What is the difference between Travel Ball and Rec Ball from a new Travel Ball Manager’s perspective
Guest Post by Don McKay
Between tryouts and practice, we’re now over a month into our new travel ball endeavor: The San Diego Blaze (www.sdblaze.org). I’m the overall manager, though I’m supported by a solid group of five or six of coaches and a handful of other parents that have talked and planned about starting a travel ball program for over a year. Since we’re holding our first annual Blaze picnic today, it seems appropriate to pass on some of my observations thus far on what I’ve noticed is different from Rec ball.
First off, it’s a ton more work. I tell everyone that I’ve started a business from which I don’t expect to get paid (and then question my sanity along with everyone else). Like any business, we developed a business plan we try to follow, we have to market smartly, we have unexpected expenses and a revenue
stream that never seems to go as far as we hoped. While it is more fun than ever being on the softball field (more on that in a bit), the off-field headaches and stress are exponentially higher for a travel ball manager compared to a rec ball manager or board member.
Competition for players in Southern California is cut-throat, and so we’re in constant recruiting mode. Additionally, since we’re a new program, we’re top-heavy with players who are new to travel ball. Some players and/or parents have signed up for travel ball thinking that it was just Rec All-Stars with fancier uniforms, not realizing the bigger time commitment or the fact that the stakes are higher in travel ball. As a result, we’ve had a couple of players back out after the first couple of practices. In the long-run, I’d rather those players leave now than later, but it does present some short-term problems as we scramble to recruit players to re-fill our rosters. Thankfully, the support within our small softball community has been even more positive than I thought, and now that folks are seeing that we’re surviving and moving on, more players are expressing an interest in joining the team. Additionally, a grunch of good players in the area who are already playing travel ball for other teams have agreed to sub for us if we’re short-handed for games.
However, in spite of the headaches, I’ve never been happier on the softball field. Having three 2-hour practices a week (as opposed to two or three 90 minute practices in rec – and down to one or two practices during the regular season) allows us to spend a lot more time on the details and fundamentals
of the game. I’ve now been able to include drills in practice that I just never had the time to include for my Rec Ball teams. For example, we’ve instituted a long-toss program and have seen HUGE improvement in our players’ throwing mechanics, as well as how far they can throw and their accuracy.
We do softball-specific agility training twice a week, and have seen a measurable improvement in player speed and strength in just a few weeks! While I never feel like there is enough time in practice to get everything done that we’d like to get done, I am now confident that we’re building a foundation within our players that will benefit them their entire softball careers.
Finally, the most pleasant surprise has been the players themselves. These girls, no matter what their initial skill or natural talent level, are super motivated to become better players. When my youngest daughter played travel ball for the first time this summer (for another team), it was amazing to watch her raise her skills from good 11-year-old-Rec-Player to good-14U-Travel-Ball-player in a span of a few weeks. Being surrounded by better and equally-motivated players made her work that much harder to get her game up to a higher level of play than she’d ever even considered beforehand. We’re seeing the same thing happen with our Blaze players: the sprinkling of experienced travel ball players are pulling the rest of the team up to their level just by the example they set. The more inexperienced players have had their eyes opened up to a higher level of play that they see that they can reach. In short, I’ve never had a team improve so much so quickly, and it is primarily because our girls are pushing themselves to do so.
I know that there is a ton of stuff I’ve yet to learn about this whole travel ball thing (I’m a lot excited and a bit terrified about our first friendlies coming up in a month), but one thing is for sure:
Seeing girls who otherwise may never have had the opportunity to play travel ball improve dramatically from practice to practice has definitely made the off-field challenges worth it!