is also consistent in similar basketball leagues. With this, you see too many kids who are left in the dark when they graduate college. Many of them could play at the collegiate level and exhibit superior skills and attributes than many who are on college rosters. But, they never get the chance simply because they couldn’t afford to be on a team that costs thousands of dollars per summer.

One of the biggest names in sports who is opposed to travel sports is Joe Maddon, Manager of the Chicago Cubs. Joe grew up in the same town as me, Hazleton Pennsylvania. Hazleton is a small, blue-collared, hard-working town. Joe is from a blue-collared family, and his mom still owns a local hoagie shop in town, Third-Base Subs. Joe never specialized and paid several thousand dollars as a kid in Hazleton to play baseball, but he still went on to play at Lafayette College. He got drafted, and eventually became a Bench Coach for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Manager for the Tampa Bay Rays, and then of landed his current job with the Cubs. Regarding this, Maddon said:

“That’s why I hate the specialization of kids when they’re on these travel squads that are only 12-13-14 years olds that are only dedicated to one thing, traveling all the time, paying exorbitant amount of money to play baseball with hopes of becoming a professional baseball player. I think that’s crazy” (via The Chicago Tribune)

Kids are no longer playing because they love it. We’re losing that incredible and romantic feeling of watching our youth out there playing a game they love, with big dreams and even bigger hearts. Instead, we see cut-throat parents throwing money to tournament teams, and packing up their Suburbans every weekend in the hopes that someone will notice their son or daughter. What happened to people playing baseball, or basketball, or lacrosse simply because they love that game with their whole heart? Today, young athletes are put under so much pressure to be discovered, scouted and to stand out. Kids aren’t allowed to be kids anymore. This environment has been encouraged by the competitiveness of parents. Their children obviously aren’t the ones who pay to play. They just want to lace up their sneakers or cleats and play a game that they are passionate about.

If a young athlete is gifted, he or she deserves to get as fair of a chance as anybody. Parents can’t just say, “my son is going to be a collegiate athlete and then get drafted” and then proceed to pay whatever it takes to get him as far as possible. Instead, college rosters need to be filled with kids who are the best and most deserving of being there, regardless of how deep their families’ pockets are. Let’s save the big money for the professionals, and just let the kids play.

Sophomore Joe Yamulla is the Sports Editor. His email is jyamulla@fandm.edu.

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