My son is eight years old. He plays on a travel soccer team and a travel baseball team. I’m the head coach of the baseball team. I think travel sports at this age are ridiculous.
Well, mostly ridiculous.
I do like the sense of belonging and community he experiences being part of these teams. He has made fierce friendships with his teammates in such a short time, and he is instantly part of any group that wears the same uniform, as, for example, the time he spotted to a group of older boys wearing our travel team cap playing whiffle ball and was instantly brought into the game though I’m sure the last thing the 11 year olds wanted was a little kid playing (our travel team is part of a program run by our town which has teams from 8U through 14U with the same uniforms.)
I was lucky enough to play competitive team sports for a long time – basketball through high school and baseball through college (I was a JV guy – apparently 160 lbs. first basemen who don’t hit a ton of home runs weren’t to the college coach’s liking though I never hit under .400 and I received a varsity letter.) Having to figure out how to be part of a team, where you fit, what your role is, learning to deal with the fact that the studs get different treatment and knowing that you have your teammates back and they have yours are precious life experiences that can, depending on the person, carry a long way into adult life – both personal and professional. That part of travel is great and, for whatever reason, you just don’t find it in rec league sports.
On the flip side is everything from having eight year olds tryout (and be cut) for teams (a super message when at this stage physical maturity dictates ability, i.e., the biggest kid is generally going to be the best) to the parent behaviors which run from strange to downright obnoxious (hey, I’m all for cheering for your kid but how about yelling “Strike him out Bobby!” from your side of the field and not practically standing in my dugout and don’t look at me like I’ve done something horrible if I say “Way to rip the window wide open” to my batter who just tattooed Bobby’s fastball after you’ve been yelling in my ear “Through the window Bobby” before every pitch) to the perfectly legal though wholly questionable baseball some coaches employ to get a run (yes, it is totally legal to have the kid who just got a hit on an infield grounder keep going and stop halfway between first and second so that your guy on third will invariably score when the kids who are just learning baseball get the defense wrong, but is winning an 8U baseball game so important to you that you teach your kids a purely bush league play that will result in outs as they get older and in someone getting plunked? Same with the bunt – yes it’s totally legal and yes I have to teach the kids how to defend it; on the other hand, if your kid’s swing is that bad that you have him bunting with two-outs and two-strikes when you are blowing us out, well, maybe he shouldn’t be playing baseball.)
So there’s my introduction to 8U Travel and what I expect to be much needed therapy as I make my way through the ups and downs of coaching little kids playing the hardest sport I know and try not to go off the deep end. I think eight year old travel anything is ridiculous. Did I mention I love coaching eight year old travel baseball?