When Gen X and Millennials were growing up, travel sports started around age 10 and were usually limited to a single season. Now, kids as young as 6 and 7 are being asked to try out for travel teams, some year round or close to it.
There are certainly pros and cons and reasons to sign up for travel or skip it altogether. On the plus side, kids who play more of a sport may progress more quickly and if their friends are doing travel, the community aspect can’t be overlooked. Both of these factors can make kids love their sport more, and want to continue. On the downside, travel sports are a big business and that means an investment in money as well as time for parents. Burnout can occur, and young athletes who don’t cross train can be more likely to develop injuries usually seen later in life.
When we asked soccer superstar Alex Morgan about youth sports, she shared that she thinks kids are specializing too early, and she didn’t start twice a week practices until she was 14. So how can you decide when to have your own child try out? The Local Moms Network turned to Scott Royster, an experienced elementary PE & Health teacher as well as a popular lacrosse influencer (follow him @laxguyscotty) to share his thoughts on how to know if a child is ready for travel sports—and when to hold off.
They’re Better Than Their Peer Group
Is your kid a true standout? Not being challenged on their rec team? That may be a green flight to go for a travel team. “If their skill level is more advanced than others in recreation, they might be ready to make that jump to travel. When your child is having success at the lower levels and needs more of a challenge, travel sports will certainly give them that challenge,” says Scott.
They Are OBSESSED With Their Sport
If your kid can’t stop practicing (even alone), talking about their sport, watching it, reading books about it…they may thrive on a travel team. “Passion is a requirement to play a travel sport; keeping that excitement is what’s going to keep them playing,” says Scott. If you’re still cajoling them to get in the car for practice…you won’t want to be doing that multiple times a week and driving farther distances listening to whining.
They Ask To Play Travel
Sometimes, kids can ask to do whatever their friends are doing. But if they really seem ready to commit and understand what that means, it might be worth listening. “The amount of time that comes with travel teams guarantees that they are going to miss out on many other events. They have to be okay with that,” notes Scott.
They’re Physically Ready
How is your child’s stamina? Strength and endurance? “Travel sports are grueling, especially with playing multiple games in a day. Being athletically ready for these types of days is a key to having success,” says Scott.
They’re Emotionally Mature Enough
If your child handles wins and losses with maturity, they may be ready for the ups and downs of travel sports. “There are going to be high moments and there will be low moments. Being resilient is what’s going to help them make it through,” says Scott. Crying after every missed opportunity or mistake? Maybe stay in a lower pressure environment for another year or two.
Scott adds that if your child isn’t super interested, or only seems to want to do it because his or her friends are, it might be worth playing another season of local clinics. Plus, be realistic about your family budget and what you want to spend your money, and time on. Says Scott: “Travel sports are an investment, costs associated with travel sports constantly increase. Make sure travel sports are worth it and isn’t going to cause financial strain.”