Are Travel Teams Worth the Money?

Many teens and young children maintain their health and stay active by playing sports, with about 60% of high school students playing sports in America. Plenty of young athletes take playing a sport to the next level by being on a travel team as well as a school or recreation team. Travel teams play games that are farther away, sometimes in other states, and often play in tournaments (a series of games over one to two days). Travel teams are run by private organizations that are neither recreational nor affiliated with a school. Many of these “A-list” teams can be very expensive; costs vary based on the sport, the team, the number of tournaments the team is entered in, and the price of each tournament. The total cost for a single season for a team can be hundreds to often thousands of dollars.

There are various pros and cons that come with playing a travel sport. According to an article titled “Pros and Cons of Young Travel Sport Teams” from Sports Planning Guide’s website, the benefits consist of building new skills, bonding, increased self-esteem (if pleased with one’s performance), and excelling in one’s top skills. Since travel teams are more intense and competitive than local/recreational teams, they can push teammates to work harder and more cooperatively. This can lead to strong collaboration skills for the future. 

Another benefit of travel teams is healthy competition, which can enable growth for young athletes. Some athletes zone in on one sport to play on a travel team, recreational team, and/or a school team. Others play a variety of sports but on fewer teams. Additionally, athletes who are particularly gifted in a sport may be offered a full scholarship or partial scholarship for college. The National College Athlete Association (NCAA) explained on its website that over 180,000 athletes in Division I and II schools are given scholarships, with the total cost adding up to $3.6 billion. 

Despite the positive aspects of travel teams, they also pose some obstacles. A prominent challenge is the cost of joining the team, which includes paying for a uniform and often the required equipment. Additionally, some sports and organizations charge separately for the price of tournaments. Depending on the organization, this may include the cost of travel as well, meaning a family must pay for plane tickets or gas, as well as a hotel. This can add up to make travel teams highly expensive.

Being on a travel team can also be time consuming. An athlete’s weekend can be spent entirely by going to a nearby state and playing a tournament. Sometimes, students must leave school early or miss days due to attend tournaments, which means that he or she will have schoolwork to make up. There are also many practices during the week, and some sports have mandatory workouts. Such time commitments can take time away from an athlete’s personal life. 

Athletes can also feel pressure and a demand to perform well from being on a travel team, as they are significantly more competitive than school and recreational teams. An upcoming game can leave players stressed, even if their purpose in playing the sport is to relieve stress. This new pressure could precipitate into one’s social life and academics. An athlete who wishes to join a travel team must first learn to balance everything else in his or her life and not push past personal limits. 

For many parents, deciding whether to have their child play on a travel team depends on both their child’s ability to manage time and their child’s love for the sport. Social studies teacher Koren Pena’s daughter is on a travel lacrosse team. She observes many positives from the experience, such as her daughter loving the sport. Pena notes that playing on a travel team allows her daughter to have friends beyond the ones in her school, giving her the opportunity to extend her friend circle. Other benefits Pena notices are that participation in a travel team keeps her daughter active, especially during the winter when it is hard to get outdoors (travel teams may have indoor workouts), and the increased competition challenges her to be the best version of herself. She also said that travel teams teach time management, responsibility, discipline, and accountability. 

Thus far, Pena has not seen any negatives, but she does acknowledge that the traveling involved can be a major time commitment. She feels that it is worth it for her daughter to play on a travel lacrosse team despite the cost because it has a lot of value, and if, at any point, her daughter does not want to continue, it would be alright. Pena also recognizes that every family is different and can make the best decision for their child.  

Sophomore Olivia Palleschi, who is a part of a travel lacrosse team that recently flew to Texas, commented, “They are worth it if you want to play in college.” 

Not every athlete who wants to play on a travel team has the option to do so due to the expense. However, if being on a travel team is within a family’s budget, an athlete’s participation is a matter of personal preference. To make this decision, athletes may want to consider the pros and cons of playing on a travel team and whether it is worth the cost.