Monday, March 9, 2015

Travel Teams on Path To Ruin Community Sports Programs

There has always existed a somewhat tenuous relationship between travel teams and community based athletic programs. In sports like soccer and baseball these travel programs have already begun recruiting players and extending their seasons to run concurrent with community programs, creating undo stress on families and young athletes forced to make unreasonable choices. Many of these travel programs make claims of what they will "do for your child" that are far too often misleading or manifestly wrong. The notion that turning a child into a "specialist," and that specialization will improve a child's skills and opportunities, is refuted by an overwhelming majority of current research. Further, far too little attention is paid to the detrimental psychological and developmental impact that these programs will have on young athletes, especially at the youngest ages. For an introduction to the issue, please visit the "News" page on my website

This trend to "invading" the season usually reserved for community programs is now "infecting" the local lacrosse community. Until now, travel lacrosse programs began their seasons near the end of the spring season, and played their games over the summer. But now several Central Jersey travel lacrosse programs have announced that they will be extending their season to include the Spring and Summer. These for profit programs will be aggressively recruiting players throughout the area, siphoning off players in Hopewell, West Windsor, Robbinsville, Princeton, and several other Mercer and Middlesex County programs.

Rec programs are today the closest thing that kids have to "unstructured, after school play." It is of course structured, but the point is that kids are playing with their friends, forging community bonds, developing mutually beneficial relationships with the schools, and on the whole participating in programs that emphasize fun, healthy competition, sportsmanship, and fitness.

Travel programs will now be poisoning this environment, tearing at the fabric of these communities, siphoning off talent and overwhelming families. All to make a buck. This is all the more reason that we need greater transparency with these travel programs so that families can learn what they are getting into should they choose to abandon their town's program and join a travel team. I have been involved in the local lacrosse community since 1991, and I am in no way convinced these travel programs are on the whole a "value" for families and their children.

I strongly encourage local community programs to "draw a line in the sand" and work together to dissuade these travel programs from marketing their teams in the Spring season. Parents should do their "due diligence" and learn all they can about these programs. The commercialization of youth athletics is an onerous trend, and we should really think about the "opportunity costs" of turning our children into commodities and of weakening local control over youth sports. We should not let this happen without a fight.