Considering Travel Sports? Here’s What to Know

By Eliza Paradise

Travel sports have become increasingly popular for younger kids in recent years, as parents continuously look to the next level for their little athletes. Those who have played on travel sports teams often say the experience is extremely fulfilling, but they acknowledge the high level of commitment and intensity required.

In New York City there are travel teams for a variety of sports—including baseball, soccer, basketball, hockey, and lacrosse—and team members typically range from 6 to 17 years old. The schedule differs depending on age program and sport: younger kids (6-10) typically have one to two practices a week in addition to weekend games, older kids (15-17) typically have three or four practices a week in addition to weekend games; kids in the in-between ages have in-between schedules (meaning they range from something similar to the young kids’ schedules to something similar to the older kids’ schedules). Practice and game schedules vary depending on sport, league, and ability of the athlete.

Here’s what travel team athletes have to say are the most important things they wish they knew before getting involved:

Commitment: The commitment is daunting, but worth it. Travel to games, practices and tournaments can take up entire days and even weekends.

Sleep: Getting a lot of sleep before games helps more than one might think. Studies show that sleep deprivation in athletes corresponds to slower reaction time and poorer decision making, among other things. “Travel sports at a young age are all about developing good habits, so it’s especially important to get a good night’s sleep the night before the game every time you play so you’re well rested,” said Max Brill, a high school junior who played on four travel baseball teams from ages 8 to 13.

Planning: Athletes should make sure to get all of their equipment together ahead of time, as coaches will not appreciate them showing up late to a game because they could not find their sneakers, cleats, mitt, etc.

Practice: Practice makes perfect; time needs to be made to accommodate not just games, but also weekday practices.

Reliability: Part of being a good team member is being reliable. The team risks a forfeit if not enough players show up, so travel players may have to sacrifice their friend’s birthday party to go to a game. “Sometimes you’re like ‘ugh I really don’t want to go,’ but once you get there you just start having fun out of nowhere,” said Nathen Kushlefsky, an Upper East Side 8-year old who plays for The Spartans travel baseball team and The Skyliners travel hockey team.

Being a good teammate: Be a good teammate. Travel athletes spend a lot of time with their team and oftentimes their teammates will become their closest friends. This means encouraging teammates when they’re frustrated, celebrating the victories of others, and communicating with your team—on and off the field. Gillian Haggerty, an Upper West Side junior, has played travel soccer for the Asphalt Green Riptide since she was 8 years old and considers her teammates to be some of her best friends. “You get to know your teammates on a new level because you spend so much time with them and go through everything with them,” she said.

Know your coach: Having a good relationship with coaches will make the experience much more enjoyable. Athletes will be able to learn more from their coach and develop into a better athlete, and their team will be a much more cohesive unit, which is important in every sport.

Food and hydration: Be prepared with snacks and water for every game. The playing time can be exhausting for athletes, and it is important to replenish nutrients and remain hydrated.

Downtime activities: Athletes will need activities to keep them occupied during commutes to practices and games—whether it’s reading a book, listening to music, or playing games like Backseat Bingo and 20 Questions. Depending on the sport and the location of games/tournaments, teams typically spend four to 10 hours per week (roundtrip) travelling to games.

Sportsmanship: Good sportsmanship and a good attitude go a long way! While this ties into being a good teammate, it is also so much more. Good sportsmanship doesn’t just involve your own team, but also how you interact with the opposing team. At the end of the day, everyone playing loves the sport and you don’t want to ruin that experience for anyone else. It is important to treat the other team with respect and kindness. A good attitude is equally important. Everyone has bad days, but the best athletes are those who are able to put their own frustrations aside in order to put 100% effort into their sport. Remaining positive encourages others and can increase an athlete’s performance.

James Soren, a high school junior who played travel basketball for the Staten Island Stingrays from sixth through ninth grades, is very passionate about this. “There are certain things you’re just not supposed to do in basketball. Little things that can make you out as good or bad, clean or dirty, things that can make your game incident-free or ejection-full. You don’t go for cheap shots, you don’t run up the score at the end of the game, and you don’t turn a blowout into a dunk contest. You shake hands before and after the game. You don’t yell at the refs. You don’t yell at the parents. You’re just supposed to go out and play…maybe a little trash talk. But you’re there for the game, not the fight.”

Eliza Paradise is a member of our team of junior journalists. She is an 11th grader at Hunter College High School in Manhattan.

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