If you have a child playing baseball these days you no doubt know about the explosive growth of so-called “independent” or “AAU” travel teams and leagues. Travel ball can be a rewarding experience for your child and for the entire family, but picking the right travel baseball team involves many factors.
Consider the travel team’s mission. I strongly support independent baseball if the team’s mission is to provide athletes an environment in which to develop the skills they will need to play at the high school and college level. Too often, I have seen teams whose primary objective is to win games, titles and trophies. Because they are not committed to building a system and program with long-term goals, players and parents become disillusioned and such teams end up quickly disbanding.
The best teams have written mission statements which show that the team is committed to training and player development; provide clear rules codes of conduct for players and parents; and establish practice and game expectations for players and coaches. Select a team that is committed to educating the whole child in athletics, including athletic values, athleticism, nutrition, and leadership skills.
More importantly, look for a team that actually delivers on that commitment. In my 25 years of coaching, I have found that while most teams are good at talking the talk about these values at the beginning of the season, very, very few walk the walk by delivering on its promises during the season.
Consider the commitment of time that will be required, both yours and your child’s. Independent teams require total parent participation. A parent “not involved” or not participating in some way on the team is usually unacceptable.
Ask yourself and your family whether you can handle the fatigue that constant weekend travel, late weekday nights and the extra demands on your time are likely to cause your family.
If you are considering starting an independent team be prepared to make a time commitment equal to or more demanding than that required by a serious part-time job.
Consider the cost, which can range from as little as $500 to as much as $6,000 per year, not including travel expenses for motels, food, gas and tolls. Weigh that total cost versus the value of the experience and training. The more participation costs the more you should expect the program to deliver. The number one reason so many independent teams fold is that they don’t represent good value. Families are quick (maybe too quick) to vote with their feet these days. Ask whether it might make more sense (and cost fewer cents) for your child to continue playing in a “house” or local program but supplement his training with private instruction.