Throughout my son’s Little League® days, he played travel ball. It was very time consuming and costly, but there were definitely benefits, mainly Steven’s improvement. He was always talented, but he became a top player with all the extra baseball.
Steven played football for several years, but I felt if he was to continue to advance in baseball, he needed a 100 percent commitment to the sport. So, despite reading about all the problems with specialization, we gave up football. Steven wasn’t thrilled.
I’m not one of those fathers who believe my son will be a Major League Baseball player. I told him the future goal with all of the hard work is to make the high school varsity team as a freshman or sophomore. I figured if that happened, college scouts would have two opportunities to see his skills – on the high school field and at travel ball showcases.
Steven’s improvement was hard to miss. Every time that one of our Little League friends would compliment him, I would tout our new “sure-fire” plan for Steven to make the high school varsity team: all baseball, all the time; private lessons; travel ball tournaments. I also started persuading other parents to follow our path.
Some were reluctant, but it was hard for them to ignore Steven’s success and my assurances that, though the kids were just 12 years old, this was the way to the varsity team. So, our core group went all-in, including private instruction from the travel ball manager. Some felt that with the thousands of dollars we were already paying for travel ball, private instruction should be part of the program. I explained travel ball didn’t work that way.
One by one, Steven’s friends who made the travel ball team gave up other sports and hobbies. My good friend, Patrick, had his son give up soccer. Steven’s friend, Josh, quit the band. Samuel gave up swimming. I kept telling everyone that varsity ball was in our sights. Well, it wasn’t.
While my son continued to advance, the other kids did not. Steven was used to the off-season grind filled with conditioning workouts, in-door practices, private lessons, and fundraising. The others burned out pretty quick. We traveled to a winter tournament in Florida. Steven’s friends barely saw the field. Their parents, who had to pony up travel and lodging expenses plus miss days of work, complained. I told that that I and the manager were upfront about the commitment and investment. But, that didn’t stop my friend Patrick from retorting: “You also assured us that it would be worth it! My kid’s miserable!”
The regular travel ball season went pretty much like that winter tournament. Parents traveling, showing up with long faces, clearly not wanting to be there. And, their kids looked the same way on the field when they actually got to play. I sat alone at one of the tournaments and saw many of the other parents completely disengaged.
That’s when I realized that travel ball and all the private instruction that often comes with it isn’t for everyone, and that specialization isn’t so special.
None of Steven’s friends tried out for the travel team the following year, their baseball careers over. They went back to the sports and hobbies they gave up. Steven doesn’t know most of the kids on the current squad.
One day, I ran into Patrick at the grocery store. I apologized to him again for dragging him into travel ball. He mentioned that his son told him that Steven really wants to play football again, but he’s too nervous to ask me. “Let him play other sports,” said Patrick, and then he pointed to the carton of eggs in his basket. “Don’t make that mistake.” It was a little corny, but I understood the reference and his point.
I told the travel ball manager that I was thinking about letting Steven play football. “That’s your decision,” he said. “Of course, I would love for Steven to be fully committed to our program, and I can’t guarantee playing time or that he’ll make varsity without that commitment.” Then he mentioned that I hadn’t paid him yet for last month’s private instruction.
Now there’s a helmet and pads as much as a bat and glove in Steven’s future, and, who knows, maybe with a varsity letter for both.