Don’t Play Travel Ball: Stay in the Rec League

I have friends I respect whose kids have played (and some who do play) travel ball, and I mean no offense to them by this post. Nor am I categorically condemning their decisions and choices. I am offering these thoughts for parents who are considering whether to put their kids on a “competitive” team, or a “travel-ball” team, or a “tournament” team, or whatever it may be called in your sport and locale.

Don’t get me wrong: I love competition. I love excellence. And I want to provide the best competitive opportunities I can for my own kids.

I played two years of major college baseball at the University of Arkansas, and I’ve been coaching my sons in baseball and basketball for the last 7 years or so. These reflections grow out of my own experience playing and coaching and watching other families. My thoughts will be mainly applied to baseball, but I think they are valid for basketball, volleyball, soccer, lacrosse, swimming, and whatever else.

Here are 10 reasons I think you should keep your kid in the rec league rather than quitting it for travel ball. These are presented in the order in which I suspect most dads think about them, not in the order of importance I would rank them (#6 would be #1, and #4 would be #2).

  1. Kids should play not work.

Growing up I loved baseball. I wanted to play all the time, until I got to college and had to do so. When I walked on and made the Razorbacks, the sport I loved to play became a year-round job. A job is not a game. We practiced a lot, doing as much as the NCAA allowed, all year long, in season and out.

That’s fine for an 18 year old on the cusp of adulthood, but there’s no reason to put a 7–14 year old through that kind of rigor.

After my first year of it in college, I found that what had been so fun because I had the opportunity to look forward to it in the off season, or even on days between practice or games, began to feel like a dreaded obligation that consumed a significant portion of every day.

The daily grind not only sapped the joy of the game, it was physically punishing. My arm hurt all the time, and I wasn’t a pitcher. The journey the Lord had me on led to me being cut from the team after I did not play summer ball following my sophomore year. I had played non-stop from the summer before my freshman year, through fall ball, winter weights, the spring season, then summer ball before it started all over in my sophomore year. I needed a break, and I wanted to be a counselor at a Christian camp that summer (Kanakuk).

The gods of baseball punished me for my lack of devotion. I was sad when the team cut me from the roster, but I was also relieved. I had my schedule back. So much time was freed up by not having to go to practice. I could now study what I wanted to study, and my classes were no longer determined by baseball practice. I could rest.

I’ve heard of travel ball teams that play 60 games in a summer—for kids under 10!—and then they practice at least once a week through the winter.

I’ve also heard more than one parent tell me that after a few years of travel ball, in some cases only one year of it, their son decided he didn’t want to play baseball anymore. I never felt that way until I got to college, but looking at the demands of travel ball, I totally understand how the kid feels.

That’s why I’m writing this post. I want your son to love baseball, to have the opportunity to be a kid, and to play the game as a kid. Baseball should be a fun game for him not a demanding job.

Keep him in rec ball, where he won’t get burnt out because he’s a kid facing the demands of a profession.

  1. Your kid isn’t going pro (and that’s a good thing).

The percentages are outrageous. So many kids grow up dreaming, so few put on a big league uniform. No one should expect to make the show.

I grew up wanting to be a major league baseball player, and I’m so glad I never even got drafted. I spent my 20s laying the foundation for what I’m doing with the rest of my life, not bouncing around in the minor leagues. I got an education, got married, we started having children, and now I get to coach my kids.

If I was in the big leagues, my summers (and falls, and springs) would be dominated by an unrelenting schedule leaving no opportunity to coach my kids’ teams. Travel is not glamorous but grueling. How does a big leaguer have a family? And at best a professional athlete might play into his late 30s or early 40s, then what?

I submit that even with all the excitement of the game, and the money and fame that come with it, the life of a professional athlete is not one to be envied.

Don’t sacrifice your son’s childhood on the altar of the hope that he’s the next Derek Jeter. Have fun with sports, and use it to build character, not dream-castles in the skies.

Give your kid the chance to be a great person and cultivate that through sports.

  1. If your kid does go pro, rec ball is the likelier path.

On the off-chance that your kid is a freak athlete with the arm strength, foot speed, power, stamina, and character, who gets all the right breaks at just the right time, chances are he’ll rise up through the ranks of rec ball rather than being groomed on the travel ball circuit.

Small towns breed professional athletes, and the reason seems to be that kids in small towns aren’t over-coached, over-organized, and over-specialized by the travel ball opportunities found in larger cities. Small town kids grow up playing lots of sports not getting burnt out playing the same one all year round.

  1. Your family doesn’t need travel ball.

This is the one your wife wants you to care about. And you should. Your marriage matters a lot more than some sport your kid plays. What will travel ball mean for your marriage? What will travel ball mean for your other kids? If you’re coaching your 12 year old’s travel ball team, what does that mean for the rec league opportunities your 7 year old has? Do you want to miss the younger kid’s games and practices?

If you are traveling every weekend, or most of them, for a Friday, Saturday, Sunday tournament, what happens to non-sport family time? If you’re exalting baseball over all these other things, are you serving a false god, an idol, that is going to use you and then throw you away?

Is the travel ball opportunity your 7–14 year old kid has more important than Friday nights and Saturday mornings at home with the family? Is it more important than being at church on Sunday morning? (on which more below).

  1. Your wallet will thank you.

I don’t even want to think about how much parents pay for their 7–14 year old kids to travel to tournaments, to stay in hotels, to pay the tournament entry fees, and whatever else all this costs. I am confident that there are better ways to steward those thousands of dollars.

You may be betting on the kid getting a scholarship. I’m betting you would be better off saving your money to help him with college expenses. Consider D1 baseball: each team is allowed a maximum of 11.7 scholarships, and those scholarships can be divided up between players. The roster includes 35 players, 27 of whom can receive scholarship money.

When I was playing at Arkansas, none of my teammates had a full ride from the baseball program. Not one. The only kind of baseball scholarship D1 programs offer is a partial one. That means that even if your kid is the best thing since Babe Ruth, if he goes off to play major college baseball, the baseball team isn’t paying all the expenses. And given the number of kids playing and the number of available spots, even a partial baseball scholarship is terribly unlikely.

  1. You should be in church.

As a follower of Jesus, this consideration is the most important one for me.

I talked to a dad who was committed to having his family in church even when they were on the road—and he said they traveled as a family as often as they could—for tournaments. That’s commendable, but I suspect that those tournaments don’t always start the Sunday games at times that make finding a worship service possible.

More important than that, you and your family don’t need a summer long break from the life and fellowship of your local church. Christians need to be gathering with the same group of people every week to worship the risen Lord Jesus, to hear his word, and to fellowship with each other.

Kids need to see that Jesus and his church are more important to their parents even than baseball. Jesus is God not baseball.

You need the church, and the church needs you.

If you’re a non-Christian reading this post, don’t you want to live for something more than baseball? I would urge you to consider how trustworthy Jesus is, how he can reconcile you to God, how he has paid for your sin, and how his Spirit can enable you to love others and enjoy life with them in a gathering of people joined together at a local church. Baseball can’t raise the dead, but Jesus will do just that when he returns to make this world into the new heavens and new earth.

If you’re in Louisville, come check us out at www.KenwoodBaptistChurch.com.

  1. Better to play more than one sport.

I’ve alluded to this somewhat above. Kids need to play more than one sport so their rotator cuffs can recover, so their elbows can rest, so they don’t have to have Tommy John surgery at 17. They need to run and jump and exercise other muscles than the ones required by baseball. They don’t need to have baseball practice every week all year long, and you don’t need to be their taxi for that every week all year long either.

  1. Don’t dilute the talent pool in the rec league.

Part of the argument for travel ball is the appeal of better competition. As more and more kids get involved in travel ball, the best players are taken out of the rec league. It’s a vicious cycle. The best coaches and the best players stop playing rec ball in favor of travel ball, leading to fewer teams and a lower level of competition in the rec league.

  1. Don’t cause the rec league to dry up.

This is related to the previous: the best players leave the rec league for travel ball, and then the mediocre players get tempted to do so, and then all the kids get burnt out and stop playing baseball. Thus the rec league dries up. Was it really worth it?

  1. Don’t get seduced.

As I’ve talked to people about this dilemma, one friend proposed this to me: he said that I should start my own travel ball team, and I should commit myself to being “low-key” about it. Sound familiar? It did to me. Several dads had told me that they were leaving rec ball for a “low-key” travel ball team, or that they were adding a “low-key” travel ball team on top of the rec ball their son was playing.

But my friend who suggested that I do this also told me what was going to happen: he said I needed to understand that the other travel ball teams weren’t going to be low-key, so we would get pummeled at tournaments and probably lose every game. That would inevitably awaken the competitive impulse, leading to more practices, more effort expended, and the gradual creep to a higher key. He said he had seen it happen. Dads get into it for a little better competition not meaning for it to take over their lives, and the next thing they know their schedule and wallet are dominated by travel ball.

So I’m writing in the hope that you’ll see that rec ball is a better route. It’s better to honor God than to win, and it’s better for your kid to enjoy the game than for him to play at the highest possible level.

Conclusion

Do I think you are sinning if your kid plays travel ball? Not necessarily, but if your kid is in the 7–14 age range, I will suspect that you might not be pursuing the wisest course. I could be wrong. There may be instances in which it’s the right thing, and when a kid gets to be 15 to 16 years old, it’s understandable that commitment levels and demands are going to rise and choices are going to have to be made.

But I say be wise. Be a parent. And for the good of rec ball leagues everywhere, for the good of your family, and for the good of your kids, I would urge you to avoid travel ball until the kid is old enough to commit to a more demanding regimen. It seems to me that time comes in the mid to late teens, but that’s going to be a judgment call . . .

Bottom line: give your kids a childhood they’ll want to replicate with their own children not one they’ll react against.

63 Responses to Don’t Play Travel Ball: Stay in the Rec League

  1. Richard Caldwell February 10, 2016 at 7:55 am #

    Good stuff Jim.

    • JMH February 10, 2016 at 8:46 am #

      Thanks!

      • Laura Mrachek February 11, 2016 at 4:24 pm #

        Totally agree with your article. My son (now aged 26) was approached from age 10 on to play travel ball, but we declined year after year because it would pull us away from church plus cost us a small fortune. He played Little League all the way through age 14 and has wonderful memories of playoff games, sometimes leading all the way to state. He was athletic and had the potential to play college baseball, so we finally enrolled him in travel ball after his freshman year in high school. Despite not playing travel ball until high school, he got several offers and ended up playing for a highly regarded D1 program. Just like you, he burned out after two years and transferred so he could pursue his other passions and, more importantly, gain much-needed work experience which benefited him tremendously when he graduated from college and was looking for a job. (He never would have been able to do this had he continued playing in college as all of the players were expected to play in a summer league each year.) And you are right about MLB not being all it’s cracked up to be; several of my son’s college teammates were drafted in the top 10 rounds (as high as supplemental 1st round), and with only one exception, they all complained about the grind and monotony (not to mention extremely low salaries) once they entered the minor leagues. My son’s high school teammate played in the minors for several years before being cut and at age 26, he is just now finishing college and trying to figure out what to do with his life. Again, like you said, church should not be sacrificed by families of 8, 10, and 12-year olds, and oftentimes not even by families of high-schoolers. (Matthew 6:33) I pray that many folks take heed of what you shared.

  2. Doc B (J B Boren) February 10, 2016 at 10:06 am #

    As one who has three sons, two of whom played ‘travel ball’ for part of their youth, and one who didn’t, I can affirm everything you say here. The best outcomes were consistently when we stayed in the local rec leagues. You are spot on with all your assertions, and I wish I’d been able to absorb something like this when my oldest two were starting out.

  3. Joshua Thompson February 10, 2016 at 10:36 am #

    I was recently Contemplating to start travel ball from my son recently and for some reason I’ve been holding back . Now I know the reasons. You explain it t the tee for me and can’t thank you enough . I also when I was kid play at lyndon and never traveled and loved it and still played college baseball myself for 4 yrs. Tha KS alot for all your insight!!!

  4. tom February 10, 2016 at 10:36 am #

    Jim,
    These are good thoughts. Thanks for sharing them.

    As a long-term pastor I’ve watched parents who were convinced their sons would benefit by travel ball deeply regret their decisions a decade later. As a volunteer basketball coach for 18+ years, I’ve seen girls spiritually suffer by the same well-intentioned convictions of their parents. No doubt there are exceptions, but I haven’t personally witnessed one.
    -ta

  5. Dan Sudfeld February 10, 2016 at 10:48 am #

    Very good… and same principles work for hockey too. Thank you for writing this.

  6. Lori February 10, 2016 at 11:06 am #

    Thank you for this. I have been wanting to put my son on a travel team. It’s hard in the county. He didn’t make the middle school team as only travel ball kids only made it. He was so upset. So we are playing upward thru our church. My son loves basketball but I have noticed the small number of high school players that are playing in high school now especially in our town. They had to draft 8th graders to play for the high school JV team so the others could step up and play the Varsity. We only have 1 high school senior playing basketball. Maybe my son will get a chance to play as long as he continues to love the game. It’s hard to see him play so well and knowing we don’t have the funds as most to do travel ball. Thanks for posting this. #momof3boys

  7. Matt Joiner February 10, 2016 at 11:30 am #

    Thanks for the great article I can share with the parents of my students. Really great article Dr. Hamilton!

  8. Ginnie February 10, 2016 at 11:38 am #

    Thank you! We have made this decision for the past three years and been ridiculed for it and told we are not being fair to our son. For us, it boils down to priorities. I do not feel we will ever look back on our decision to say “no” to travel ball. At 12, our son tells us he thinks we have made the right decision. He told us last week that he is glad that we have taught him to focus on his eternal future.

  9. Coach B February 10, 2016 at 11:50 am #

    I don’t believe in definitive ‘s. There are many benefits of pursuing sports excellence, travel like any other passion filled event children can participate can be an extremely beneficial. Turn your focus and see a different view. Learning that excelling takes commitment, hard work, loyalty. Focusing on winning games is short-sighted and ignorant. Fill your children’s team with morals and role models. Learn from others short comings and honor God with your precious time on the field. Travel with extended families and make bonds with good people. Have your “church” thru fellowship and reach others who may be lost.
    If you forego travel for these “right” reasons then you should challenge yourself and those in the league to make it the utopia described here (I believe it should be). BE INVOLVED , VOLUNTEER, ATTEND MEETING AFTER MEETING, FUND RAISE, HOLD ALL ACCOUNTABLE FOR TIME, HONOR, COMMITMENT AND GET ALL THE KIDS TO ENJOY THIS LEAGUE YOU ARE A PART OF. Don’t let one child be turned away because they can’t afford registration or equipment. Car pool or fund transportation for those who can’t get their children on time. Extend your season, make sure that all teams are drafted equally. Train your coaches and prepare them for every level they will be involved. PAY FOR QUALITY UMPIRES, make sure you have enough umpires for all games and have them supported by all involved. Set the example for the kids. Applaud effort and celebrate results for both dugouts. Do not tolerate conduct of the weak and uneducated. Educate them. Give MVP, Player of the game, most improved player of the game.. Awards. Encouraging the pursuit of excellence and rewarding hard work and God given talent.
    Build this league and you will have travel on the decline. Waiting lists for leagues. Fun for all, talent levels not seen before. A lot of we’ll rounded and good mannered young men who enjoy competition and sportsmanship.

    Please advertise when you have this league so I can get the 70 or so kids I will bring with me to get in registration line.

    Coach

    • Jason Kates February 10, 2016 at 5:11 pm #

      Coach B, Come play in SBMSA in Houston. Our league is like the one you described.

      • Coach B February 10, 2016 at 5:45 pm #

        I hoped that I would get information like yours Jason. Unfortunately with all the sacrifices I’ve made that relocation doesn’t seem likely but as usual, I’ll pray about it. I do offer the opportunity to advertise your league and ask that you share it here and anywhere possible. I would also ask to establish contact with you for a ‘best practices’ sharing of information and spreading of the works you are enjoying.

  10. David Williamson February 10, 2016 at 12:36 pm #

    I don’t normally respond to blog posts, but I wanted to respond to this one because I respect you. Just last year, I finished your work God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment. It was excellent, by the way. I have also read some of your other works and have learned much from them and enjoyed reading them. This post seems a departure from your normal posting and writing. I find it filled with some great thoughts based on extreme examples and false assumptions. While you make some great points, let me provide an alternate perspective, even if I appear at present to be the lone dissenting voice. I have coached in a recreation league for almost five years, and now my eleven-year-old daughter is in soccer “travel ball.” First, not all travel ball destroys a child’s love for the game. My daughter loves the game more now than ever before. Second, recreation leagues can be just as competitive and demanding as travel ball, but doesn’t have the same season length. In my experience as a recreation coach, I found the rec league filled with as much politics and drama and team stacking as travel ball leagues. Often this will vary from league to league and from coach to coach. Third, most days my family enjoys family travel ball, together. Then again, some games I find my older daughter listening to her ipod while we watch the games. Many of the families on our team actually make it a family affair. Fourth, travel ball is expensive, but so are the other activities in which many parents place their children like show choir and band. Are those stewardship issues as well? Fifth, a child can play travel ball while a family is still committed to church. I understand that now I may be bringing up an exception to the norm. As a pastor, I require my daughter to be in church every Sunday, which means that she misses all Sunday games that interfere with worship. Now, this doesn’t mean that her coach and teammates like it, but we have found that our commitment has opened the door for spiritual conversations. We decided to engage in travel ball because the coaching was better. I know because I was her coach for years. She excelled once she wasn’t under my leadership and under the leadership of a professional. Do I think that she will go pro? No. Do I think that she will even play on the high school level? I don’t know. But we have had a great experience with travel ball and have been able to balance our commitments to both Christ, his church, and our family. We may be the exception along with the league in which we play. As of now, we do believe that we are pursing “the wisest course.” It’s not for every child or family, but we have enjoyed allowing our child to play travel ball, at least today.

    • JMH February 10, 2016 at 2:44 pm #

      See caveats in opening and closing paragraphs.

    • Carole August 8, 2016 at 10:53 pm #

      Thanks for your words David. I wholeheartedly agree with you!!

  11. Kehl Hilbert February 10, 2016 at 12:48 pm #

    I agree with some that was said. Our daughter played travel softball for 9 years. It was good for us a s a family although the wallet didnt think so. Rec ball in many places is competitive. Here in our area not so much. Wr had to travel 3 ours to find a competitive travel team. Which we gladly did because we got to see our daughter develop into a top notch softball player, which would not have happened here. Dont get me wrong there are alot of rec leagues that are great but if you live in the middle of no where lile wr do that was out only option to make her the best that she could be and to teach her to challenge herself and not settle for just good enough

  12. Roy February 10, 2016 at 4:14 pm #

    If non-Christians are playing travel ball on Sundays and all the Christians are in church with other Christians, how will the Christians win the non-Christians to Christ?

    • Mac February 10, 2016 at 7:13 pm #

      There are other times – even on Sundays – to play just as there are many different times that people worship. We come together as believers to worship and encourage one another – then we go out into the world to reach people in the name of Christ – Hebrews 10:25 is just one example of the Bible reminding believers that it’s important that we not throw church out the window to do other things. God will open doors to tell others about Christ as we are faithful to follow Him.

    • Marci February 10, 2016 at 10:40 pm #

      By living our life for Christ the other 6 days. By your argument, we should never have church services because, if we’re in church and the lost people aren’t, how are we going to win them? This is a straw man argument that has nothing to do with the very valid points the author makes.

    • Chris February 11, 2016 at 2:09 pm #

      This question reveals how far our cultural worldview has intermixed with a Christian one. Confused! We don’t win Non-Christians by showing them how little we care about worship and the assembly of believers, we win them through honoring God as better than all other appetites. We don’t win Non-Christians by loving them more than we love God and his glory. We love them by showing them that God is infinitely more valuable than all else. This is what we due when we gather for worship. It is other worldly, it is unlike anything the Non Christian can imagine, to deny ourselves something the world says is a “must” and do something the world see’s as “foolish”. It is evangelism that is not solely dependent upon our efforts, but on the power of the Word being preached, loved, and then given to others. Non-Christians exist because what they worship is false. Christians are Christians because we worship what is true. We must show them how to live well so that they may flourish and worship what is enduring. And if it means giving up travel ball, by all means give it up. Eternity is at stake.

    • Mark February 11, 2016 at 2:27 pm #

      I hear this quite a bit. Generally speaking, these parents don’t do the Sunday sports to evangelize. They use evangelism as a “spiritual” reason for not being in church. And man (probably some do) don’t evangelize. The irony is that if you don’t value your commitment to church (and Christ) enough to pass on sports to commit to church, you aren’t likely to step out and preach the gospel at the sports events either. Also, I’m more interested and more compelled by Scripture to promote the spiritual health of my own children than of their team mates. If I show my kids church is optional but reach the other parents, I’ve failed. Our children assume that Sunday morning is time to worship with our church. I intend to keep it that way.

    • Roy February 11, 2016 at 2:53 pm #

      Thanks to all who replied. I think this is an important topic that needs to be discussed. And I hope all who read my question realize that there is no 1 correct answer for everyone. The Holy Spirit leads us all differently. When my life ends, I will have to give an account to my Lord as to whether I obeyed the command in Matt28:19 that says “Go”. I simply have to go find the people that need Jesus. Very few will walk in my church doors on Sunday. What guides me is Paul in 1Cor9:22-23 – “22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. 23 I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it”. Yes, I need Sunday fellowship and worship. I also need it every day of the week. And yes, they will see how I live and what’s important to me the other 6 days a week; for better or worse. But if missing church on a Sunday for travel ball is condemning, then missing church for family vacations, work, sickness or any other reason is the same. Legalism requires perfection, and I’m not perfect, Jesus is. Thanks, To Him Be the Gory (in travel ball and everywhere else in His Creation)

      • Peter Schott February 11, 2016 at 3:00 pm #

        Thanks, Roy. I know you were saying that there’s no one answer for everyone. I appreciate that. I think it does need to be approached carefully and prayerfully, especially with the demands on the family and commitments that call us away from the church. For some – may not even be an issue. For others, it can wreak havoc.

        I appreciate the attention to burnout as well – I’ve seen that in some kids where they’re pushed to keep going and just don’t want to do it anymore.

        Likewise, I appreciate the voices of parents who have been there on both sides. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

        We enjoyed Upward for what it was and knew that it wasn’t hugely competitive (for the most part). We’re enjoying the homeschool league to which we belong right now, but also realize that our daughter’s team is not a highly competitive team, but the JV/Varsity teams are a bit more competitive. (Their varsity team is seeded #1 or #2 nationwide and is competitive, though still strives to put Jesus first.) We pretty much know that we’re not ready to commit to a large amount of travel and that will be a consideration as our daughter gets older.

      • Dean July 17, 2016 at 5:04 pm #

        Thank you, Roy! I love the press on legalism because that is what church attendance can become when our hearts are not aligned on what God desires. I coach a travel team and I am a pastor. When we are out of town, I have capable leaders who continue service and I have church with anyone from the team who wants to join us. The bigger issue is that we have limited what we view as church rather than embracing it as a gathering which occurs anywhere that the Gospel is proclaimed.

  13. Jason Kates February 10, 2016 at 5:21 pm #

    Great post. Hopefully it will make us parents pray, think, and analyze the motives behind our kids’ activities.

    I am coaching a 5-6 yr old team and can already feel the pull of private instructors, out of season ball, travel squads, etc. coming down the pike. My 5 year old has peers that are playing baseball year round already!

    This is going to be a big temptation for me because I love sports and am competitive by nature. I pray that God keeps me humble and rightly focused. Articles like this help.

  14. Marci February 10, 2016 at 10:47 pm #

    I just watched a program not too long ago on the rise of Tommy johns surgeries. Every expert agreed that kids are being played too hard and too long. For one thing, their bodies just aren’t developed enough to handle the strain. In fact, most experts believe that if your goal is for your child to go pro, the worst thing you can do is overplay them. All your doing is increasing the strain and the chance of injury for no appreciable gain.

    But besides that, if you are a Christian parent, the absolute worst thing you can do is teach your kids that anything is more important than God. You can argue all you want and say you go to church when you travel, but the first time you skip church because it interferes with game time, you have taught your child that a game is more important than worshipping God. It is no wonder so many of our children leave the church when they go to college.

  15. Marci February 10, 2016 at 11:07 pm #

    There is another very sad thing that often happens as a result of a family’s involvement in travel ball. As a preacher’s daughter, I saw many families who were active in church get involved with a travel ball team, and not only stop being active, but eventually drop out of church altogether. I have seen it just recently in the church I’m attending now. It always seems to happen with those families that God is really working with. I’m not saying that travel ball is a sin, but it seems to be something that Satan can use to tempt people away (especially dads). My older brother played sports from t-ball to college, probably would have went pro if he hadn’t hurt his shoulder (yes, he was THAT good, I’m not just saying it, he had an unhittab,e curve ball), but the decision was made when he first started that God and His church would always come first, and he would not play if there was a conflict between his first priority and the game. I think Jesus said it best when He said, “What does it profit a man to gain the world and lose his soul?”

  16. Ryan February 11, 2016 at 9:32 am #

    Thank you sir for this…I wrestle with this issue a lot as our older children (3 boys/12, 9, & 8) are starting to get to the age where this is a possibility. Praying we keep the Lord first in all things…and your insights help!!!
    His,
    Ryan E

  17. Andy February 11, 2016 at 10:00 am #

    I think this is a good post and is great advice. I do wonder though as a parent of a child who did play travel ball and also ended up as a D1 athlete if we aren’t typically just exchanging one pursuit of excellence for another. I have a feeling you may not describe yourself as so Dr. Hamilton (humble?) but could it be said that you’re in the big leagues of your profession? It’s only my observation of course but many areas in life are dog eat dog competitive, as it were. Travel ball is being on the right team, knowing the right people, and working on your skill set; not that much different from academic pursuits really and more so I suppose. Personally, if I could have done things differently I would have kept my child in the rec leagues but I guess I’m not sure if she would have learned to pursue excellence in the manner she did had she done so. Again, it’s an interesting post but when it comes down to it is the field that you or other high achieving people are in really all that much different? I’d venture no but the travel ball experience can be quite beneficial to that pursuit can it not provided travel ball doesn’t become a means to an end which, unfortunately, it often is. Uber competitive athletics is going to end for 99.9 percent of kids/young adults. For those not going into coaching/training or the extremely few that will play professionally the focus needs to not get away from marketable skills once your done with college; which is a challenge in itself as athletes are often steered towards meaningless degrees to accommodate athletics.

    • Roy Hendley February 11, 2016 at 10:03 am #

      Well said Andy…..

    • JMH February 11, 2016 at 1:38 pm #

      My concerns in the post are directed not at adults pursuing excellence in their callings but at parents of kids in the 7–14 age range . . .

  18. Amy February 11, 2016 at 10:46 am #

    Many of the assertions in this article are quite true. As a mom of a 10 year old girl who has played both travel and rec softball we have seen first hand the pros and cons of both. However, the main reason we’ve stuck with travel is the consistency that it offers. My daughter has played with the same girls and coaches for 3 seasons now. They have grown together, developed rapport and strong friendships. While rec ball was enjoyable, the ever changing pool of players, coaches and parents made for inconsistent experiences for my daughter, some good and some bad. It always seemed the season ended right about the time we got to know everyone. We have truly enjoyed getting to know our travel team family!

  19. Peter February 11, 2016 at 11:04 am #

    I appreciate the article. My daughter is involved in a local homeschool league. I was impressed when we showed up that the Varsity girls took a little time to welcome her and get her situated before the coaches were ready. They open/close each practice and game with prayer and are not overwhelming us with lots of games. We don’t have Sunday games and I’d venture that she’s in the lower end of competitive teams. I look at another coach who is seeded number one in the league and am very glad my kid isn’t with him as I can only imagine the sort of character they’d be building.

    We still put prior commitments first and the coach understands that we can’t make all games/practices as a result. We’re seeing some growth in her skills and she loves the game. She does it for fun and it’s not overwhelming even though it’s a little more competitive than a local rec league.

    We played Upward for quite some time and my wife was amazed at how many parents going to the practices are unchurched. She got to have some really good conversations with the moms who really didn’t understand the philosophy behind Upward as a result. 🙂

    I’ve seen a couple of families fall into the travel ball trap. They dropped out of church and I think it really showed their kids that priorities of baseball come before any commitment to church attendance or service. I also grew up watching sports slowly take over Sundays as the team practices/warmups got earlier and earlier until they happened during church times. Families who thought the Sunday game was no big deal slowly dropped out of church because sports came first. Sad to see but strengthened our resolve that sports would not take priority over God and our church family.

  20. Sharon February 11, 2016 at 12:02 pm #

    I enjoyed your article and the discussion following it. You all make very good points to consider. I’m coming at this topic from a multi-dimensional approach. My husband and I were both very competitive athletes growing up (though we had a wide variety of interests), played travel ball in high school, and won scholarships to a Big 10 university. After college, my husband played pro baseball for a while and I played on a national team. Our time in sports opened up a world of opportunities, and more importantly taught us much about life, ourselves and God, so we are very pro-sports. However, as parents now of three young adult children we handled sports for them in a much different way than the current culture dictates. Additionally, as an exercise physiologist, I’m very pro movement, health and sports, but believe balance in life is key.

    In raising our children in a world where developing a one-sport athlete is pushed to the extreme, we both were counter-culture, and we have happy, well-adjusted kids now, all of whom continue to pursue fitness as a lifestyle. (Not that we did everything right by any means!!) My thoughts written here veer away from the focus of recreational versus travel leagues as the original blog talks about, but include some areas to think about whichever route of competition you choose. Below are just a few “stream of consciousness” suggestions as readers consider their views on how they encourage their children in sports. Some of the thoughts overlap what was already said.

    I recognize that although it isn’t common for kids to be offered college scholarships for sports, it obviously isn’t impossible. (And I hope that’s not the reason you involve your kids in athletics!) Several thoughts on that: Their chances are greater for continuing their sporting lives, whether at college or recreationally as adults, if they aren’t burnt out on competition by the time they turn 18…or 13, as I’ve seen occur far too often. Though parents are well-intentioned, often children are tired of pursuing what was once fun but has become a stressful climb to the next level of competition at the expense of other parts of their lives, or at the expense of joints injured by overuse. Also, parents may not have a realistic view of how talented their son or daughter is in sports, often over or underestimating their abilities. Listen to truthful, accurate feedback from coaches. (This, too, however, isn’t a litmus test. Kids blossom at different ages. Always keep in mind why you have this child involved in sport. What are they learning? Is it a help or detriment to their character and bodies? Do they enjoy it or is it a drudge? Do the social aspects improve their values and stimulate great discussions at home, or lead them away from family?)

    How do you help your child’s best come out, leaving the potential open for higher levels of competition, while avoiding the possible detriments of rigorous levels of the sport? No formula exists, but here are a few ideas to think about:

    Variety: Encourage your children to play a different sport each season until their upper teens. They will actually improve more at each sport because a variety of new skills enhances old ones in ways that can’t be quantified. Additionally, they will probably have fewer injuries and enjoy the competition more. They learn more socially because they have different teammates for each sport and different roles. The physical and mental challenges of pursuing more than one sport is healthy in every respect. (And options do exist that don’t cost an arm and a leg.) The fear that if children don’t specialize in one sport by eighth grade they will miss opportunities is unfounded.

    Enjoyment: Help your children enjoy a sport for the simple joy of the sport. There doesn’t have to be a life lesson constantly pointed out. The nature of sport is that participants will learn in the course of their play, practice, games or meets, all about discipline, perseverance, punctuality, teamwork, goal-setting, how to handle disagreements, disappointment and failure, as well as success and recognition. We parents should observe what’s going on, be readily available, but not be constantly interfering, trying to direct, or solve everything that goes on in practice or competition. (No wonder God calls us to pray without ceasing!)

    Identity: Think about how your child views his or her identity. Our hope as parents is that they think of themselves first as members of God’s family and then our family, and then perhaps as an athlete, etc., after that. Being part of a team, no matter how long it’s for, isn’t permanent, so as nice as it is to identify with activities that we love, we don’t want them to define us or our kids.

    Well-roundedness: Despite the cultural drive for pursuing one sport, well-roundedness as a child makes for happy, well-adjusted adults. We all need to be careful that identifying with just one sport and spending most of our time with it can deter a child from gaining skills, interests and appreciation for other activities and knowledge. Developing skills in (or at least having exposure to) music, art, great books, drama, theology, politics, or science-and-math-related activities makes us better, more empathetic, engaged human beings and citizens, and better leaders. Help your kids find the joy of learning in areas other than sports. If your children think you are most concerned about their being the best baseball pitcher, back-stroker, or whatever, they can become guilt-ridden for wanting to even think about spending time in other pursuits because they naturally want to please you (or the constant stress of knowing how vital it is to you, may act to make them hate it).

    Excellence: Pursuing excellence is important, but be sure you know and your child knows what you mean by that. God makes it pretty clear when Paul says, “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus…” We represent Him, so we will want to do our best and want our kids to understand why. And we want them to work hard, even when the going gets tough. As parents, however, we can sometimes unknowingly pressure our kids to continuing pursuing things at a higher level because we want it for them, not because they want it, and we proverbially try to put a square peg into a round hole. When we read books about how it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert on anything, it may wrongly motivate us to try to create little experts out of our kids by the time they graduate from high school. Of course our children have bents that we want to nurture, encourage and help them develop, but let’s make sure we aren’t pursuing our own agenda.

    Messages conveyed: We parents need to pray daily about what messages we are sending our children by the sports or other activities we have them in. It’s important to be committed to making games, meets, tournaments, and practices a priority, but not at the expense of church, or important family gatherings. Those conflicts are becoming more common with the increasing secularization of our country. Get involved with the sport’s governing board and voice your opinion. Other parents might be emboldened to speak up. Hey, for years sports programs operated quite successfully without Sunday morning scheduling.

    Motivations: Just because you liked something as a kid, or were good at it, it doesn’t mean your child will or should be. My husband also was a quarterback at a Big 10 university, and my dad was a football coach, but we both chose to direct our son away from football and into other sports because of the enormous risk of injury, especially head injury. Our son never felt like he missed out on anything; he was too busy playing other sports and doing other activities. Think about your reasons for getting your child into a sport. It will look different for each family and each child.

    Well, this certainly diverged off the main topic of traveling versus rec sports, but I hope it provides a little more to talk about, especially among family members.

  21. Thomas February 11, 2016 at 2:07 pm #

    Well-said. I have a neighbor who constantly pesters me about our children’s sports’ involvement level-rec. vs. travel. I also appreciated this article:
    My Kids Don’t Play Sports
    http://kristenanneglover.com/my-kids-dont-play-sports/#comment-6411

  22. Robert Gibson February 15, 2016 at 9:34 pm #

    Having coached both my sons in travel an rec ball, and being on the board of our local rec league, serving as president for several years. I agree 100% with your article. Too many times parents want what they want, not what’s best for their kids. Let kids be kids. Kids are smarter than what we want to give them credit for. Baseball is the greatest game ever, it is exactly that, a game. Let them play the game. For every 10 players that are “forced” to play at the “highest ” level for their age, 6-8 will quit by the time they get into high school. Too many surgeries, other arm problems, leg issues and other health issues that kids at that age shouldn’t have to endure. Rec ball and travel ball can coexist, BUT, it has to be done with the kids as the foremost priority. Let kids be kids, they and their bodies will decide what they can and can’t do. Rec ball is where they develop and
    foster a love for the game. I’d bet if you polled the MLB players the vast majority of them would agree.

  23. Mikee --V February 16, 2016 at 1:36 pm #

    As a Pastor–I certainly appreciate the sentiments expressed in this article.

    I don’t see anything wrong with having children that play recreational sports. However, I am concerned about the amount of time spent in preparation, travel, and practice that can rob a family of what is truly important from a Scriptural perspective.

    The statistics reported concerning the abandonment of the Christian Faith by “christian” young people before their sophomore year in college is overwhelming. Check out:

    The Nehemiah Institute (nehemiahinstitute.com)
    Josh McDowell’s “The Last Christian Generation”
    Al Mohler’s “Culture Shift”
    Michael Horton’s “Christless Christianity”
    Christian Smith’s “Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers”
    Voddie Baucham’s “Family Driven Faith”

    It’s apparent that we–generally speaking–spend more time encouraging our children to pursue athletic excellence than we do in developing a Biblical Worldview in them. Nevertheless, Deuteronomy 6 and Ephesians 6:1-4 still stand in Scripture as commands, not suggestions.

  24. Bret Sullivan February 16, 2016 at 3:17 pm #

    Very edifying – thank you!

  25. Ted March 2, 2016 at 12:11 am #

    “What was play has been made into work, and what was work is now recreation.” That quote, by the way, is found in Haddon Robinson’s book, Preaching

    As father to a pre-teen son who is nuts about baseball, this article was very helpful. Thanks for the warning of what’s ahead.

  26. Richard March 5, 2016 at 4:22 pm #

    I was intrigued by this article and frankly I agree with much of what the author wrote, however, I believe his greatest point is what we as Christians do with Sunday corporate worship. Currently, I umpire at the D-1 and D-2 levels which means that I am away from my home church for many weekends in the Spring because most NCAA colleges play their conference games on the weekends (Friday-Sunday). Though I normally attend a church on Sunday mornings while on the road umpiring, it is not the same as being in my “home” church where I am a member and am committed to the other believers there. I understand, as some have said, that we all miss Sunday worship from time to time for various reasons such as sickness, vacation, etc. I get that, however, Travel Ball (and umpiring for that matter) requires more than the occasional absence. I particularly appreciated what Chris said in his comments related to a Christian view of worship. I would add that Jesus calls us as his disciples to die to ourselves…which includes pursuing our child successes in athletics. This may mean for some to discontinue in Travel Ball while for others they may have the liberty to pursue it. Jim, thank you again for your article…it certainly has caused me to look closely at the affections of my heart.

  27. Karen May 14, 2016 at 7:35 am #

    I do agree with a lot of what your saying… But not all. I do think the child should be old enough to make the decision (7 is not old enough). And they should be able to have an opinion if they want to continue travel ball.
    I have four kids and we live in a small town. My oldest, a girl, played travel soccer and did go to a D1 school on a full ride. She is my only daughter. She and I traveled together and had some of the best times I know of my life. She is now 26 and we share wonderful memories of us getting to spend that time together. She has wonderful character today, she attends church AND she mentors young girls now ( and has paid many fees for these young girls when their parent couldn’t)and gives back to her community. I can guarantee you, she wouldn’t change a thing.
    My next 2 are boys and they have played travel baseball, played on football teams that traveled locally . They are 19 and 20 and still attend church regularly, give back to their community and now participate in church ball.
    My older three have character beyond most their friends at their age. They have discipline unlike many kids today. Yes, that comes from parenting, but also from other experiences like travel ball where they were taught dedication.
    My baby is 8 and plays rec ball and yes he is not old enough to play travel nor to make that decision, we attend church as a family, feed the homeless and participate in church activities. But if HE asks to try out for a travel team in the future, we will give it a try. Each child is different and we can THANK GOD for that.

  28. Shane brignac July 13, 2016 at 9:11 am #

    Way off the mark. Not all travel teams are extreme.

  29. Mark July 20, 2016 at 12:33 pm #

    There can be a happy medium for kids that excel and want to play more. I believe at a young age that fundamentals should be the focal point of practice. Our rec league for basketball and travel team do not overlap so there is not a problem in taking kids from one program to fill another. We also limit the tournaments that the kids play in and try to make sure that they play to their level and not get blown out every game by an elite tournament team. Travel teams can give a player additional confidence, experience in game situations that might be a little faster then their school ball. I have had a positive experience for both my children and I have a 7 year old coming up in the rec leagues.

    I have seen coaches and parents go too far and yell and go crazy at the players, reffs, and each other. I learnt early on that you have to let the kids play, the coaches coach and the referees will not change their mind if you yell at them. Let ’em play and ask your kids if they would like to continue and play more.

    My older two children have played and/or gone to camps since 6th grade and played in rec ball since they were 5 years old. They play 18 to 25 games on their travel teams and when my son was finished this year he decided to play for another team that had more tournaments coming up.( Which surprised me!) Talk to your kids and give them the tools to love the game!

  30. doris July 25, 2016 at 1:27 pm #

    I have plump body. I make the decision to play sport and set a reasonable diet. thanks for sharing. I will refer.

  31. Rob August 26, 2016 at 11:21 am #

    In all honesty it sounds like you are bitter and making excuses.

  32. Jade Brunet September 26, 2016 at 7:10 pm #

    Thank you for this information about why one should stay in a recreational league. Enjoying the game and actually playing instead of always working is an important thing to consider. Something else to consider would be to join a team with the intent of meeting new people and making new friends.

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