Tips for Youth Sports Travel
by: Wesley Somoza
Owner of Visit Southern California
Youth sports and traveling is something I know quite a bit about as a father and coach. I am writing this article to help lend a hand in the whole process for those folks that may be on the cliff of experiencing it for the first time and for those parents and coaches that are in the thick of it right now. Youth sports in my honest opinion is the best thing you can do for your children physically and socially. I do understand there are other interests and hobbies available to our young children today so I am not knocking those things, however this is where my experience, advice and recommendations will come in hand in this particular area.
A quick background, I am the father of 2 girls who are below the age of 10 and traveling for their youth sports was something I never gave much thought to especially when they were young babies. When I was a kid we never traveled that much for sports unless you were in high school and even then the travel distance was minimal. However in todays world with money that comes from travel ball leagues and rec leagues for youth sports travel is a mandatory part of the process. On average for my daughters to play a full season of recreational softball it costs me $375 to register both kids. This is not counting the playing gear for the sport (face mask, helmet, glove, cleets). On a side note my kids also play soccer and are transitioning over to club soccer but besides the entry fee the gear is minimal (ball, cleats and shin guards all modestly priced). The gear for softball to be competitive is more expensive from what I have experienced. I admit that this is not for every kid or family. If you want to be competitive in any sport you need to train and put in time or as I like to call it “work”. This is in the form of my volunteer time with my own kids and their teams and money for private training in soccer, hitting and pitching. What this does not include is the extra $$$ for us aprenst pay for our kids to play on a travel ball team or all-star team during the off-season. The costs just to play in tournaments (I mean fees only) is between $450 to $1,000 depending on the number of tournaments your team plays in. Club soccer for example can cost annually $1,200 for the tournaments and training your team does. I mean this all adds up and now onto the “travel” aspect of it which adds to the budget.
Typically for team tournaments in about a 30-50 mile radius of where you live I always recommend to save the money and just do the commute to the facility you are scheduled to play at. Some teams will have coaches or parents for distances of 50 miles want to stay overnight in a hotel depending on the game times for their team. I just say save the money, wake up early if your game is the first of the day and deal with it. More than likely the games being played will not determine the fate of your son or daughter’s athletic career so if they are tired…. Oh well. UCLA is not giving away or pulling their scholarships based on your 10 year olds performance for that day in that particular tournament. And this piece of advice is coming to you from a dad/coach that always wants his kids prepared to play their best. I have lost my temper and been miserable or happy depending on my child’s and the team’s performance (I did mention both kids are under 10 years old earlier) which is a sad commentary about myself and youth sports in general. I do have the ability to self reflect and can see the error of my ways and have changed and am still evolving. I digress however and go back to saying if you live within that 50 mile radius of your tournament for the weekend sleep and try to eat at home. Save money cause you will need it for the tournaments outside your 50 mile radius.
In Southern California the population leads to a talented pool of athletes from across the state. For boys and girls the level of competition starting from a young age is so steep and strong that the area over all from Santa Barbara to San Diego hosts a variety of tournaments featuring a ton of teams. The state and its businesses do recognize this and will charge a pretty penny for it when you do have to travel. I recommend that the team coordinator or tournament coordinator for your league or travel team plan things out at least a month in advance if possible. Room blocks are highly recommended for your families. Room blocks at hotels provide everyone with the same rate and access to the same amenities. The room block rate is typically cheaper than the alternative of you trying to book a single room for yourself. The other benefit to the room block is the team and its parents (not always a great thing) can all stay on the same property. This is great for the team to bond and play outside the typical confines of the sport and the parents get a chance to get to know one another outside the sport. Friendships are forged (and in some cases lost) during this time. However for your kids this is where the memories happen and when they look back on these experiences later in life they will assuredly talk about the amount of fun they had spending nights in hotels with their teams. For the kids it is a rewarding experience. Best thing to do to book a great rate for a room block is contact the hotel sales coordinator or general manager. Do not go through the reservations line of the hotel property as some of those booking folks on the other end of the line are not even on the property you are trying to reserve. Room blocks you do with the sales staff also allow the league and coordinators to get to know the people running the hotel property so for future bookings you can lock in a certain rate so that your stay is organized in advance taking some of the stress off of the actual travel details of this process.
For food and drinks the best advice I can give is stock up as much as you can in the hotel room for snacks and drinks. If you can I highly suggest booking rooms at a property that includes a breakfast in the morning for all its guests. Saves money and time trying to figure out where to eat. For actual meals (in most cases we are just talking about dinner here) I would say your team should plan in advance to book a table at a restaurant everyone can find something to eat and where the kids can socialize without being a distraction. Restaurants like Dave and Busters, Yard House, Freds Mexican Cafe, Cafe Coyote and Phis BBQ are a few spots that meet all these requirements.
Finally also keep in ind to be respectful when you are staying away at a hotel property. Kids can always get loud so that is a given and the hotel knows this when they are booking the room block for you. However as parents and coaches it is our jobs to me responsible for our children and the team’s behavior. I know that in the past we had the Ayres Hotel near Rancho Trabuco Ca, tell the tournament coordinator that our group was not welcomed back at the hotel cause some of the parents and kids were a disturbance to the other guests staying at he property. My group was not included in this as were staying across the way at the same hotel just in their newer section in the same parking lot, but we not indicated as being a part of the disturbance (thank goodness). All in all youth sports, especially travel and tournament play can be stressful on families both personally and financially. It is a real commitment, but it is the best commitment you can make toward your kids. They will thank you for it and remember it their whole lives as will you. That is it for now, if you have any comments or wish to add any thoughts to this post shoot them to me in the section below.
Next article we will focus on the New Year and what Visit Southern California will be offering to its visitors in 2017. Some good stuff coming soon.