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How To Choose A Travel Baseball Team

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If you have a child playing baseball these days you no doubt know about the explosive growth of so-called “independent” or “AAU” travel teams and leagues.  Joining such a team can be a rewarding experience for the entire family, but a wise selection process is critical.

Here are the key considerations:


Consider the team’s mission.  I strongly support independent baseball if the team’s mission is to provide athletes an environment in which to develop the skills they will need to play at the high school and college level.  Too often, I have seen teams whose primary objective is to win games, titles and trophies.  Because they are not committed to building a system and program with long-term goals, players and parents become disillusioned and such teams end up quickly disbanding.

The best teams have written mission statements which show that the team is committed to training and player development; provide clear rules codes of conduct for players and parents; and establish practice and game expectations for players and coaches.  Select a team that is committed to educating the whole child in athletics, including athletic values, athleticism, nutrition, and leadership skills.

More importantly, look for a team that actually delivers on that commitment.  In my 25 years of coaching, I have found that while most teams are good at talking the talk about these values at the beginning of the season, very, very few walk the walk by delivering on its promises during the season.

Time commitment

Consider the commitment of time that will be required, both yours and your child’s. Independent teams require total parent participation. A parent “not involved” or not participating in some way on the team is usually unacceptable.

Ask yourself and your family whether you can handle the fatigue that constant weekend travel, late weekday nights and the extra demands on your time are likely to cause your family.

If you are considering starting an independent team be prepared to make a time commitment equal to or more demanding than that required by a serious part-time job.


Consider the cost, which can range from as little as $500 to as much as $6,000 per year, not including travel expenses for motels, food, gas and tolls.  Weigh that total cost versus the value of the experience and training.  The more participation costs the more you should expect the program to deliver.  The number one reason so many independent teams fold is that they don’t represent good value.  Families are quick (maybe too quick) to vote with their feet these days.  Ask whether it might make more sense (and cost fewer cents) for your child to continue playing in a “house” or local program but supplement his training with private instruction.


Who will be coaching your child?  Many independent teams now hire excellent coaches who are not dads of team players.  Good travel teams have several talented, informed, and compassionate coaches.  Head coaches must act as CEO’s not committee chairmen. Vision, drive and the pursuit of excellence are absolutely required characteristics. It has been my direct experience that some of the most innovative teaching coaches today choose to coach travel teams. Many prefer this environment to coaching in the school system.


Who are the players? Most teams consist of and are created with friends or local all-star teams who want to play at a higher level of competition.  That is why many do not have tryouts. They send out invitations.  25% of all players are not in the 99th percentile. Half of some towns’ all-star teams can’t qualify for elite playing status. Be very clear as to the actual talent standard that teams use.

How many players on the team? I strongly believe that travel teams carry too few players on the roster. The concept of quality participation should have a higher priority than quantity of games or innings played.  Not everyone needs to play every inning if the quality of competition is at the elite level.

Team size

I would like to see fewer teams with more players that have the organizational and financial stability to last longer.

A shortage of players on the roster in a 60+ game schedule can create physical and mental fatigue.  Tired arms, inadequate pitching depth, family conflicts and vacations, boredom and the lack of the necessary commitment can put a team in a bad predicament if it has to play 8 games in four days in July.  A team of 10 or 11 fatigued competitors on the road is not pleasant.  College teams who play 50-60 game schedules have 28-35 players.

Too much, too soon

Safeguard your child’s health.  Most players 10-11 years old have no concept of the physical stamina and conditioning that is required to play at an elite level.  As we constantly observe combining house and travel team schedules can be and has been dangerous to a child’s health.

Many towns are creating Sunday leagues. Be careful. Pitchers’ throwing schedules should not be based on the ability to play in two different leagues with different rules for innings pitched. The pitcher’s total weekly pitch count, rest and strength conditioning between appearances are the sole considerations for play.

Showcase Teams/Exposure Camps

Many young age-group teams are formed to showcase individual talent. This only matters for sophomores and juniors in high school that want to play college ball. PERIOD.

College showcase teams fall into two categories, for-profit and non-profit. Good consumer practices should be followed. The best policy is to seek several referrals from last year’s team parents.

Exposure camps also can be tricky.  Ask what universities were represented at last year’s event. If they refuse to tell you, pass it by. It is a waste of money, time, and precious energy to attend a camp if the schools your child is interested in attending will not be represented.

John Pinkman is President of Pinkman Baseball Academies [1] in Springfield, Virginia. 

Last Updated ( Tuesday, August 25 2009 12:38 )