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Is Playing Travel Sports for Collegiate Hopefuls Worth It?

Updated on November 7, 2014

Travel Teams

A travel team is designed to bring together skilled athletes off all ages who have not graduated from high school. The teams are usually broken down into age or school grade brackets and play against other travel teams in a league format or at tournaments. The obvious ingredient is the travel done by the team to play other teams outside their local area. In theory there should be an higher level of competition by concentrating higher skilled players on a smaller number of teams. I will use the AAU model to reveal things to consider when contemplating your child's participation.

Amateur Athletic Union (AAU)

The Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) was conceived in 1888 for the purpose of setting standards and creating uniformity for amateur sports. From it's inception until 1978, the AAU played a role in grooming athletes for the Olympics. In 1978 the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act was passed allowing athletes training for the Olympics to receive financial assistance in order to train full time. This does not cover athletes who want to play collegiate sports.

Currently there are 26 sports listed on The Amateur Athletic Union website but not all states have teams associated with the AAU. For instance some states have youth football leagues that replace the AAU as the club organization for football. AAU basketball is one of the sports that has a national influence and I have a student athlete participating.

Why is the athlete playing?

Is your athlete playing for themselves or you?

All parents want the best for their children and that includes giving them guidance in areas in which they do not have experience. This starts when they are young and when the child is an athlete we help them with their game. We give them pointers, show them how too, and depending on our competitiveness, we can be a little critical.

The parents influence can have the effect of turning the athlete off from wanting to play or drive them to improve. If you are encouraged by your child’s willingness to improve take a moment to evaluate if they are trying to please you or are they really interested in achieving a spot on a college team.

Playing AAU

The decision to participate in AAU is related to getting exposure to college coaches. In theory there are less players playing in AAU then playing in high school for their perspective sport so as a consequence the competition is better.

This is not always the case due a combination of the following scenarios which all have in common the willingness of a parent to pay and travel.

  • The athlete really enjoys playing.
  • A group of friends want to play together.
  • A coach maintains a club and needs to fill spots.
  • An athlete does not get enough playing time on their high school team.

A club’s ability to attract good players and the club’s willingness to identify those players with skill evaluation, determines the team’s ability to compete at a higher level. To often teams are built on a club’s desire to field a team even though that means filling that team with lower skilled players.

For these reasons tournaments can become less challenging then expected and based on the desire for better competition you see it as a waste of time and money.

Coach Exposure

Any one can organize a tournament and not all the clubs playing at the tournament have to be considered AAU clubs. For instance Nike holds a tournament called the 'Tournament of Champions' that is held at different locations across the United States. Any team willing to participate can sign up and provide what the coach feels is an accurate evaluation of the teams level of play. This is used to place the teams into pools that should ensure challenging games and thus allow college coaches to see players excel.

The two times we attended this event in Chicago, it was held at McCormick Place in one large exposition hall. There where upwards of 100 basketball courts in the hall and upwards of 450 teams participating in the tournament. There are not prizes for winning your pool, just the opportunity to play in front of college coaches from all over the United States.

The first year our coach did not want to over state our teams abilities so we went in at the lowest level and we found out that our athletes should have been at a higher level. We played against teams that probably should never have been there based on the tournaments guidelines for a teams ability to compete. We noticed that most of the coaches where in another area of the hall watching what we could only speculate where the teams that entered at a higher level.

The second year our coach entered us at a higher, more accurate, level and we thought we would be playing in front of more coaches. When we entered the hall there where two full, wood, college sized courts with shot clocks and other amenities along with 98 other plastic courts. The two wood courts were for the Nike Elite Youth Basketball teams only and that is where the majority of the Division 1 coaches spent the majority of their time.

There is no faulting Nike for showcasing their youth basketball league but it did detract attention from other players.

My Take Away From The Experience

If you have an athlete in your house who wants to play in college I definitely encourage extra training but I think the child is better served by their choosing schools they would like to attend and focusing their efforts on those schools by attending camps, sending game film and corresponding with the coach.

I realize that there are plenty of college and professional athletes who have benefitted from playing AAU or travel sports. I just think that it is not the only way and not always the best choice.

© 2014 Merely Musings

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