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How to Choose the Best Club Sports for Your Family

Mike Wyn (M.A.) played basketball at Gonzaga University with NBA Hall of Famer John Stockton. He has coached at the HS & college levels.

Changing seasons used to indicate what sports were going to be played. Now, things are much more competitive and coaches often encourage parents to seek out club teams for their kids.

Changing seasons used to indicate what sports were going to be played. Now, things are much more competitive and coaches often encourage parents to seek out club teams for their kids.

College Scholarships and Pro Contracts

Club teams are big business...which means there are huge monetary incentives clouding the motives of almost everyone involved. Long gone are the days of our kids' sports determined simply by the changing seasons. It used to be like clockwork: The dog days of summer were dedicated to bat and ball sports, autumn automatically meant football for the guys and possibly volleyball for the gals, and of course, winter caused us all to seek indoor shelter and warmth by playing basketball. Today, many high school coaches demand their players participate offseason, if not year-round. Guess who the club coach is? (Answer: often the same high school coach requiring participation). No conflict of interest here, folks, move along.

Parents also see travel teams as a way to train teens and younger players to achieve the ultimate goal: athletic scholarships. Considering the astronomical costs of clubs, financial planners estimate that making regular contributions to an educational 403b fund is a more effective way to pay college tuition. Some parents hope the next generation will excel in sports beyond high school to erase their own failure. You can spot them a mile away: They're the coaches of little league, AYSO, and peewee football teams. Their offspring are all-stars, whether they have the physical prowess in them or not. When your kid asks you why they can't be quarterback or pitcher, good luck with that conversation.

"Say it ain't it so, coach Joe." There is a sunny side to club sports, however, because most kids love playing on organized teams to the point where nothing else matters. It's their first love (before they discover the opposite sex, and even that attraction usually takes a back seat). When the sports bug bites, symptoms include seemingly endless hours of planning, participating, and thinking about the object of their passion. This obsession deserves a positive outlet.

Just imagine how much practice it took Michael Jordan to become the greatest basketball player on the planet. Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers argues that 10,000 hours—roughly 10 years—are necessary to master a skill. Other experts found even that's not enough and doesn't account for the other factors that influence superior performance (Macnamara 2014). In other words, you can't teach 7 feet. Another issue to consider: What if you practiced a skill incorrectly? You will be great at doing it wrong. This is where club coaches can help.

What factors should you consider when signing your children up for club sports?

What factors should you consider when signing your children up for club sports?

What to Look for in a Club Team

How to research a club team before you join.

Once the decision to play at the club level is made, the first thing a family should do is homework. Research is the key to successfully finding a home for your child on the right travel team. Many times a club coach will recognize the natural ability in your son or daughter and actively recruit them. Flattering as this is, make sure to ask about the experiences of families and players that currently play for the coach. This can be done in a number of ways including talking to friends, acquaintances, and other coaches who have competed against the club team being considered. Authentic responses are what you need.

How much do club teams cost?

According to the San Francisco Chronicle elite volleyball clubs can cost upwards of $3,000 (not including tournament and travel fees: another three grand). Cost is obviously an important consideration. This price is not an average, so most likely you won't be faced with these kinds of numbers. Younger players will see a considerable lower cost, but that might also mean the additional burden of fundraising. Remember the financial planners mentioned earlier? Imagine if you invested the yearly sixty-three-hundred dollars cited above in a tax-free educational fund. Of course, this financial sense would add up to absolutely nothing to your son or daughter who just want to play the sport they love. Good luck with this part of the decision.

Location considerations.

Travel time to and from practices that are at least twice a week can add up quick and cut into an already busy family schedule. So as they say in real estate location, location, location is everything. Some families selected for the best teams willingly drive 2 to 3 hours round trip and endure a two-hour practice. Using simple math, that doesn't leave a lot of time for social activities outside of sports let alone homework. Choose wisely.

How to find the good club team coaches.

Is the coach concerned only with developing the superstar player, or does he work with all the kids to make sure they become the best they possibly can be? Check out their coaching philosophy, usually found on the team website, to make sure it addresses skill advancement for all players. No coach is a saint, but they should strive to create an atmosphere of rigorous standards.

What club teams can do for your child.

Sports contribute to the whole person. Life skills like sportsmanship, integrity, commitment, and a whole host of other attributes must define the environment your child will belong to and teach him or her to be an individual that excels at the social graces.

Take playing time into account.

Is it better to be a big fish in a small pond? This is the tricky part. There are so may ability levels of club teams, so it is paramount to identify how much playing time a newcomer can expect. Game experience in pressure-packed situations is essential to the growth of a player. It can't be replicated in drills. Like precious metals, high performance comes from the fire of competition. Ensure that the caliber of the club team matches the ability of your athlete.

The importance of team chemistry.

Time spent with teammates practicing, traveling, and playing often exceed the hours with friends. Team chemistry is vital. Games can be won or lost depending on how well a team works together. If they enjoy the company of each other, it's more likely they will help to cover any mistake made on the field. Team divas do nothing to assist in executing a game plan and can place blame on weaker players instead of admitting faults in their own play. Friendship can overcome all kinds of defects on the field. Find the right team and the proper circumstances to enable your son or daughter to achieve socially and athletically.

Final thoughts:

Never before has there been so many options afforded young athletes to develop their skills through club sports. The pay for play teams have become a powerful force to where college coaches use them as an exclusive avenue for recruiting. It's much easier to attend a few highly competitive club tournaments where the best-skilled athletes meet and play against each other. It's like watching an all-star game every time they go out to assess the suitability of a player for their team. They must choose wisely and so do you.

© 2016 Michael Wnek