JENKINS: Falling victim to the travel team fallacy

Rob Jenkins

Rob Jenkins

Conventional wisdom holds that, if you live in ultra-competitive Gwinnett County and want your kids to excel at sports, you’d better start them early and make sure they get as much experience as possible at the highest level possible.

Otherwise, they might “fall behind”—and for parents with visions of college scholarships and pro contracts dancing before their eyes, few things could be worse.

As a result, we have 7-year-olds playing tackle football, trekking cross-country to cheer in national competitions, and slogging through 60-plus “travel” baseball games over the long, hot summer.

Just one problem with the conventional wisdom: it’s probably wrong.

Take my four kids, all of whom have been pretty good if not great high school athletes. All earned varsity letters. The two oldest were chosen scholar-athlete of the year in their graduating class. Number 3 was named to the Gwinnett Senior All-Star basketball team. And the fourth, an upcoming sophomore, lettered in track as a freshman.

(Sorry. Don’t mean to brag. It’s not like this is Facebook or something. I’m just trying to make a point here.)

It’s true that none of my kids so far has been offered an athletic scholarship — although No.3 was invited to walk-on at a small school — but they’ve definitely been able to compete, even in mighty Gwinnett County.

And yet … not one of them ever participated on a travel team of any kind. We simply made a decision as a family, early on, that we weren’t going to get caught up in the whole travel-team culture. Putting that much time and money into any one child, or any one activity, just seemed to us like misplaced priorities.

We encouraged our kids to play rec league sports and, later (of course), school sports, and we supported them in those activities. But travel teams were always out of the question, and they understand that even if they didn’t always like it.

Know what? Turned out it really didn’t matter. They made their high school teams, anyway, and in fact excelled.

I know what you’re thinking: If we’d let them join travel teams, maybe they would have gotten scholarships.

Yeah, maybe. That’s what a lot of parents think when they allow their lives to be totally dominated by a child’s game: it’s all worth it, because their kid’s going to play in college and maybe even go pro.

Really? Any idea what the chances are? According to the NCAA, only about 2 percent of high school athletes ever participate at the college level, and only about 1 percent of those will make it into the professional ranks.

Are those odds really worth the exorbitant fees, the constant disruption of family life, and the risk of sending a message to your kids that sports are the most important thing in life?

And by the way, my kids did earn scholarships. The academic kind.

Rob Jenkins is a local freelance writer and author of “Family Man: The Art of Surviving Domestic Tranquility,” available at Books for Less in Buford and on Amazon. E-mail Rob at rjenkinsgdp@yahoo.com or visit familymanthebook.com.