Unless you are part of a huge fastpitch organization, there are very little checks and balances in place when it comes to fastpitch softball travel teams. Normally, a parent or two get together chatting over morning coffee or a back yard barbecue and decide that they want their daughters to play travel. And then, a travel team is born. In fact, any one who can muster the money and time it takes to furnish uniforms, insurance, 9 girls and sets of parents willing to pay money to play can form a travel team. But going the distance after the birth of a travel team is just as tedious and time-consuming as raising a child.
Before we continue, we have to admit that A LOT and we mean A LOT of fabulous, empowering, honest, awesome teams are born in just this matter. Tons of coaches and players end up with amazing teams. Then again, many don’t and we often hear from ‘those’ families who feel duped. Maybe because they just didn’t know any better – or maybe because they didn’t recognize the signs.
Since there are so many of you just starting out and considering travel ball for the first time, we want to give you a few of the signs that something might be amiss with your new found dream team. Choosing travel softball teams is not always as easy as it sounds.
1. First and foremost, If it sounds to good to be true, it probably is! In the beginning, especially with start-up teams and rookie coaches, there can be a lot of promises made. Shiny indoor batting cages, professional coaching staff, big time ASA tournaments, 100% sponsored uniforms. Many of these promises and ‘dreams’ are made by people new to travel, who quite frankly haven’t been out there long enough to really know what to expect. Just because your 8U team won their all-star tournament DOES NOT mean that they be winning across the country.
2. Coaches that hold a tryout, but pretty much take any player that’s willing to play. Lots of new teams are simply about filling spots with warm bodies. Essentially, they need 10-12 girls to field a team to support their dream of a travel team. This is great in the beginning, but as the season moves forward and the honeymoon period ends, this IS a recipe for disaster. Those warm bodies and their families who bought in, are often replaced – and team dynamics change quickly once teams start facing competitions. Beginners luck runs out quick in travel ball and a worthy vision only goes so far without people willing to truly back it up.
3. Coaches that cannot answer direct questions. If you have been in travel ball then you know what to ask to make sure the team is a good fit. What are team goals? What kind of tournaments are we playing? Will we be playing local? Where will we practice? What do team dues pay for? Do you use pick-ups? Was your last season successful? Go ahead and ask coaches about playing time, and pick up player policies and anything else you want to know. If coaches and team leaders seem to not be able to give answers OR CHANGE THEIR STANCE AND GOALS often, something might not be on the up and up.
4. A team that is not upfront and open about its financials. Look, it costs a lot of money to play travel ball. Check out other teams in your area to see what the normal team dues are – and if your team is too far off in one direction or the other – then suspect trouble. Make sure you are CLEAR on what is included in team dues as well. We recently ran across an 18U gold team with $2100 team dues that literally offered NOTHING for that money.
5. On established teams, the parents are the perfect indicator about the health of the team. Ask for your daughter to attend practice and guest play with a team during a competitive tournament before joining. Then, sit back and smile a lot and listen to the coaches, the girls and the parents. We recommend that every player take this approach before committing to any team! You will be spending A LOT of time with these folks, and watching them in the heat of competition will let you know if it’s a good fit.
6. We play A BALL! Yes, there are many organizations out there that play A Ball, or GOLD level play. But many coaches just throw that out there when the reality is they are only trying to impress prospects and have no real idea what A ball play is. The talent pool in softball is huge, but worrying about A-ball for your 12-year-old is jumping the gun a little. Why its difficult for teams to just admit that they play a competitive schedule, is beyond us. But those boasting A/Gold/Select with no real back up, well…that’s just a farce. There’s a local team in our area that boasted the A ball GOLD level and gained a lot of players, only to be run ruled in nearly every game they played in every tournament, which resulted in them losing players.
7. Teams with high turnover. It happens for a reason. And, if coaches are willingly read to bash previous players – then RUN! We know several teams in our area that have a completely different set of girls and parents from weekend to weekend.
8. The coaches experience. We will tell you first that we believe great coaches can be made by playing travel. That being said, there are fundamental fast-pitch lessons that each and every kid must learn to be successful. If your child is young, you need a coach that can teach the fundamentals. And if he or she can’t, they need to be supported by fellow coaches that can. And they need to be willing to learn. Don’t be afraid to ask what coaching and what softball experience the coach has.
9. How is your pitching and catching? This may sound rude, however after coaches pitch, it is essentially important to team success to have adept pitchers and catchers. If your daughter is NOT a pitcher, then you need to ask the coach how many pitchers and catchers the team has? In fact, see if your daughter can take batting practice off of one of them. They don’t have to be the best pitcher in the world, but they need to be able to throw the ball across the plate.
10. And last, but certainly not least – it is important to watch the non-verbal communication that goes on between coaches parents and players during practices and tryouts. Are the coaches empowering? Supportive? Do they yell a lot? Are the girls responsive and respectful? Do the girls on the team look happy?
With so many of you new to travel, and with seasons ending – we know you will be looking toward fall ball. We hope that these recommendations helps and we would LOVE to hear what you would add.