I’ve been putting off writing this article for a few reasons. It will likely be misinterpreted by some people, while possibly offending others. Regardless, I can’t put if off any longer. My goal for this post is to help parents make the best decisions for their daughters and families concerning their options on playing travel softball. I will even share with you how much I paid for my youngest daughter's travel softball career.
First of all, I am a strong advocate for travel softball. Two of my daughters played travel softball at different levels for years. That is where they learned the game, fundamental and advanced skills, how to handle failure and success, how to deal with getting cut, how to earn playing time and to compete against other teams. They did not learn these things in the recreation league and certainly not in school.
Given recent events such as school boards forcing varsity coaches to take players back onto their teams which they’ve cut….well…my respect and patience for school sports is dwindling. The mix of travel and social players on school teams and the culture of political correctness often fans the flame of the Everybody Gets A Trophy fire. I could write an entire book on that topic alone, but I digress. This has a lot to do with why I am only coaching travel softball now.
So, I will assume everybody understands the value and benefits of playing travel softball. As for specific advice on where or which team/club your daughter should play, that is out of the scope of this article. However, there are many things you can consider to help you when making a decision to join a team/club.
These can range from a couple hundred dollars for entry level B teams/clubs to thousands for elite teams/clubs. Fees typically include uniforms, bags, helmets, tournament entries, player registrations in sanctioning bodies like ASA, team insurance and facility rental (indoor/outdoor). It is also worth noting that player fees are greatly affected by the cost of the tournaments they are in. The entry cost of tournaments ranges from about $375 to $3,500 (yes that is not a typo).
A friend pays $400 for the year for a 12u local team. The fee in my club, college exposure teams, was $1,350 last year. Other exposure clubs in my region range from $1,900 to $3,500. The last 2 years my daughter played on a nationwide team, the fee was $2,000 per year. And I’ve been told some fees elsewhere exceed $5,000. Oh yes….get your calculator apps out and do the math for 7-8 years. Yikes!
Spectators have to pay gate fees to get into most tourneys. They range from $5 to $10 per day to $20 to $40 per week/weekend. Some parks do not allow you to bring in coolers or your own food. Some do not allow you to bring your dog. You can easily spend $200 for a year per person on gate fees, $300 on concession stand food/water/gatorade and hundreds on kennel fees. And let’s not forget those tournament t-shirts & hoodies your daughter wants.
Some teams do in-state or the nearby circuits of tournaments with few hotels necessary and no flights or car rentals. For younger age groups like 12u & 13u (non-high school ages), there is no need to travel further excluding a year-end National tourney. And 10u, which I am not an advocate of, should stay within the surrounding counties. The younger age groups usually play more tourneys, since they are not restricted by state high school regulations (can’t play travel ball during school season). At $50 to $100 per weekend on gas, you would spend $600 to $1,200 per season. Add another $300 to $500 for traveling back and forth to practices through the year. And oh yea, you need to eat when you’re on the road. Tack on another $1,000 for the year.
For 14u to 18u, especially college exposure teams, your travel costs are probably something your mind subconsciously blocks out. Math is suddenly a skill that escapes you. You can break these into two types: Regional and Nationwide. Regional teams may do the in-state or nearby circuits with players only looking for close to home college softball opportunities. Nationwide teams are filled with players chasing the big time D1 dream (playing on ESPN in the college world series). The difference in costs between these is astounding.
First, a regional team with one out of state tourney (5 hours) like my club’s 14u team. Two of those tourneys required hotels for most families ($1,000 total) plus the cost of gas and food mentioned above. So, the total cost of travel could be like $3,200 for the year, which is a drop in the bucket compared to my next example.
Next, how about one year my daughter played on a nationwide team? In the fall they traveled to Chicago (6 hours), Indianapolis (5 hours), did 4 local tourneys (within an hour) and then to Orlando ($1,200 flight (3) plus car rental $300). The summer included one local tourney, Chicago, New Brunswick NJ (10 hour drive), Indianapolis, Boulder CO ($800 for 2 plane tickets & $300 for car rental), Oklahoma City (drove 15 hours with 5 total family members) and Huntington Beach CA (daughter and I flew from OK directly then home ($900), rented a car ($300), while others drove home from OK).
Another cost with this kind of extensive travel is from sight-seeing and tourism. While my daughter and I didn’t buy many souvenirs, we did tour the mountains and beaches, rafting, horseback riding, minor league baseball game, etc. I don’t have an exact dollar amount, but let’s just say it was about $1,000. That would put that year’s travel cost (hotels, gas, flights, car rentals, food, entertainment) to at least $12,000. And suddenly the $2,000 player fee that year seems insignificant.
*Note - I understand not all states have restrictions on school players playing travel ball during their seasons. My state of Michigan is in the dark ages as far as that goes. I believe the day is coming when players will stop playing school ball and only play travel softball.
Practices - In/Off-Season & Winter Workouts
Usually coach’s will have a field they can use for free….close to their home. Your cost will be in time and gas. Will you have to leave work early? Eat on the road? How far away do you live from the field? Traffic? My drives as a parent over the years were 45-60 minutes one way….with no snow/ice/freezing-rain/accidents. There are players in my club now who have 2 1/2 hour one way commutes. Some teams, nationwide exposure teams, have players from multiple states who never come to practices/winter workouts.
Additional Training & Lessons
Pitchers require lessons. Hitters require lessons. Fielding instruction usually comes from team practices, winter workouts, camps and clinics. Lessons range from $20 to $80 per half hour. If a player attends 26 lessons at $40 per half hour, that’s $1,040 per year…plus gas ($300) and often late nights eating in the car on the way home. Double that cost per year ($2,080) if your daughter also takes hitting lessons.
College Camps & Clinics
Once your daughter begins chasing the dream to play a high level of college softball, it becomes necessary to attend numerous college camps and clinics. The price of these ranges from $50 to $500 (and for special week long camps over $1,000). I’m not referring to girls who play on B level teams that end up at the local JUCO school…which by the way….there is nothing wrong with. I’m talking about players getting attention from D1, D2 and even NAIA schools. And sometimes their camps are where you first get on their radar.
When my daughter was being recruited by many of the local D1 schools, we did almost every camp they wanted her to do. Had I known then what I know now….sigh. Let’s just say I spent approximately $1,000 per year on camps during her freshman, sophomore and junior years plus the related costs already discussed.
*Note - I’ve written about the importance of camps before as well as when to avoid them (cash cows).
Not So Hidden Costs
Cleats ($50 - $100 per year), bats ($300 - $400 per year), batting gloves ($30 to $60 per year), extra uniform socks and pants ($100 per year), sliding shorts ($100 per year for two), spirit wear ($200 per year), additional maintenance and wear and tear on your car (easily $1,000 per year), time off work (cannot estimate, but I did take some unpaid time off during her final two years of extensive travel) and miscellaneous expenses like attending team bonding events, fundraising, special hair ribbons, etc. ($500 per year???).
Skills Videos & Recruiting Services
When you want to be recruited, get on a coach’s radar whether nearby or far away, you need to show them what you’ve got. This is done now with 3-5 minute skills videos that demonstrate your skills. Coach’s can evaluate from anywhere they have an Internet connection. As I have written about before, coach’s do not simply go hang out at tournaments to find players. They go to tournaments with lists of players they are already interested in to see how they do in actual games.
Some parents or coaches will put together amateur skills videos for players for free or a very small fee, upload them to Youtube or Vimeo for free and then it’s up to the players to take the time to market themselves (for free). There are numerous services out there who will create a skills video for you and market the players as well. Prices range from a few hundred dollars to you’ve got to be kidding me. Worse yet, some services have such bad reputations amongst college coaches that their emails (and links to your daughter’s videos) are blocked. And those who send things in the mail, get tossed in the trash without even opening them.
I won’t name the companies, that in my opinion, you should stay away from. I can only advise you to beware, talk to people, check the local forums and whatever else you have to do before shelling out thousands of dollars to buy their lofty promises. I can however recommend a friend of mine, Brian Chidester of College Bound Jocks. I’ve known him for sometime now. His superstar daughter Amanda was in the same club as my daughter, was an all-american at Michigan, is on Team USA, is a coach in Duke’s new softball program and plays professionally now. His prices range from $500 to $1,700 (at the time of writing this article). My daughter was one of his first players when he began the business and I believe it is, unless you get lucky, an absolute necessity.
Summing It Up By Example
Example 1: 12u player doing local tourneys in surrounding counties with no additional lessons ($2,500 - $3,000 per year).
Example 2: 12u player doing in-state nearby more competitive tourneys plus weekly lessons ($4,000 - $5,000 per year).
Example 3: 14u - 18u player doing in-state nearby college exposure tourneys plus weekly lessons, attending camps and a skills video ($7,500 - $9,000 per year).
Example 4: 14u - 18u player doing nationwide tourneys at the highest level of play, weekly lessons, attending camps and a skills video ($22,000 - $25,000 per year).
Just to estimate what I really paid over the years for my youngest daughter. She played 1 year like example 1, 3 years similar to example 2, 2 years like example 3 and 2 years like example 4. So, the math that I had been blocking out of my head for all these years adds up to between $73,500 and $86,000.
And right now at this moment….you are doing your own math on what you’re true cost of travel softball is for your baby girl, aren’t you? I hope this helps you think about all of your options and the true long-term costs of travel softball. I think back to when my Dad said, "They're charging $80 to play little league now. Back when you played it was free." Well let's just say I won't be sharing this post with him now, will I?
And lastly...I would definitely do it all over again, but there are things I'd do differently. I probably could have saved $20,000, but hindsight is 20/20, isn't it? We treated each of our tourney trips like vacations as well and I wouldn't trade all the time I got to spend with her for anything. She's living her dream now and will be a senior this year. Blink.....and it's over.