Tips for Choosing A Select or Travel Baseball Team
The Little League World Series is currently taking place in Williamsport, PA. It is an annual 2-month long tournament that starts at the local level with all-star baseball teams, usually out of a city sponsored league, and progresses through state, regional and then finally, the national tournament. The winner of the national tournament moves on to face the winner of the international tournament. What many people do not realize is that the teams coming up from Little League affiliated clubs are considered recreational ball teams. They are city sponsored or affiliated leagues that follow a fair play system. The teams are brought to the national stage because of the size of the annual tournament and the fact that Little League Baseball is the largest organization of its kind.
There are two basic types of teams or leagues: recreational and select. Recreational leagues and teams typically come from a city sponsored or endorsed league and follow a fair-play system, meaning, anyone can sign up to play, there is no requirement for a tryout. Select teams, also referred to as travel teams, typically come from a private organization with no specific league endorsement or affiliation, and have a tryout requirement. Since they are private clubs, they get to choose who plays on their teams. Select ball also typically has a significantly higher cost. Within the select group, you will have teams that are managed or coached by parents and you will have organizations that offer professional coaching, which is usually done by former college or minor league players. (Some organizations do have former major league players on staff.) The professional coaching element is something that is seldom found at the recreational level.
Rec vs. Select
The main difference between a recreational team and a select team is that select players pay more to play. While there is a belief that select players are often extremely talented and on track for high school and college ball, and this is true to a certain extent, there are recreational players with just as much talent. It comes down to opportunity and coaching. Select teams play a much more aggressive schedule and have a more ambitious practice schedule that recreational teams. Our local recreational league has a 10-game fall season and a 12 game spring season with an all star tournament. This gives the recreational players an opportunity at playing in 20 or so games in the spring. Your average select team will play 30 games in the fall and between 60 and 70 games in the spring. Recreational teams may have 10 or so practices before games start, and few if any while the season is in progress. Select teams will typically practice two to three times each week for the entire season. The more you play and practice, the better you will get.
If you have made the decision to seek out a select team, or you are on a select team and are looking for a different experience, there are some things you should check on before going to a try-out.
How much experience should a youth baseball coach have?
What To Check
USSSA Record: Most select teams will have a USSSA roster and record. Select or travel teams play tournaments and many are sponsored by a USSSA affiliated organization. In order to play in these tournaments, the teams must have a roster on file with USSSA. You can look up teams, their roster history and their record on the USSSA web site.
Coach History: It goes without saying, you want to be comfortable with the person who will be coaching your son or daughter. There is more to being safe than passing a background check. The criminal history check will not tell you what the coach is like at practice, or if he has been tossed out of games, or if he likes to yell at his players. while you won't find this information readily available on line, you can get it from talking to parents or current and former players. Do your homework to make sure you will be entering a situation that will be beneficial to your child.
Cost: Cost is and should be a factor when looking at select teams. Often though, you will not have a hard and fast number until after you have joined a team. Ask the coach what the cost was for the last two seasons and what that was based on. If you are new to a team, expect to pay a little more for a new uniform and registration. Teams that charge very little - less than $300 for a season - may either be well-sponsored or may not be playing much baseball. You want to get the most bang for your buck. Teams that charge quite a bit - more than $750 for a season - need to be offering premiere tournaments and professional coaching.
Organization: You want your coach to be well organized. You want him to run scripted practices that focus on specific areas. You want the practices to run smooth with no down time and have the players focused and working the entire time. You want your coach to communicate effectively and be organized with information that he delivers. Find out if there is a team mom - someone who takes care of all the administrative items. Teams with a person dedicated to administration are often much more organized and effective.
Experience: Not all coaches will have spent time playing for the New York Yankees. Most though, will at least have high school experience. While it may seem counterintuitive that a coach with no playing experience is skilled enough to coach a select team, the reality is that it happens all the time, and that some of these teams are very successful. Coaching is more about the ability to impart knowledge and motivate than it is about in-game experience. Some of the most successful major league coaches have little to no experience in the majors, and their time spent in the major leagues was less than stellar. Conversely, some of the least successful major league coaches had ample playing time in the majors and were unable to convert that in to success for the teams they coached.
Do Your Homework
Doing your home work before bringing your child to a workout for a select team will help greatly when it comes time to decide where you are playing. remember that this experience is for your player, not for you. Yes, you need to be able to get along with the parents, and let the coach do his job, but ultimately, it is the experience of your player that will drive his or her love for the game. You want to make sure that they are in a situation that will help them be successful. If that means they are on a "lesser" team so they can be with their friends, or with a coach who has a great rapport with the players, then so be it. It is not about the hardware until they are in high school. (If you ask most players under 13 they will tell you the best part about the game is going to the concession stand afterwards.)
The choice to move from recreational baseball to select or travel ball is not one that should be taken lightly. We all want to believe we have the next hall of fame player living under our roof. And as parents, we need to encourage them to be the best they can be. But we also have the responsibility to recognize when the talent level or desire to play isn't there and make sure that our kids are playing at the appropriate level. There is a lot of sacrifice that comes along with select ball and of course, an increased cost. If you watch any of the Little League World Series you will see that the skill level and talent pool can be just as good in recreational ball leagues. With enough information, you'll be able to make the right decision.