Travel sports foster quest for college scholarshipsWritten by Marlene Harris-Taylor | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Gina Thompson, a Springfield Township mother of three, just might be the ultimate soccer mom, although the sports of choice for her kids are volleyball and basketball.
The Thompson family is part of an exploding trend in the country. Instead of spending weekends driving kids from one field house to another around the Toledo area, Gina and her husband Ronald spend many of their weekends on the road because their kids participate in sports travel teams.
Gina recalled one weekend when her husband Ronald was working and she had to pull off an amazing juggling act to see her kids play. Erik,a her 17-year-old daughter, had a volleyball tournament in Columbus. Tyler, her 15-year-old son, was playing in a basketball tournament, also in Columbus and Aaron, her 12-year-old son, was playing in another basketball tournament in Cincinnati.
“Another family helped by letting Aaron ride along with them to Cincinnati, so I drove the other kids to Columbus on Friday and watched Tyler play a couple games. Then on Saturday I got up and watched Tyler play a few games, then drove to Cincinnati to watch one of Aaron’s games and then back to Columbus and stayed the night with Erika in the hotel. On Sunday, I was with her all day and watched her play volleyball,” Thompson said.
This schedule might fluster an average parent, but for families with more than one child playing on travel sports teams, this story is common.
“I think it’s going to help prepare them for future success,” Thompson said. “They love doing it and we love supporting the things they want to do,” she said. The Thompsons are so committed to supporting their kids athletic pursuits that they drive nearly 80 miles from Toledo to Lima several times a week during the travel season. Their son Aaron plays for Team Lima, coached by Warren Pughsley, which is part of the All-Ohio Basketball League.
“I have three children that could be in college at the same time,” she said. “And I’m hoping that this investment will pay off at some point. That would be my ultimate dream.”
But Thompson is also a realist. She knows that many kids playing with sports travel teams burn out before they get to high school and a very small number get picked up by college teams. Thompson sees this as an investment in her kids overall development not just a path to college scholarships.
“Clearly the growth of traveling teams has been amazing over the last 20 years,” said Bruce Svare, professor of psychology at Albany University. Svare has studied the growth of travel sports and is often critical of the emerging sports culture.
He said he believes that one of the reasons for the rise of these teams is that many parents are chasing the dream of a full ride to college for their child. He fears that even for parents with great intentions, it can become an “overwhelming pursuit” and they can easily lose perspective.
A travel team can be composed of kids from just about any level in volleyball, soccer, basketball, etc. Most teams consist of kids from ages 11 to 18, but there are some that begin to work with kids as early as 8 years old. Parents pay fees ranging from $500 to $2,000 a season, per child.
In addition to club fees, parents must provide transportation for their kids and cover the hotel expenses for their family when attending tournaments. This can add up to another $2,000 per season. Most travel teams play in offseason for their particular sport, and many kids juggle playing on their school teams and with the travel team in the off season.
It’s a pricey investment that many parents are willing to pay to help their kids develop as athletes.
Pughsley said many parents and coaches are drawn to travel teams because of the better level of coaching, particularly in the middle school grades. Pughsley said in the past it was prestigious to letter in three different sports, but now “people see more kids getting scholarship opportunities when they specialize in a sport and play it year round.”
But this specialization in one sport does have a downside. According to Svare, kids are developing more sports injuries. He says knee injuries are an epidemic in girls and boys.
“Talk to any physician and they will tell you the worst thing you can do is take a kid and have them play the same sport all year long,” Svare said.
Pughsley said he is concerned about the overall well-being of his athletes. He has a strong connection and commitment to their kids and their family. The team’s affiliation with the All-Ohio league gets them exposure in some of the biggest tournaments in the state and region, but he said it is not all about winning tournaments.
“We pray every practice, we are very spiritual,” he said. “We are trying to build the whole person and if we can do that we think they are going to be quality people a long time.”
But Svare is concerned that coaches like Pughsley are hard to find. He fears many parents and coaches think it’s all about winning and building super athletes.
“I think the single most alarming trend is how it’s infiltrated down to the youngest level of sports,” Sarve said. “I think we are traveling a dangerous road with sports these days because we are taking the professional model of sports and jamming it down the throats of kids at younger and younger ages.”
Svare is not opposed to high school kids playing on travel teams, but he thinks younger children would obtain greater developmental benefits from intramural sports where the emphasis is placed more on skill building versus singling out the best athletes.
Pughsley shares this concern and noted that he has seen travel teams made up of second and third graders.
“They are really cute, but that’s more negative than positive to me. If they travel more than twice a month before high school that’s too much,” he said.
About the girls
Dana Hooper is the owner of Glass City Volleyball and Glass City Hoopsters, a local travel club that specializes in girls’ volleyball and basketball. Hooper has seen parents get their kids involved for the wrong reason. She is careful to stress to all parents during the orientation that it’s about the girls, the friendships they will make and the life lessons that group sports can teach a child.
“Travel sports are not for everybody. As long as parents have the right expectations, they are good for kids,” she said.
Hooper believes clubs and travel teams are growing because so many public schools have cut sports in the middle school grades and because many charter schools don’t have any athletics. She has started training girls as young as 8 years old but not all the kids travel. Some just come to work on their skills development and participate in tournaments in town. But Hooper thinks that when you get to the high school level, the only way to have a shot at being seen by college recruiters is to play on travel teams.
“Anymore college coaches don’t have a budget to attend high school matches,” Hooper said. “They go to the travel matches to stretch their budgets out. The rare kid will draw college coaches to high school match.”
Michelle Hills, director and president of the Board of the Toledo Volleyball Club (TVC), the oldest female volleyball club in Toledo, said some years 70 percent of the girls get scholarships. Other years it’s closer to 10 percent and it really depends on the skill level and the kids, Hills said. But she admits that many parents come to TVC with unrealistic expectations.
“They put all this money in this and some look at it and say, well I’m going to get it back when my kid goes to college,” Hills said.
Hills has two daughters who played volleyball for TVC and her youngest is playing college-level volleyball at Baldwin-Wallace, a small Methodist College in Ohio. She said the competition is getting stiffer and the level of play in high school volleyball has increased.
“It’s getting younger and younger. When my daughters were playing, they were looking at girls their junior and senior years. Now, I see recruiters looking at the courts where the 15-year-olds are playing,” Hills said.
Investing time and money
Gone are the days when kids can just wait until high school to try and develop their skills in a sport. That’s why Thomas Susor is investing his time and money so that his two daughters can travel with Glass City Volleyball. Susors’ daughters, 12-year-old Morgan and 14-year-old Allison have played with Glass City since they were 9 years old. He said his kids have a passion for volleyball and he wants them to have an opportunity to play at the high school level, where the competition is very stiff.
“We do this as a family unit and it’s made us much stronger,” he said. “We are at practices three and four nights a week and traveling almost every weekend from February through May. At an age when most kids are pulling away from the family and hanging out with their friends, I’m spending quality time with my girls,” he said.
For Susor, the investment is worth it even if his daughters never play college volleyball.
“Parents have to step back and ask themselves a simple question,” Svare said. “Why am I doing this? If you are saying I want my son or daughter to learn about the sport and for values and character development, that’s one thing. If on the other hand you want them to win games and scholarships, you are in this for the wrong reason.”
Tags: Travel sports