Opting Out of Travel Sports

kids in soccer uniforms huddled together with

Like other parents who have children involved in youth sports, the discussion of travel sports has started in our household.

My oldest is now in third grade and he has been playing team sports on and off for four years now. A natural athlete with a positive attitude on the field and off, he thrives in organized sports. 

Our son has primarily played soccer up until now. Over the last two years, he has played in what our league calls the Academy, a localized skills-based program that straddles recreation soccer and travel soccer. Unfortunately, the Academy option will disappear next year as he enters fourth grade, and we will be forced to choose competitive soccer (aka travel) or switch to recreational soccer. 

Kids playing soccerIn addition to soccer, our son started playing baseball last spring. He immediately grew to love baseball because of his awesome recreational coaches and supportive teammates. His first season of 7/8 year old baseball was like a storybook. Our son’s team advanced through the playoffs and into the league semi-finals, finishing in third place. And when the season was over, he still couldn’t stop talking about baseball all summer. 

While spring baseball is still months away, we are midway through another year of Academy soccer. I am so grateful for both the experience of skills-based learning and team building the Academy program has given our son.

But, I am also really appreciative of the experience as a parent because it helped my husband and I realize that we are not ready to be a travel sports family.

With our current schedule of two weekday evening practices and one to two games on Saturdays, we aren’t ready to undertake the greater commitment that would be required on a travel team. 

Furthermore, in the last few years of organized team sports and other extracurricular activities, we have had less time for other things that we value as a family. The non-stop life of having an activity most days a week is draining for both parents and kids.

I know many parents who really believe it’s competitive sports or the highway. But I refuse to give into the competitive lifestyle that will bring even more stress to our lives.

 Why We Are Opting Out of Travel Sports (for now)

  • Regardless of what you hear from well-intentioned parents, most of our children will not be athletes in college. And of those who are collegiate athletes, only 2% receive some form of athletic scholarships to play collegiate sports
  • While we value the skills and leadership gained from playing sports, I know this can be accomplished by playing less competitively on recreational sports teams. Based on our experience with baseball, there are excellent volunteer coaches out there and if needed, I am willing to step up and support a team, too.  
  • Competitive (travel) sports require child athletes to specialize at a very young age. Research shows that specializing too young can lead to “an increase in overuse injuries, overtraining, and burnout,” according to a 2016 report from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Youth athletes actually benefit more from playing a variety of sports, often called sampling throughout their younger years
  • The time commitment and year-round structure of competitive sports is too much for our family. We want our time to be spent on a variety of activities that we value: music lessons, attending religious services on the weekends, a sampling of recreational sports, and spending quality time together as a family on the weekends. The time commitment for recreational sports is significantly less and more in line for our reality.
  • This isn’t the only option! For years, I felt like we were destined for the travel sports lifestyle. However, we have a choice here. Some will argue that their kids want to play travel sports, and we should let them make the choice. But, let’s be honest here – if we let our kids choose what they had for dinner every night, they would probably pick pizza and chicken tenders over healthy choices. As their guardians, it is our role and responsibility to guide our children to choices that demonstrate the values we hope to instill in them. Sports over all else isn’t what we want.

As a military family, I greatly value extracurriculars, like team sports, because they have been some of the best ways for our children to make friends in a new area and to jump back into something familiar after a big move. I am glad we are going to continue with team sports and other activities, but we will be opting out of travel sports (for now). 

What about you? Do you agree with Alexandra and her family? Let us know in the comments!