What’s Wrong with Travel Ball?

Part 4 of this series deals with something that hits the bullseye of why most people are involved with travel ball to begin with. It’s a complex issue that will branch out into a couple of blogs but we’ll do our best to cover all the aspects of this loaded question.

4. Hyper focus on college recruiting.

So let’s get into the why this is a loaded question part of this blog right away. The reason that so many kids are playing travel ball to begin with is because they have aspirations of playing in college. Over the years it has become an absolute for the majority of players and families. While there are some players who get recruited without playing travel ball they are a pretty small number of the total players who end up in college programs. There is an underlying high level of pressure and expectation that is built into travel ball. People are spending a lot of time and money on getting recruited to play in college and they want to get our money’s worth

Once upon a time it was reasonable when people said things like “there’s a place on a college roster for every player that really wants to play”. Over the past 20 years or so that statement has become more and more of a dream than a reality. There are so many players playing travel ball right now that they greatly outnumber the number of spots on college rosters. When you do the math it’s very clear that the competition for spots on college rosters is rough and creates a culture where the players and families involved are pushed to the limit. And that’s not even taking into account the extra pressure of the kids who are dreaming the really big dream of playing at a Power 5 or National Championship level college. More on that later.

Now, not every player playing travel ball is dreaming of college softball. However, if we assume the reason most players and families are involved with travel ball is the dream of playing college softball. When you add in the reality is that many of the players who want to play in college are unlikely to make college rosters, you see where some of the problems are likely to emerge. Even when we assume that the majority of the players and families are motivated by the dream of college softball you will still have others who want to win or want to have fun or want to get ready for the start of their college career or want to play just as much as the kids who need to get recruited.

Travel ball coaches now need to consider a whole bunch of factors that might or might not be what is best for the team as a whole. As a travel ball coach you need to be sure that the players on your roster who need to be seen by college coaches are in the lineup when those coaches are there. You or someone from your staff has to be working the room to be sure that your parents see you “selling” your players to the college coaches or your parents and players will have doubts about how hard you are working for them. When your team isn’t playing you need to be moving around the complex to “network” with the college coaches, even though those college coaches are working on another field to recruit players from other teams. And you need to be doing these things even if it means it hurts your teams chances of winning that day. Of course, some people will argue that winning isn’t nearly as important as getting their kids recruited but that assumes that all of the players and coaches have the same opinion. I know I was a coach that thought winning was pretty important so I understand the difficulty of doing things for recruiting that might impact our teams chances to win.

So how can these “duties” be a problem, you ask? The list is infinite but lets start with: What if you have several pitchers who all need to be recruited and want to be seen by college coaches during the same game? What if you have a signed players future college coach there to see her play and a player who needs to be seen plays the same position? What if you have several players who all are getting recruited by college programs who want to see them all play, in the same game, in the same positions? What if your pitcher or catcher who needs to be seen is just plain old dead tired and needs a game off? What if it’s the championship game and the players on your roster who really need to be seen force you to put a weaker team on the field (and your best players are angry because they have to sit out again)?

We’ve all seen and heard plenty of stories of angry parents and disappointed players who felt like their coaches didn’t do enough to help them with their recruiting. My best guess if that a large amount of player movement from team to team is often attributed to this “problem”. For most parents and players who don’t get recruited by the right schools, they are going to direct blame at someone. The fact that a player might not be good enough, or the right position, or the right graduating class or have the right academics to meet their dream schools criteria is way harder to accept than it is to say the travel ball coach didn’t do what they were supposed to do. And a according the player and parents involved they are supposed to do whatever it takes to get that player recruited. Period!

The next installment of this series will discuss the Power 5, National Championship, Division 1 or bust mentality that is another part of the issue of the hyper importance of recruiting.

Comments? Questions? Suggestions?