Here are a few of the factors you should consider when evaluating your options and picking a team.
With the top-tier of competitive travelling softball teams, the
coaches are generally not related to the players. (Sometimes you’ll find
an assistant coach who is a parent, but rarely a head coach.) These
coaches have years of experience, and often played many years
themselves. They understand the intangibles of the game, and can teach a higher level of mechanics that go beyond the fundamentals.
Competitive travel softball players come to the field every day with
the intent to compete, push past their limits, and get themselves to the
next level. The fundamentals will already be in place, and there’s no
question as to whether they will dive head first to catch a ball.
Many programs are run as a tight ship, with the goal of teaching and
preparing their athletes for what college ball will be like: fast paced
practices and a strong emphasis on execution.
These teams expect you to take the game seriously: 15 minutes early
is on time; you walk into a tournament in an orderly fashion; and you
recognize that while there’s a time and place to be goofy, you’re there
to get better at softball.
Because the goal of this type of program is to prepare the athlete
for college athletics, the teams want to win. At the same time, they
also want to focus on player development.
So, during pool play, playing time tends to be more evenly
distributed in order to give everyone game experience (as well as the
opportunity to be noticed by college coaches, when the time comes for
that). But come bracket play on Championship Sunday, the goal is to win
and the best players will be on the field with the expectation of
dominating the competition.
What You Get
Many high-level programs are fully-sponsored by product
manufacturers, or at least get discounted rates on things like uniforms
and equipment. In those cases, your club fees might include two or three
uniforms, matching bat bags, visors and bats (some teams exclusively
swing one brand).
A majority of programs at this level also have their own indoor facility for winter workouts and bad-weather training.
Time Commitment (spoiler alert… HUGE)
When I was playing travel softball as a teenager in Oregon, I had a
teammate from Montana who flew in once a month for our team practices.
While that’s not very common, driving three hours one way for a practice
is totally commonplace. If you live in a big city, chances are that a
good program is nearby. But if you live in a smaller area, you may end
up putting a lot of miles on your car.
I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I accidentally conditioned myself
to fall asleep every time I was in a car for more than 45 minutes. My
weekend routine typically looked something like this for travel ball:
Wake up at 5 a.m., get in the car and fall asleep for the whole drive there.
Play five games
Get in the car, and sleep for the whole drive home.
In other words, it’s a lot of time on the road. You, as the parent,
are going to be doing the driving. Your daughter, as the player, is
going to be pooped. It’s “quality time” in a certain way, but probably
not in the way you’re envisioning right now.
Also, since most teams only have one practice per week, there’s an
expectation that additional work is being done outside of practice.
Hitting, pitching and defensive skills should be worked on roughly four
days a week.
The majority of players at this level hire an experienced outside
hitting or pitching coach. If you don’t put in this extra work, you will
quickly fall behind your teammates and ride the pine (plus risk being
cut at the end of season).
There are typically four or five tournaments during October and
November. Then, another tournament every weekend from late spring
through July or August.
Depending on where you live, you could be spending a ton of time in
the car, or even on a plane. The biggest softball hubs are Southern
California, Texas and Florida. If you’re not in one of those states,
expect to be travelling far and often.
Living in Oregon and playing competitively, I traveled multiple times
every summer and fall to play in college exposure tournaments in
The True Cost of Travel Softball
Some of you may have fainted after mentally calculating the cost of everything in that last section. But let’s recap…
Driving to and from practice
Driving or flying to and from games
15 to 20 tournaments per year (with tournament fees)
Facility fees to practice on your own
All of that easily runs anywhere from $2,500 to $6,000 a year, making
elite travel softball one of the costlier youth sports. Plus, that’s in
addition to fees and travel for camps, which many top-tier players also
Like I said earlier, if you’re in Southern California you might end
up paying on the lower end of that range, because your cost for travel
will be much lower than someone flying into California every weekend.
Also, keep in mind that many tournament teams have monthly dues of
around $200 to play on the team and have access to their training
facility. The cost of travel is not included in the monthly dues.
Travel Softball Sometimes Requires Sacrifices
Growing up, I was more on the lower end of the middle class. We
always had food on the table, but the effort put in by my parents to
facilitate my amateur softball career was exorbitant.
Looking back, I’m so thankful they gave all they did so that I could
be successful — it’s something I can never repay them for. I imagine
that we could have lived a little more comfortably had I not been
For them, it was a matter of priorities. I wanted to play at the
highest level I could, and they were willing to sacrifice to make that
If money is a potential concern, you need to consider both your
priorities and your daughter’s. Are you prepared and willing to skip
“regular” family vacations because your weekends and your travel budget
are going into softball?
And does she understand that playing this sport at this level most
likely requires trade-offs when it comes to things like friends,
clothes, phones, and many of the other things that teens often spend
time and money on in high school?