I read this article today, “Year-Round Sports: Growing Old and Wearing Thin?”, and felt compelled to write about it. Those outside of the travel sports (softball) world often do not understand why parents, players and coaches do it. While the author offers an outsider’s view to travel sports, she does not do so in a condescending manner and brings up some good points and questions. I would encourage you to read her article before my response.
Annie. Deep subject. I'm a travel (club) softball coach and help players/parents with the recruiting process. Youngest daughter was one of the 2%, which is a misleading stat, because 1) D3 schools cannot offer athletic scholarships, 2) Many athletes receive more academic scholarship money (with/without athletic) and 3) NAIA schools offer "packages", which include many sources of "scholarship" (aka Assistance) money. While there are parents trying to hit the "lottery", I believe most parents just want to help their children realize their dreams to play college ball.
While some parents live vicariously through their children (also in other activities), most do not. True, I do see players who are being "pushed" by their parents to play. They usually quit half-way through high school...if not before. When their children excel in sports (and other things), they enjoy watching them perform. True, it can be an escape from the stress of their jobs and other responsibilities. Nothing wrong with that. Movies, TV, Reading, etc. can do the same for many people.
High School Coaches
I've also been involved coaching high school varsity level softball and can assure you that most coaches love having players who've already been trained, have tremendous game experience and help them win. True, there are still coaches who hate all things travel/club.....but they are the vast minority or have fragile egos. Also, I dare say that most high school coaches lack the knowledge to teach even fundamental skills. I say this based on the last 20 years of coaching and watching my daughters play softball.
Money and Culture
As for the money issues, I know there are some who spend more than they should on club/travel sports. Don't know about skipping meals or not buying groceries, but it can be expensive depending on the level of travel ball the child plays. Those may be very few extreme cases.
The Culture issue however, in my opinion is not so easy to blame on any one thing. True, today is far away from when I was a child (40 years ago). No club sports. No electronic gizmos. We played outdoors year round. 3 channels on the TV. Family dinners. Only Dad worked. Close extended family we visited often. These days (in general) both parents have to work, everybody gets home at different times, family dinners are fewer, more single-parent homes, numerous electronic distractions, cost of living is much higher, etc. 24/7/365 News (mostly negative), political parties dividing Americans into classes/groups and pitting them against each other for political gain and Hollywood culture rot....is it any wonder with all of these things bleeding into our schools, social media, etc. how different the country is today?
The good I've seen from travel/club sports. Girls work harder in high school on their academics, understanding they must in order to help their recruiting chances. Their grades and test scores are higher. They graduate High School. They get into college, have a built-in structure (and friends/teammates), mandatory study hall hours, tutors and cannot let their grades fall or risk becoming ineligible and losing scholarship(s). Their chances of getting degrees are far better than if they played no sport. They're not getting into drugs, excessive partying or getting pregnant. They graduate and find employment. The discipline, work ethic, competitiveness and accountability they have learned lasts a lifetime.
This is why I continue to coach club/travel softball. Because in the end, it will only help them become successful adults, employees, business owners and/or parents. The money parents spend can be a wash by the time college is over, meaning...what assistance/package/scholarships their daughter received was spent during their travel softball years before college. However, parents whose daughters play no college sports pay full price too. The absurdity of rising college costs is a whole different conversation. I educate parents every year about "scholarships" and try to eliminate the fairy tales of the "full rides". Most players only receive partial athletic scholarships and some don't receive any, which is why I stress academics first.
The friends we've made through my daughter's travel years will last a lifetime. We traveled the country, experienced new cultures (outside the Mid West) and spent a lot of time together (maybe the "new" family time). Because of that our relationship grew stronger. It also taught her (and me) that this is a great big beautiful country with opportunities all across it. Her college teammates were from all over too, which only added to her experience. It was challenging, fun, exciting, exhausting and a unique experience that cannot be bought; It was earned.
As a child my family went "up North" camping on weekends during the summer/fall, my daughter and I went to softball tournaments. While she played year round, she (we) took breaks frequently (a couple weeks at a time). Those who do not often burnout and quit. I hope this perspective helps you better understand the other side of travel/club sports (at least softball).