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Travel Soccer ... or Baseball ... or Any Sport

At the risk of alienating the parents of tens of thousands of youth in the D.C. region and probably hundreds of thousands of parents elsewhere, I just don't "get" travel sports.

The big story this week is about a bunch of parents banished from the sidelines of two of their girls' Washington Area Girls Soccer League matches. The parents were being punished for berating a referee's call during a game at the end of last season.

Parents, take note: You are the adults here; you are expected to control your outbursts of enthusiasm so as not to harass, express outrage or otherwise publicly disagree with any other adult or child at your chosen sporting event. Travel leagues, such as the WAGSL, even have a Code of Conduct specifying such rules for parents to sign.

While the parents in this case were simply banished from the field for a couple of games, others elsewhere have been jailed for unsportsmanlike outbursts.

But back to this entire concept of travel teams for youth. Traveling sports teams aren't cheap -- they run $1,000 and up -- and they require a HUGE commitment. Many teams travel during the winter holidays and allow only limited reasons for missing practices and games.

In Annie Gowen's story yesterday, she describes WAGSL as "home to many of the area's best soccer players with 600 teams and more than 15,000 participants." WAGSL isn't the only such league in the area to boast high competition. Take the Arlington Travel Soccer Club, which aims "to provide Arlington and Falls Church City youth the opportunity to play soccer at the highest level [my emphasis here] commensurate with their individual ability, potential, and interest." Or how about the Olney Soccer Club for which "the ultimate goal for every team is to become the state champion."

The most honest travel soccer group I found was DC Stoddert Soccer, which explicitly states:

"Being on a travel team requires that both the child and the parent understand that this activity is a commitment. Neither the player nor the team can develop to their full potential without that commitment.
For most travel players, only religious commitments, school commitments and school athletics take precedence over travel team practices and games. Parents are involved weekly in field preparation in advance of, and immediately after, the Sunday games.
Travel soccer is not for every child or every family. But what players and families who make the commitment find is that they improve their skills and confidence by leaps and bounds, they make new friends and they have a lot of fun. Winning is not the ultimate goal of DC Stoddert’s program; player development is. However, players and families alike love the feeling of accomplishment that comes from the success that flows from dedication to the sport.
Parents need to think about whether their child is ready for the experience. If the answer is yes, the child will learn that success does not come easy, that hard work does pay off and that winning is not everything. These are life lessons that we all must learn, and travel soccer is a good way to learn them."

Maybe my kids are simply too young for these commitments for me to understand their allure. Many of these leagues seem to start around age 9. Or maybe I just recognize that they aren't going to be the next Freddy Adu or Michael Jordan or [insert your own favorite athlete here]. Or maybe I'm just too willing to enjoy our $50 local soccer league run mostly with parent coaches.

Are you a travel sports family or have you bucked the travel league phenomenon?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  April 22, 2009; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Elementary Schoolers , Recreation , Teens , Tweens
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Comments


There are plenty of reasons to allow your child to participate in a travel league (if you can afford it), the first being that kids that are onvolved in sports and activities are less likely to get in trouble. It's the same reason people pay thousands of dollars for dance instruction & competition and Martial Arts classes.

Not everyone's kid is going to get a scholarship or become famous, but if they can step into those MS and HS years with a network of friends or added confidence, and they are thriving in an activity, the benefits are enormous.

There are plenty of other reasons travel leagues are good for kids, sportsmanship, team play, dedication, love of sports, friendship - but the kid has to enjoy it otherwise all bets are off.

As for the ranting parents - there are plenty of stories and I think plenty of people will be posting their "Most hideous" sideline story.

Posted by: cheekymonkey | April 22, 2009 6:56 AM | Report abuse

I grew up on travel teams (though in the 80's that didn't really start until age 12 - I consider these 9 year old travel teams unbridled lunacy). And of course the time spent participating imparted skills - contributing to some success at the NCAA div 1 level. Like 99% of NCAA athletes, I went on to go pro in something other than sports.
But while the travel teams honed sports skills, in general that's about all they honed (maybe some time management skills too I reckon).
100 times more valuable was the time I spent in rec leagues (simultaneous to time on the travel teams). Invariably the travel team was made up of other rich white kids just like me. It was really only in the rec leagues that I played with kids who weren't like me. What I learned from them trumped any skills I picked up on the travel squads.
My kids aren't old enough now for sports, but when they are, I'll likely do everything I can to delay participation on travel teams.

Posted by: 06902 | April 22, 2009 8:52 AM | Report abuse

But while the travel teams honed sports skills, in general that's about all they honed (maybe some time management skills too I reckon).

Posted by: 06902 | April 22, 2009 8:52 AM | Report abuse

What about bragging rights for the parents?


Posted by: jezebel3 | April 22, 2009 8:54 AM | Report abuse

I guess it boils down to
1. Is your family child or parent centric?
2. Do you really have the spare money for it?
3. Is it enjoyable for everyone in the family, including all the siblings?

Otherwise all you're doing is splitting up the family in favor of one person. Our daughters swam competitively and really enjoyed it, until it simply was not worth the time nor money expense.

Posted by: peonymom | April 22, 2009 8:57 AM | Report abuse

I grew up playing "travel sports" but like another poster, it started later, around 12. I find today's travel parents and coaches insufferable for the most part. My kids did not take to sports other than recreational. I have some friends and relatives though who have "talented" children, who think they're in line for athletic scholarships. I hope every parent realizes that only 1 percent of high school athletes win any sort of athletic scholarship. Even at that, it is usually not a full scholarship. And, once on scholarship, the sport is like a job.

Some of my greatest childhood memories are sports-related, but there was little pressure then (70s) from my parents or other adults.

Posted by: readerny | April 22, 2009 9:00 AM | Report abuse

I had always heard that if you're serious about soccer you had to be on a travel team, because it's a higher level of competition.

Posted by: jimward21 | April 22, 2009 9:03 AM | Report abuse

What about bragging rights for the parents?

Posted by: jezebel3 | April 22, 2009 8:54 AM | Report abuse

Yep, my parents were world-class braggarts. Part self-serving bias, part self-justification for ridiculous time and effort sucked away...

Posted by: 06902 | April 22, 2009 9:07 AM | Report abuse

Well, I'm sure lots of folks on here will rant about how bad travel teams are and how insane the parents become, but I will simply say that for my son, rec league play would be useless. He's good enough to play travel and benefits from the experience on lots of levels. I have no illusions that he will become a professional in the sport or even play in college, but right now it helps him understand things like hard work, responsibility, and commitment. I don't think watching him outclass rec league players would be useful or beneficial. And, rec league would frustrate him. Seems like a lose-lose proposition, at least for our situation. Obviously, not the case for everyone.

Posted by: teamn | April 22, 2009 9:09 AM | Report abuse

Travel teams are not for us. We will stick with 'Recreational' soccer for as long as we can. The 'commitment' ties a lot of people's hands - parents and, most importantly, the kids. Not a way to raise children, in my humble opinion.

Posted by: Yeluno | April 22, 2009 9:12 AM | Report abuse

I have a friend with three kids and her eleven year old plays in a travel hockey league. It's her decision of course but sometimes it does seem excessive to me-she said it cost 15k last year when you include the hotel stays and all of his equipment. I often wonder if it is fair to her other two kids who are left home with a babysitter or her husband. I would rather have my family eating together and spending time together on weekends.

Posted by: sunflower571 | April 22, 2009 9:14 AM | Report abuse

"rec league play would be useless."

Probably depends a lot on the sport, the age, and your town.

Where I grew up, town league baseball and hockey were both pretty good. And as the kids age, most of the truly hopeless drop out. Travel teams were divided more by class than skill. But like you wrote, every situation is potentially different.

Posted by: 06902 | April 22, 2009 9:29 AM | Report abuse

It's like everything else - it depends on the individual child and family as to whether it makes sense. For some kids and families, travel teams are great. For others, they aren't worth the expense or time. It's up to parents to decide what's best for their kids and their families.

Posted by: dennis5 | April 22, 2009 9:35 AM | Report abuse

teamn - What you are saying is what I have heard. Just because your kid excels at a sport doesn't mean you are an insufferable and boasting parent. There are some very talented kids that play at a very high level and if they like the travel, time and commitment and their parents have the money - whaddaya care? I have also witnessed the opposite, kids that are good enough to make a travel team and their parents act like they are pros. Again, if it bothers you - ignore it.

I have also never heard of 15K a year, although I am sure it happens. A family we know with 2 girls in travel soccer do spend quite a bit of money but they don't feel obligated to travel to every game. They have a network of parents that takes turns so they are only traveling maybe once a month rather than every weekend. They have found the happy medium and the girls love it, so good for them!

My kids are not on travel teams. They enjoy their rec league and get all the benefits of team sports. I know kids and parents that spend an inordinate amount of time in a variety of activities, some of which I don't understand or I think is obnoxious, but how does one ascertain what is good or bad for another family? What may or may not suit me is great to someone else.

Posted by: cheekymonkey | April 22, 2009 9:45 AM | Report abuse

I don't have a clue how many DC area girls play soccer, but if 15,000 of them are in just one of the travel leagues...doesn't sound too "elite" to me. But what do I know?

Posted by: 06902 | April 22, 2009 9:47 AM | Report abuse

"I have also never heard of 15K a year, although I am sure it happens."

With hockey, that's an easily acheivable figure (especially if your kid's a goalie).

Posted by: 06902 | April 22, 2009 9:51 AM | Report abuse

I don't have a clue how many DC area girls play soccer, but if 15,000 of them are in just one of the travel leagues...doesn't sound too "elite" to me. But what do I know?

Posted by: 06902 | April 22, 2009 9:47 AM | Report abuse


The 15K is a dollar value, not sure if that is what you are referring to. But it is like AP or GT classes in MS and HS. One MD county had 40% of the kids in AP classes - is there something in the water over there (if so, please bottle and send me some) or is there something inherently wrong with the system?

Posted by: cheekymonkey | April 22, 2009 9:58 AM | Report abuse

06902: Sorry, I see the 15000 participants in the story.

Posted by: cheekymonkey | April 22, 2009 10:00 AM | Report abuse

The 15K is a dollar value, not sure if that is what you are referring to. But it is like AP or GT classes in MS and HS. One MD county had 40% of the kids in AP classes - is there something in the water over there (if so, please bottle and send me some) or is there something inherently wrong with the system?

Posted by: cheekymonkey | April 22, 2009 9:58 AM | Report abuse


Are you ever gonna shut up on this topic? Are you related to ArmyBrat? How many different ways are there to say "to each his own, but blah, blah, blah...?

Posted by: jezebel3 | April 22, 2009 10:03 AM | Report abuse

The problem with local leagues is that they are coached by often inexperienced parents, thus teaching their players bad skills. I remember the frustration our Trinidadian trainer, Lester, felt trying to get many of us on my select soccer team to unlearn bad techniques, like kicking the ball with the toe rather than the laces, that we had learned from well-intentioned but ignorant fathers from house soccer.
If the purpose of joining an organized sport is for friendships and plain fun, the local leagues fit the bill, but if one really wants to improve their game I think you have to join a select team that is much more likely to be run by experienced coaches/trainers, or try to get on a local team that is coached by a mom/dad who played soccer in college.

Posted by: popanna1 | April 22, 2009 10:06 AM | Report abuse

Are you ever gonna shut up on this topic? Are you related to ArmyBrat? How many different ways are there to say "to each his own, but blah, blah, blah...?

Posted by: jezebel3 | April 22, 2009 10:03 AM | Report abuse


I think you have an obsession with Army Brat, this is the second time you have asked me if I am related to him. The answer is still no.

Posted by: cheekymonkey | April 22, 2009 10:09 AM | Report abuse

I'd like to tag on to what peonymom said, but to add that for us its about being child centered or family centered. We choose to be family centered, that is, individuals making sacrifices so that other members may do things they enjoy without allowing one member of the family to consume all the time, money and activites. I always feel badly for the child who isn't traveling who is relegated to hanging out in different places while their sibiling pursues their interest or is at home and not enjoying the company of their other parent or sibling.

I find it hard to believe that if there are indeed 15K kids in the DC area playing soccer there isn't adequate competition w/in 30 minutes.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | April 22, 2009 10:21 AM | Report abuse

The answer is, "It depends." Some local towns have such well developed local leagues that is worthwhile to forgo the travel teams until the kids get older/more advanced. Some towns have nothing so it doesn't leave much choice.

I played AAU basketball throughout HS and it was a great benefit to me but I still consider "travel" play at an earlier age preposterous. It may be perfectly acceptable to another family.

Posted by: hoos3014 | April 22, 2009 10:31 AM | Report abuse

It's not just soccer. There are many sports. One of our daughters (middle school, started in elementary)is involved with competitive cheer and tumbling. We've traveled to FL, OH, TN, yada yada yada. There is no such thing as recreational cheerleading or tumbling at this level. Don't evan ask about cost, I'm sure it compares with soccer in general. She practices six hours a week for each of the two teams she's on, and kids who miss many practices don't go to competitions. She has learned a lot about hard work and commitment.

One other thing. I have seen no instances of harassment of opposing teams or parents in cheer. None. Its all about sportsmanship.

Posted by: martintomsal | April 22, 2009 10:36 AM | Report abuse

We just became a travel soccer team family (within WAGS) this past year. We are part of an upper montgomery county soccer club. We did not know what we were getting into at the time. My daughter who is 9 has played rec soccer and really loved it and we were approached to have her try out for a travel team. At the time we thought it would just be a higher level of play and several of her friends were all trying out.

She made the team and she loves it. We keep checking with her to see if she wants to continue and she does. It is expensive and it is time consuming but it is also a much higher level of play and focus on the skills of soccer. We never travel more than an hour away and 1/2 the games are within 30 minutes. Her younger brother still plays rec soccer and he enjoys that. We won't move him into a travel team unless he wants to do that and right now he enjoys playing multiple sports.

BTW, for those commenting on the diversity of the players. Soccer is a much more diverse sport in the US than it was say 15-20 years ago. My daughter is multi-racial and she is not the only one on her team of a different race.

I personally think this is a great opportunity for her to play with a great coach and great group of girls. She is learning a lot. But we won't hesitate to stop our participation the minute we sense she is not having fun and would be happy to return to rec sports. There is definitely pros and cons but right now this is right for her.

Posted by: soleil2000 | April 22, 2009 10:55 AM | Report abuse

It seems that we are a long way from having to worry about travel teams with our oldest being only 6. Our first step into sports has been to sign him up for introductory swimming lessons. We have a pool at our complex that they love to 'swim' in so we want to make sure they know how to actually swim. We wanted to sign both of them up but toddler lessons where full up by the time I tried to do it so she is out of luck until the next session.

We have been pretty low key about organized sports mainly due to work and school commitments by all the parents (and also some money issues). Now that I got laid off (from my second job), we have more free time to actually do stuff together as a family.

Posted by: Billie_R | April 22, 2009 11:17 AM | Report abuse

My two kids have always played rec soccer and totally enjoyed it. Less stress for kids and family. In our city, if you play "travel" you can count on:

-playing almost exclusively with other Caucasian, upper-middle-class kids (because of costs involved).

-giving up religious commitments, Scouts, family vacations except to tournaments, friends outside of sport, band, regular community service, or any extracurricular activity that meets after school. My kids would have to miss summer camps (except for sports camp), and church mission trips.

-a high potential for burnout and resultant feelings of failure as kids get into teens and discover other interests. Doesn't always happen certainly, but it does in many cases in my experience.

-nagging physical injuries from concentration on one sport at an early age (pediatricians reccomend against this).

My daughter had a friend in 5th grade who was playing or practicing soccer SIX DAYS A WEEK. My daughter still loves rec soccer as a senior, while the other girl quit several years ago. Many of the girls who stopped the travel teams and returned to rec soccer say how much they enjoy it (parents too).

I think it boils down to how competitive the child and the parents are. Also, is having a well rounded child a priority for the family over having a child who excels at a visible accomplishment like sports. I have also known one girl who was so good at an early age that she was bored with rec play and really needed the extra challenge.

Posted by: outragex | April 22, 2009 11:30 AM | Report abuse

all "travel" means is that you might have to show up on a field or at a competition within X miles. For us, it's 30 miles. That's less than many commutes.

"What about bragging rights for the parents?" Only jezebel would think of bragging about something that's as common as owning black tennis shoes, having a chimney on your house or having five toes on each foot. Go ahead, brag away.

I don't see what distinguishes travel sports teams from any other commitment a kid or family might make.


Posted by: anonfornow | April 22, 2009 11:35 AM | Report abuse

anonfornow:

Maybe the concept of a travel team has changed since I was a kid. I grew up in a town of 200,000. There was one travel hockey team for each age group in our city. Ditto soccer and baseball. We played other towns. I don't understand how it's become so common, and if it is, why the teams in a town don't just play each other in another league (other than the rec league).

Posted by: 06902 | April 22, 2009 11:49 AM | Report abuse

Another firecracker topic on the OP...

Posted by: jezebel3 | April 22, 2009 12:43 PM | Report abuse

My son is 10 and plays recreational soccer each spring- When he was 8 and had aged out of the local 'house' team, we were basically told that he had to make a commitment to year-round play. That's a tough decision for an 8 year old. He decided he wanted to play football in the fall and try other sports during different seasons. Kids need to be able to cross train and 'sample' different activites to find out what suits them. I remember being relived because the local 'Elite' travel team had a web page in which the head coach discussed taking the team to Europe the following summer! That's just not realistic for our budget.

I think that you have to do your homework to find the best fit for your child and your family. Also be aware that some of these programs, camps and coaches are businesses who are in it for the money and glory for themselves- don't be pushed into something that adds stress to your family.

And no matter where you go, there are going to be outrageous characters (parents with bad behavior on the sidelines, braggarts, Cheerleader Moms who are more like Pageant Moms, etc...) My husband coached recreational football in the fall and we were flabbergasted when we noticed some of the opposing team coaches 'spying' at practices!! Find the humor in these situations, but keep your distance!

Posted by: HuckleberryFriend | April 22, 2009 12:47 PM | Report abuse

06902, in fact, except for major tournaments (maybe 3 or 4 weekends per year), that's largely what does happen in metropolitan areas -- you play other teams in your city, or cities immediately adjacent to yours.

there are a lot more kids participating.

outragex - that may be the way travel soccer is in your community, but your experience is not universal. We are approaching the end of our second year of travel soccer. We haven't given up religious commitments (no games before 1 p.m. Sunday) or family vacations or anything else that mattered to us (we did ask our son to pick one extracurricular, and he selected soccer over piano lessons and boyscouts - I don't see selecting one thing over another as a loss), and neither our team or the teams against which our son competes is comprised of upper-middle-class and caucasian kids. Particularly with soccer, the appeal crosses ethnic lines, and jobs paying well enough to support it are available to families of all ethnicities. In fact, if your child wants to have fun competing against the best soccer players, he or she needs to be on a team with latino teammates, and that's generally not the rec league.

maybe you need to investigate another league if yours strips your family of all other activities. Admittedly, if you are Jewish and celebrate Sabbat, Saturday games will pose a constant conflict. They would be true for most rec leagues as well since Saturday games predominate.

Posted by: anonfornow | April 22, 2009 12:56 PM | Report abuse

I manage a team and am on the Board of Directors of my local Little League (in North Carolina). My 9-year old son also participated (for a small amount of time) in travel baseball.

Little League turns no kid away. If you want to play, it does not matter how good your are, you get to be on a team. If you can't afford the registration, we give you a scholarship. In essence, Little League (and other recreational leagues) is about building a sense of community among the 375 kids in the league (30 teams in 6 divisions from age 5 through 16).

Travel Ball is about making your 12 players the best possible. There is no sense of community - it is every team for itself. For highly skilled layers it does give them a better quality of baseball. But it does nothing to teach them principles of diversity (socio-economic, not racial), community, or sport-as-recreation.

Posted by: baseballguy | April 22, 2009 1:00 PM | Report abuse

I just had a big discussion with a wistful friend, Chris. Her daughter is a high school senior lacrosse player. Kelsey has been a standout from a young age, so her parents greenlighted travel lacrosse. Looking back, Chris is realizing how much the family sacrificed for this one child. They've never had a spring or winter break, and missed untold family events, because the coaches of her succession of teams made everything mandatory, with the threat of benching if she missed practice or a game on weekends or breaks, piling up over the years. Kelsey is not playing lacrosse anymore - she suffered a repetitive injury to her back and had to have two vertebrae fused. She's in bed recovering. So now she's losing a good chunk of her senior year to surgery and rehab as well.

Children's developing muscular/skeletal systems are not built to train like professional athletes. My husband was one of the early casualties. He blew out his knees as a 17 year-old, coming off several years of playing travel soccer all four seasons. Now he can't even play recreationally, which kills him. Plenty of research exists to show the negative effects of repetitive practice, and parents should consider participation limits as a long-term health issue for their children. Here's an article on overtraining in youth: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/04/15/CMG7OOP5OB1.DTL
Why does everyone think "That won't happen to My kid."?

Posted by: Greenmom323 | April 22, 2009 1:29 PM | Report abuse

We've opted for an entirely different way to exercise; family soccer, a weekend pick-up game played by a a group of families at the lowest possible level you can imagine - ages range from 5 to 50. Parents versus kids. Mixed teams. 60 minutes of heart racing fun -- way better for me than standing on the sidelines with my Starbucks.

And it made my 12 yr old son proud on "bring your parent to gym" day when I (in stockings, sneakers, pearls and skirt) could steal the ball right out from under a travel soccer kid's feet (OK, I had surprise going for me -- he was SO shocked that I would even try)...

There are many ways to help our kids grow, but my family has opted out of the "keep them so busy they have no time to get into trouble" whirlwind. Which is not to say that some kids need a high level of activity...mine do not.

The downside of the filter for sports is that the 9th grader who'd like to try HS soccer and has not played travel, cannot. Decide at 9!

Posted by: chemistmom | April 22, 2009 1:33 PM | Report abuse

While neither of my children were on travel teams, my son was captain of his HS tennis team and my daughter was rookie of the year on her HS track team. More importantly, my son graduated from college magna cum laude and my daughter was just inducted into Phi Beta Kappa. So, you see, it is not necessary to be a travel team parent to brag on your kids

Posted by: nonjth13 | April 22, 2009 1:34 PM | Report abuse

I wonder at the total commitment to sport this demands. I have a friend whose family is going through hard times due to her elderly mother's increasing incapacitation, and two of her siblings just "can't" come pitch in for grandma on the weekends EVER because of the sports commitments of their children. To me that is a completely upside-down set of values. Playing soccer or baseball or whatever should not come before caring for family. Any league that demands this, should be quit.

Posted by: catherine3 | April 22, 2009 1:43 PM | Report abuse

I agree with you catherine. My nephews missed their great uncle's funeral because they had sports! What????

Posted by: moxiemom1 | April 22, 2009 2:31 PM | Report abuse

all "travel" means is that you might have to show up on a field or at a competition within X miles. For us, it's 30 miles. That's less than many commutes.

I don't see what distinguishes travel sports teams from any other commitment a kid or family might make.

Posted by: anonfornow

Apparently the "travel" teams/sports in your area are different than the common usage of the term. Generally travel teams are very competitive - kids have to try out to make the team, they play "to win", so every player doesn't get to play in every game, they have more practices, etc. This is compared to rec leagues where everyone gets to play, there are fewer practices, there are usually rules requiring every player to play a minimum amount in each game, and so on.

Posted by: dennis5 | April 22, 2009 2:37 PM | Report abuse

My kids are young, so I don't know ...

aren't there sports teams in MS and HS? And don't those teams 'travel' to the other towns to play other teams? The school system paid for the bus, and the kids would go (I was on track for a bit - and we traveled to track meets, my parents had nothing to do with it - I would get home in time for dinner). What's the deal...? Is there something I'm missing?
Or is this yet another thing that the PARENTS are obligated to , that really it should be the kids? My parents had no input - we did what we did, and as long as I was home for dinner, that was good. But if they had to drive me all over creation, well, that wasn't going to happen. I'm annoyed enough about 'rec league' soccer, but DH takes care of most of it, so it's not too big a deal...

Posted by: atlmom1234 | April 22, 2009 2:43 PM | Report abuse

Apparently the "travel" teams/sports in your area are different than the common usage of the term. Generally travel teams are very competitive - kids have to try out to make the team, they play "to win", so every player doesn't get to play in every game, they have more practices, etc. This is compared to rec leagues where everyone gets to play, there are fewer practices, there are usually rules requiring every player to play a minimum amount in each game, and so on.

Posted by: dennis5 | April 22, 2009 2:37 PM

dennis, how does trying out and playing to win change the nature of the family commitment? Yes, 4 days per week vs. 2 makes a difference. Talk to any parent of a kid participating in marching band and you'll hear about the relentless nature of the time commitment. Football players have to practice every single day in season. No one talks as if that's some sort of over-arching commitment that forces a family to give up on its religious principals, yada yada yada. Pray tell, how does whether every kid plays or not have anything to do with whether a commitment is too much, just right, too demanding on siblings? Not that those aren't worthy topics, but they aren't relevant to the issue of the scope of the commitment. In my opinion.

Posted by: anonfornow | April 22, 2009 2:52 PM | Report abuse

"rec league play would be useless."

this is pretty harsh but I understand. After watching kids play real soccer as it was meant to be played and then watching kids surround a ball and kick at it and basically learn nothing about the game, I was happy we went to select soccer. Travel though is not something to be joined lightly, we will see.

Posted by: pwaa | April 22, 2009 3:00 PM | Report abuse

Lucky for me, my daughter doesn't show an interest or have the attention span for team sports right now. If she shows an interest later on, we might consider it. But it sounds like these travel teams are on a try out basis and it doesn't look highly likely that daughter would make the cut.

Now we are open to son participating if he shows the interest and makes the cut.

But I have one question, what is your other child suppose to do while mom, dad, and soccer star are combing the city for soccer competitions? Are you sincerely suggesting that the one child controls all the family weekends. And forcing two children to play the same sport, just for time sake, seems a bit harsh.

Moxie: Wow, missing a family funeral to play sports!

Posted by: foamgnome | April 22, 2009 3:20 PM | Report abuse

Moxie, As for missing a funeral, it depends on how old the kid is (to even go to the funeral) and did they even know the great uncle? Some people I know wouldn't even recognize their cousins if they passed them on the street.

Posted by: cheekymonkey | April 22, 2009 3:22 PM | Report abuse

"Moxie, As for missing a funeral, it depends on how old the kid is (to even go to the funeral) and did they even know the great uncle? Some people I know wouldn't even recognize their cousins if they passed them on the street."


i totally agree, gee son miss your game you have been looking forward to so you can visit uncle clyde whom we haven't seen in ten years and you barely knew. To the game for me....

Posted by: pwaa | April 22, 2009 3:25 PM | Report abuse

Guess what? If you decide to do ANYTHING seriously, there will be sacrifices. If you're devout and your church services are inflexible, then you're going to have a conflict. If you think Labor Day and Memorial Day weekends must be spent as a family vacation, you're going to have a conflict.

My parents managed to raise four children who did different travel activities and still made it to church every weekend. I played travel soccer year round from age nine to eighteen and still managed to play club basketball, then play high school sports. While still being in the school orchestra, in the French club, and having time for plenty of personal reading. Could I have done better at French or violin (or church, for that matter) without travel soccer? Absolutlely 100% yes, but it wasn't what I wanted to do.

Posted by: hbc1 | April 22, 2009 4:07 PM | Report abuse

To the game for me....

Posted by: pwaa | April 22, 2009 3:25 PM | Report abuse

How about teaching a child that sometimes things aren't about them? That sometimes obligations exist, and they have to do things, and sometimes it isn't pleasant, but that's the way it goes? Hmmm...

Posted by: atlmom1234 | April 22, 2009 4:10 PM | Report abuse

I'm a coach for a girls travel soccer team. A lot of this conversation is much ado over nothing.

The point that's being missed is you can't paint travel soccer with the broad strokes it's being painted with now. Clubs, teams within clubs, coaches and parents are all different. Some teams are expensive, some are not so much. Some are much more competitive than others.

WAGSL doesn't keep score for the first 3 1/2 years of play. After that, the most competitive teams play each other and the ones that are less so, where for example, some kids may want to participate in other activities, play in the lower divisions. Sure, some travel teams fit the stereotype, with screaming, backstabbing parents and egotistical coaches. But many do not. Find your child's and family's comfort level and go from there. Be glad the DC area offers the variety of experiences it does. In terms of girls soccer, this area has a wealth of resources.

Posted by: pengo82 | April 22, 2009 4:28 PM | Report abuse

altmom - Sorry, but it depends on the family. Some people don't think funerals are for children, but that is entirely different discussion.

I responded to the funeral proclamation because when my Aunt died in the Fall a couple years ago my kids (elementary aged) did not go to the funeral. My neice and nephew (HS aged) didn't go either, but my brothers and I traveled up to OH together on a Friday morning and came back Saturday evening. I remember having a discussion with my husband on how it was unecessary for him and the kids to go, he had to coach and my daughter had to play. I'm sure my neice was dancing that weekend, and my nephew was working his part time job. They all knew my aunt (their great aunt) and loved her and no one resented that they weren't there. We think it was better that they remember her the way she was.

It was a reasonable decision for our family, and it in no way led my kids to believe that it was "all about them."

Maybe Moxie's situation is different, but a lot of times these situations are blown out of proportion by relatives with nothing better to do than take attendance at funerals.

Posted by: cheekymonkey | April 22, 2009 4:39 PM | Report abuse

pwaa,

Thanks for your comment. What I said probably was too harsh, so I will amplify a little: at one sport, my son has turned out to be very good and really enjoys it. He has played against rec level kids, in this sport, and it has not been fun for him. Now, in other sports, he has played in rec leagues because that is his level of ability. If he were to play against travel level kids in those sports, he would be clobbered. At his age, 14, I think he understands the distinction. Not that he shouldn't challenge himself against the best, but it isn't fun being crushed over and over -- that seems to be the quickest way to turn sports into a nightmare.

Posted by: teamn | April 22, 2009 4:44 PM | Report abuse

cheeky - certainly. The other comment basically implied that a kid wouldn't ever have to go to a funeral instead of a soccer game.
My husband actually thinks kids shouldn't go to funerals before they are 13...I definitely disagree (as someone who's grandmother passed away when she was 8, and that wasn't the first funeral I went to, in any case). Certainly, each and every situation is different, and going to a funeral out of town is different than not, etc...but ya know, sometimes it's gotta be done...
Don't know what we'll do when my (other) grandmother passes...she's 99 and lives in Florida now...

Posted by: atlmom1234 | April 22, 2009 4:54 PM | Report abuse

Foamgnome, why are TWO parents needed to attend tournaments? (I'm deliberately ignoring the specific word choice "combing the city" since that makes no sense in the context of organized teams.) I had a few games with both parents, but most had one or none. They sent me in carpools, they dropped me off and ran errands until the end of the game, or (gasp) had me wait at the field until they could come get me.

Allowing kids an intense involvement in something they love does not necessarily mean turning the family into satellites of their activity.

Posted by: hbc1 | April 22, 2009 5:04 PM | Report abuse

I'm just wondering what happens to college savings if the family spends a great deal of money on travel sports. Does one indicate on the financial aid forms that you spent $15,000/yr on soccer or some other sport and that's why you have no savings? Also, do families that decide these activities are too expensive and save for college instead then get less financial aid? Also, are any of you families with two working parents? We only have 1.5 jobs in our family, but I already feel stressed to the limit. How do you also fit in all the traveling every weekend? When do you clean the house, do laundry, mow the lawn, etc. etc. etc.?

Posted by: Justsaying4 | April 22, 2009 5:15 PM | Report abuse

dennis, how does trying out and playing to win change the nature of the family commitment?

Posted by: anonfornow

There's a huge difference between a competitive team and a rec league. As others have mentioned, a lot of travel teams have rules about missing practices and games so it moves the sport much higher up in the pirority list. For example, suppose you have a family event at the same time as a practice or game. So you have to make the choice of whether to have the child attend the event and get benched because he/she missed practice, or miss the event to go to practice. If the child is on a rec league team, it's not a problem to just skip the practice.

And as someone else mentioned, competitive teams usually play during school breaks. So instead of being able to take a family vacation over spring break, you're stuck at home becuase of the team. Most rec leagues (at least in my experience) are off during school breaks.

I'm not saying there's anything wrong with having a child play on one of these teams if that's what you feel is best for the child and he/she wants to do it. I'm just saying that it does affect the entire family when a child is on a competitive team much more so than when a child is on a rec team.

Posted by: dennis5 | April 22, 2009 5:21 PM | Report abuse

Let me clarify. The nephews were 12 and 15 and the uncle was very, very dear and beloved by all! If they missed this funeral, I'm not sure which one WOULD be important enough to attend.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | April 22, 2009 6:35 PM | Report abuse

In this country, parents have a tremendous amount of discretion in how to raise their children. And I think that is great--the way it should be. So if travel works for your family--or is your choice--so be it; if not, so be it. The bashing of travel play is silly in light of all of the obligations we take on as parents that we would never want to be second-guessed.
A few questions to ponder:
Did Debbie Phelps err in having Michael engage in competitive swimming at great expense and family sacrifice?
Serena and Vanessa's parents?
Are the issues associated with travel sports different from those associated with a child who pursues a musical interest? acting? chess tournaments (believe me, these are competitive and require costly travel at the highest levels)? spelling bees? deep religious commitment? advancing in Scouts to the highest level?
As parents, we make decisions and it is really not for others to judge when the decision is to allow a child to play travel sports or any of the other activities mentioned above.

Posted by: LaxMom131 | April 22, 2009 10:22 PM | Report abuse

I've been a "travel soccer mom" for a full decade now. To be honest, it is tough. Virtually all holiday weekends are dedicated to soccer tournaments; it is expensive (currently we're paying $1000 per season plus tournament expenses, winter and summer training, and camps). I am a burned out travel soccer Mom. So,why are we still in it?

Because my child loves it and wouldn't have it any other way; because it gives him focus, keeps him engaged and gives him goals. He is passionate about it. The same was true with his older sister, who couldn't imagine life without soccer. She doesn't play on the varsity in college, but loves her travelling club team while she keeps her focus on maintaining a high GPA. [I would note that anyone in it for a college scholarship is naive (unless kid is absolutely amazing) and most likely going to be disappointed. If that's the motivator, save your money and put it a 529 Plan]

Why not rec? Because, simply put, the kids on their rec leagues didn't share their passion. They did cartwheels rather than playing the game. They whined, and they didn't show up for practice. My kids wanted more. With travel soccer they get it.

Fortunately, their dad isn't burned out and our lives enable him to do a lot of the schlepping.

Years ago, a friend with a daughter in music told me it doesn't matter what your kid's activity is, if they become passionate about and good at their particular "thing", you will spend time and money encouraging. Her daughter played flute and they drove all over Maryland for competitions. I have found her words to be so very true.

We have another child who was bored by soccer. We've travelled the region with him as he pursues a music career. His teacher is a 45-60 minute drive. He did two orchestras for a while-- in different states. His school program was not enough, so we had to supplement.

So, we parents do travel soccer, or travel music, or whatever, because this is what the kids want and need. We are fortunate to be able to support them in this manner. And, frankly, if they have a passion that keeps them busy and focused during the high school years, then that is just fine with me.

Posted by: Suesabeegee | April 22, 2009 10:54 PM | Report abuse

A point of Clarification of the following quote from the original column:

"WAGSL isn't the only such league in the area to boast high competition. Take the Arlington Travel Soccer Club, which aims "to provide Arlington and Falls Church City youth the opportunity to play soccer at the highest level [my emphasis here] commensurate with their individual ability, potential, and interest." Or how about the Olney Soccer Club for which "the ultimate goal for every team is to become the state champion."


Olney Soccer Club, Arlington Soccer Club, DC Stoddert Soccer Club are all CLUBS that play in LEAGUES: Washington Area Girls Soccer (WAGS) and National Capitol Soccer Leagues (NCSL) (the boys' club).

So, for example an Olney team might play a DCST team in a WAGS League game.

Yes there are other Leagues -- but the primary travel LEAGUES in the region, which are made up of CLUBS, are WAGS and NCSL.

Posted by: Suesabeegee | April 22, 2009 11:04 PM | Report abuse

As a parent and coach of Rec & Travel kids, there is nothing wrong with making a commitment to a travel team. It provides excellent training skills for life for the kids from teamwork, commitment, budgeting one's times, etc.
However, the point of the original article is the outrageous behavior of the PARENTS of this team, berating the ref for bad calls. Sure, I've been there, too, being aggravated at what seemed like incompetence or, worse, favoritism. But, as parents, we need to show some restraint and demonstrate proper behavior for our kids. When the kids get Red cards, they have to sit for 1 or 2 games; the same should go for parents. NCSL and WAGS have mechanisms for this. The current situation appears to be an extension of this for an extraordinary situation. Everyone needs to learn: Refs make mistakes. Get over it. Play the game.

Posted by: DrBones721 | April 22, 2009 11:31 PM | Report abuse

After 6 years of WAGS play, I need to point out many things. First, WAGS is a league while Arlington Travel Soccer Club and Olney Soccer Club are both clubs. Teams can choose a club to represent them and a league to play in, the point is, they are different things. Secondly, a "travel" legaue indicates that teams do not play at the same field each week and must travel to the fields of other teams. These drives can be hours long. The intensity of travel soccer within WAGS is mainly dependent on which division the team is in, 1 being the most competitive, 5 being the least. Parents need to understand that playing travel soccer is about challenging yourself in many aspects and growing from those challenges. Its parents that see travel soccer as an "in" into college or pros that ruin the game environment.

Posted by: terriertigger | April 23, 2009 12:24 AM | Report abuse

The problem I have with people who say things like "you are the adults" and "you shouldn't yell at the referee" really just don't get it.

I have seen officials in a lot of sports who are going through the motions. If I did that at work, I'd be fired. However, they're allowed to remain on the field. Remember, I'm paying for my child to play. The only person out there getting paid (with my money) is the official. If the official isn't doing their job and the officials association isn't doing anything about it (yeah, you NV umpires, I'm looking right at you, mediocre for over 20 years), then what are we supposed to do?

I'll tell you what!

Parents, you will now teach your children that if you're tired, it's ok to just go through the motions, because today's game really isn't that important.

It's ok to be lazy as long as it's not too often.

It's ok to get something wrong, then do nothing to correct it.

It's ok to allow someone to cheat you.

It's ok to be mediocre.

You may think I'm bashing a certain group, nope, I've seen it in soccer, basketball, football, lacrosse and field hockey too. I've seen it in ice hockey and volleyball. I've seen it for too long and fear for my son who will be born in a couple of months for what he has to deal with.

I'm not going to let my kid play sports, I'm going to let him officiate it.

Maybe it really was the official's fault, but nobody in charge ever believes it or does anything about it.

Posted by: dj1123 | April 23, 2009 1:59 AM | Report abuse

Ooh Stacy, Stacy Stacy,

darlin, I strongly urge you against wagging your finger at these parents until you've conquered the sideline beast within yourself. yup.

There is something about that environment that can pull the most intellectually rational, emotionally mature, and peace loving parent into a psychotic rage over a referee's call.

Stacy, please think about us when you are panting flames on the sideline of whatever sport your kids take on. I know from experience- the harder you wag now, the worst you will feel once that red haze clears from your eyes and you catch your breath.

just know when it happens, we won't judge you.

Posted by: JayD0 | April 23, 2009 9:29 AM | Report abuse

It boils down to what is your child's ultimate goal in sports. My son had the chance to play travel basketball. When we discussed his goals for basketball it was to have fun (I know shocker!), play against his friends, get guaranteed playing time, he also did NOT want to play for the coach for the travel team. So he kept with the recreational league, had a great coach, his team went 13-0 and won the championship. We've always taught our sons that sports are part of your life, not your entire life. More than likely you are not going to be a paid athlete as your profession. But if you love a sport that much be an attorney, doctor, journalist, marketer, accountant for a team, the NFL, NBA, etc.
There are a lot of benefits to be had but there are also a lot of down sides to sports. Being on a travel team is like a job for the entire family, untrained, unqualified coaches can really hurt your child physically and emotionally, overzealous parents, specializing early in a sport leads to overuse injuries. Check out Until It Hurts by Mark Hyman

Posted by: appreciate | April 23, 2009 10:57 AM | Report abuse

How about teaching a child that sometimes things aren't about them? That sometimes obligations exist, and they have to do things, and sometimes it isn't pleasant, but that's the way it goes? Hmmm...

I disagree, how about not teaching them that they must put their passions on hold for useless rituals. This thinking is why some people are forever overscheduled with things that have no meaning to them and that they don't want to do at the expense of their time and passion. Time is precious spending any of it doing things out of some misplaced sense of obligation is pointless....

Posted by: pwaa | April 23, 2009 1:03 PM | Report abuse

As a travel basketball coach, I find the ref-baiting problems occur far more often with soccer than basketball. My guess is this is because basketball is so much faster.
Also, if you put your child in a rec league, please understand that the level of commitment is the same. You have one practice per week, not two, and probably only one game per week as well -- plus fewer obligations on holiday weekends, etc. But it is equally important that you show up for these practices and games.
Rec teams generally have fewer players so everyone can play more. Therefore, the team suffers more if individual players miss games for "family dinners" and other events that could be scheduled around the games.
Also, what signal does this send to the kids? That some commitments aren't really commitments?

Posted by: Coach2 | April 24, 2009 8:40 AM | Report abuse

You can find out how school coaches feel about sports' parents by reading the "Parents Code of Ethics," from the National High School Athletics Coaches Assn. at:

http://www.ethicsoup.com/sports-parents-code-of-ethics.html

Posted by: s_mceachern | April 24, 2009 12:19 PM | Report abuse

Alright, reading all these posts I figured I would give my side of things. I'm a 23 year old girl who coaches a travel soccer team. I do it because I love it as I played travel as a kid, and gained many positive lessons (my travel coach wrote one of my college recommendation letters). I think people should begin judging specific teams instead of travel soccer in general. My U-12 travel girls practice twice a week and I mandated 40% playing time for each girl (many teams refuse to set any baseline.) Did my parents ask for this, no, I put it in place from the beginning of the team. I had four girls miss games this spring break because they were on cruises or going to visit family. Did I freak out? No, all families planned ahead and let me know in advance, I encouraged it, the girls are 11! I have girls that are in girl scouts, all county choruses, swimming champs ect. I have girls from Peru, El Salvador, Vietnam and Brazil. Our team is good, but we are good because the girls enjoy playing, they enjoy practice, and they enjoy each others company. So please, before you knock the travel soccer community, be aware that there are many of us who are out there loving the sport and supporting our kids developing skills and more importantly being supportive team members and community citizens.

Posted by: positiveskill28 | April 24, 2009 5:05 PM | Report abuse

Only in America do we see the concept of "travel" soccer and lots of money to be made at the youth level in sports - from trainers/coaches charging high fees for training yet can't identify the player development program they use to travel LEAGUES that charge as much as $1000 per team per season. No other country's youth soccer clubs or leagues (other than in the US and Canada) make big bucks on the youth level and in all other countries - where kids have been playing soccer for almost 100 years longer than here in the United States - they have an abundance of highly knowledgeable coaches and trainers - ALL of whom have played the sport their entire life. With all due respect to volunteers - I have no clue how someone who has never played the game can think they are qualified to teach the sport. Yet with all the money being spent by Amercian parents (who 90% of the time are not educated enough in player development to judge whether soccer training is of high quality) and with millions of kids on so called elite soccer teams, the United States is hardly a presence on the world stage - at least with regard to mens' soccer. I won;t even go into the low level of the MLS compared with professional leagues in other countries. Wake up America and look outside the box to countries who have been developing players with a true passion for the GAME - not passion for winning or passion for college SCHOLARSHIPS - for YEARS and learn how to do this right and make the opportunity available to all!

Posted by: dana10 | April 25, 2009 5:01 PM | Report abuse

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