What’s Wrong with Travel Ball?

This part of the series is a continuation of the last topic where we started in on the discussion of recruiting being such a driving force in the travel ball world. Today we’ll talk about a sub problem of that issue.

5. Coaches enabling players with a Power 5/National Championship/Power 5 of bust attitude.

As we discussed in the last blog, the idea that every player that wants to play in college can find a spot has been debunked. Well, if there are more travel ball players than there are total spots on college rosters, you can guess how much more difficult it is to secure a spot on one of the powerhouse programs. Unfortunately, too many players are dreaming that big dream and they rarely have anyone in their lives willing to help them see the truth, including their coach.

Many things are changing in the world of softball recruiting. With the transfer portal and Name Image and Likeness money entering the equation something that used to be really difficult has gotten way worse. There were already a lot of hurdles for the majority of the travel ball kids who hoped to play at the highest level but these new variables have made it much more difficult.

Remember, we’re talking about the top of the pyramid schools here, just to make sure we’re all on the same page. The very best schools are filling more and more of the immediate holes on the roster with transfers. Look at the top schools in the Division 1 polls right now and they all have a couple, or more, transfer players who came in this year and are starting. This trend will continue in the future, I believe, since these schools need to keep winning at the highest level and a proven college players is a better bet to keep that going. Now before you come at me with the “did you see that freshman starting at _______” argument, there are some freshman making an impact. And they are all among the very short list of best players in the country in their graduating class. So, if your daughter is one of the best, and I mean top handful of players in the country, then this might not impact you quite so much. For everyone else…

I know, you’re asking, how does this equate to something being wrong with travel ball?

Too many travel teams allow too many players to dream the big dream for way too long! As a matter of fact, some of the high powered travel teams are promoting the idea that if you wear their colors they can all but guarantee you a spot at one of these Power 5 schools. While that may be true for a small number of the total number of players in travel ball, the numbers are pretty clear that it’s not likely if even possible. Again, before you come back at me, I get it, there are some travel ball teams who have all or almost all of their players committed to big name schools. While these teams get a lot of recognition they are a small percentage of the pool of teams that are saying they can get a kid recruited by a powerhouse program.

So here is why it keeps happening. The travel ball world is very cutthroat. Travel ball coaches know that if they tell one of their best players, who is dreaming of playing at UCLA or Oklahoma, that they might not be the kind of player that one of those programs are looking for, they are afraid they will lose that player to someone who will tell them what they want to hear. Whether it’s honest, in the players best interest, and absolutely true has nothing to do with what will happen. Many players will hear the truth that they don’t want to hear and go looking for a new team that will tell them what they want to hear.

Coaches everywhere are quick to point out all the things they can do for a player but not all are willing to risk losing that player by being honest with them. How do I know this to be true? Last summer a player on a team I know well, quit the team mid summer because her coach was honest with her. He explained to her, that after discussing her with the head coach at one of the powerhouse schools, that she should look at other options. This coach did everything he was supposed to do. Listened to the players aspirations, contacted the college coach to check on their interest, and then relayed that information to the player and her parents. Her parents responded with, “you didn’t try hard enough to convince them about her” and “you’ve killed her dreams”, so they quit. For what it’s worth, I would have said this player was maybe to 10th or 11th best player on the team. And the school she had her heart set on is recruiting from the 10 best players in the country. I know it’s hard to hear but it was in the players best interest.

No one wants to be a dream killer, for sure. No one wants to have to tell a player that her dream school is not going to happen. It’s heartbreaking to see the look on a players face when they realize that what they were wishing for isn’t going to come true. But if more coaches were honest with players about where they fit in, a lot more players would have an opportunity to find the right school, even if it’s not the dream. Yes, there are always going to be a few success stories that get all the headlines but, again, those are the exception. Somebody does win the lottery every week, but is it you?

My grandfather always said, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. So when a travel ball coach talks about making your dream of playing at a big time Power 5 school come true… It might be true or it might be a tool to get you on their team. And while that might seem to be your dream, remember the transfer portal we talked about earlier. Be careful what you wish for…

Comments? Questions? Suggestions?