Tuesday, September 9, 2008

We Need a Correction

Like the stock market, real estate and the price of gas…America goes through cycles economists call a “Correction”. Corrections must occur, because there are opportunists that take risky shortcuts to financial freedom, usually at the expense of others. We are witnessing such a correction right now in the financial and energy sectors, because no one was minding the store while thieves were robbing us blind.

Travel Ball needs a similar correction of sorts. Travel ball as we know it today started a little over a two decades ago on a major scale when good players, their coaches and parents wanted to seek a better way to strut that athletic ability.

Travel teams seemed to start innocuously after Little League All-Stars, when coaches from a good community team tried their mettle against other all star teams in late July, into August and the fall. As was usually the case with these upstart teams, there's constant attrition due to player commitment, a parent’s complaint that their kid isn’t playing enough, or a really good player just wanting more.

That's where the established travel teams come into play. They seek out that player that wants more. The goal of these teams is to make sure that their players play at a high level and get better by getting taught the right fundamentals.

The better programs have coaches that dedicate their time and knowledge to be a mentor for these young developing players. These are the regulars you usually see at all of the big tournaments like the USSSA Elite 24, AAU or Super Series National Championships. And not just any player can play for these teams. They have try-outs and their pick of the best athletes in a metro area. While winning is a goal of these teams, it takes a back seat to the development of baseball fundamentals.

But somewhere along the way, the opportunists came crawling out of the swamp and for a price, they promised to turn a naive parents kid into A-Rod overnight. “Oh, he just got cut from the Houston Banditos, OC Hawks, San Gabriel Valley, San Diego Stars or Beaver Valley Red???…no problem…we’ll take em and make him a star.”

Now, we don’t mind that there are teams out there trying to put together a group of kids to play at a higher level, but to do so under the pretenses that everyone is a star and they can get that scholarship with “OUR team” is like a real estate agent saying…”no worries, real estate prices will continue to go up and you can re-finance that lousy loan before it adjusts”. If it’s too good to be true….

As a result, you have an oversupply of travel teams and even more overzealous parents standing in line to buy into the frenzy. What we see now more than ever, are 25 extra teams in what used to be an elite state tourney, doing nothing but watering down the playing field and in the process, giving the entire genre of travel ball a bad name.

Let’s face it folks…it’s not that easy to start a travel team and it SHOULD be even harder to make a team as a player. As we stated earlier, the truly good programs have try-outs and only select the players that they feel college recruiters will want to see.

It's one thing to have a free program that just wants to go out and get reps and play more ball. If that team is real competitive...great...But what has happened is that there are now too many of these so-called elite teams charging money and accomplishing nothing...These for-profit programs should be profitable for the kids first and the "business" second...but many aren't and buyers need to beware.

That is not what travel ball is about plain and simple. The reality is: great travel teams are well coached, disciplined teams with the real stars and real talent...cost or no cost. And…the good programs will have the hardware, signed players and testimonials to prove that point.

Maybe it’s time for a correction. We suggest that USSSA, AAU and Super Series regional directors stop worrying about filling that local tourney bracket and be a bit more discerning about who they accept. We wrote an article a few weeks ago about Talent Division. It's time to take that theory and use it to close the divide between the truly elite and the teams that always get beat.

Again, we aren’t saying that players that want to play beyond their rec ball leagues not play…but there has to be a better way to stock a tourney bracket so that a good travel team is challenged for the betterment of the players and team as a whole.

Not all teams are going to be like the East Cobb Astros, Norcal or Team Anderson. But, teams like those should only be playing against alike teams. Newer, less experienced teams should play at that level and so on. There is nothing more frustrating than a good travel team paying a hefty tournament fee, only to 10 run every team in a tourney. It happens a lot folks.

There also has to be a better way to communicate to all parents the reality of where their teams and sons fit in. If your son got cut from an elite program, there is usually a reason for that. A good team will always take a kid aside and tell him what he needs to work on to get better after they are cut. If another teams says he's the best and holds out his hand for a payment...caveat emptor. It's in your sons best interest to start looking for another developmental team that will work on the things the elite team said your son needed to improve upon.

That’s why it is so important to make sure you seek out an established organization. With that in mind, there are some signs to look for when looking for a good travel team.

Travel Teams Stick to the Plan
A travel team should be approached in much the same way a business is developed. A plan that replicates a business plan should be the first step. A Business Plan??? Yes...if the goal of the travel team is to enter competitive tournaments and ask parents to spend money, then that team organizer should have an accountable plan put together that shows the investors or parents of this venture what the return will be. What Return? The return that their kids will develop into better ball players, play better competition and if in high school, get exposure to the proper scouts that can see their son play. And parents should see this plan, especially if the travel team is not one the more established clubs. It's not too much to ask is it? If parents are going to spend their hard earned money and vacation time on a team for their son, then a hard fast plan better be in place.

Follow Through and Communication
Having a plan is one thing and following through with the plan is the tough part for many rookies in the travel game. The more established teams have their summer schedules posted and organized ON WEB SITES in the January prior to the spring or summer season. They also have their rosters secure, work-outs are year round, and lines of communication open. Logistically, team hotels are reserved, and team and parent meetings set prior to the tournaments. But more important, the coaches of the top travel teams have credentials.

When confronted by a newer travel team, ask about the coaches. Did they play college or pro? Have they coached at a high level before? How many years? Do they know scouts or recruiters, and can they communicate intelligently...in baseball-eese about player evaluations, skill sets and projectability to them? Parents...it's your money...you can do whatever you want with it...but if you have a son that wants to play at the next level, then experience and communication skills are paramount to not only the success of the team, but the future success of your son.

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