If you have a son or daughter who plays sports and wants to continue to play then there is a question you will probably have to answer at some point.
Do you sign up that child to play in the traveling/competitive program or play in the in-house/recreational program?
Both program options have positives and negatives and for each family/kid the answer to that question is different.
The traveling/competitive programs offer more opportunities to play and practice but are also more expensive, require more time commitment and require travel to other communities for games.
The in-house/recreational program is there to give kids a chance to play in a less stressful environment, isn’t as expensive and most games and practices are in the community in which you live.
“You need to do what’s best for the kid first,” Shakopee boys varsity head coach soccer and assistant director of coaching for the Shakopee Soccer Association Jon Poppen said. “Let’s make sure we aren’t losing sight of the kids’ enjoyment, first and foremost. Sometimes the status part can trump other things and we lose sight of are they just enjoying it and having a chance to play?”
Jordan’s boys basketball head coach Matt Urbanek agrees.
“Families have to look at what works for them and it’s different for every family. There are a lot of avenues to become a good player. There isn’t just one path. We’ve seen kids take all kinds of different roads to get there. In Jordan, we’ve tried to offer a variety of options where people have some choice and they can decide what fits their family, their budget, schedule and all of that.”
When making the decision which route to go, Poppen said families need to first figure out what the kid wants to get out of it and that's a discussion the family should have before deciding.
While there are differences in each option, Poppen said at least in soccer the differences aren’t as big as some people think.
Poppen pointed to the Shakopee Soccer Association as an example; it offers both a recreational league and a competitive/travel league for members. The recreational league is for boys and girls from age 4 to sixth grade while the competitive league starts in second grade and goes until 12th grade.
He said their recreational league practices twice a week and then they play games on Saturdays, while the competitive league is two to three nights a week, with practices and games and some weekend tournaments.
Poppen also said within their competitive program they offer different levels of competition and teams depending on the skill level of the players.
“We have different levels within that so we can cater, it’s not just our best players that need to play in a competitive program it’s not what it is set up for at all,” he said. “We’ve got different levels to offer anybody that is interested in it. That’s an important thing that I think is lost with a lot of families. There is certainly some stigmas with competitive that just aren’t true. There are multiple levels and it is for anybody that is interested. We don’t cut kids. We only get into pickles at older ages when the numbers are goofy but even then we do everything we can not to cut kids.”
He also said that the negatives that people associate with the competitive program for the most part just aren’t true.
“Time and travel commitment is misleading,” he said. “We changed our program from traveling to competitive to get rid of the stigma of travel. We play roughly 12 games and half of them are in Shakopee. The other half are local either in Burnsville, Prior Lake, and Lakeville and other surrounding communities for the most part. The time commitment is a huge question and it probably comes up more than the money question. The time commitment is not as much as people think it is.”
Either way both programs do require a time commitment. Poppen said the major difference between traveling programs and in-house programs problably comes in the coaching/training. Most rec/in-house leagues are run and coached by all volunteers while some traveling programs have paid coaches and trainers.
“That is a big difference that you will see from competitive and recreation,” Poppen said.
Does it matter?
You might think kids have to be on a traveling team to make the high school varsity team.
But most if not all coaches don’t agree with you. They just want kids to play.
“We’ve had kids that have been very important players for both boys and girls high school teams that did not play traveling basketball,” Urbanek said. “When they get to the high school program we don’t look at them and say... 'you played traveling so you get to play in the high school program.' We just take our best players in our high school program and those are the ones that play. If it helps them to become one of those better players by being in the traveling program then I guess that’s a benefit.
“Some kids are early bloomers, some are late bloomers, some kids develop physically at a later age and they turn into important high school contributors when maybe it didn’t look like it would happen at a younger age. There are a lot of factors beyond whether or not they played traveling basketball that will impact how much they will play and contribute in high school.”
In high school, they put the best players on the floor regardless of how they got there, he said.
“You may have a player that is just a really hard worker and didn’t shine at the lower level but he gets to the high school and that hard work finds him a niche or role where he can fit in with what we are doing and fill an important role. For all those players that love the game and are on the lower team or play in-house, is that if you love the game keep on working on it, keep on practicing and stick with it because there are always opportunities for you to break through. Maybe it’s a growth spurt, maybe the skills just click, maybe your hard work and great attitude is able to earn you a role on the high school team.”
“We have a lot of kids that finish with our sixth grade recreation and move into competitive and fit right in and have skills to play with the competitive kids," he said.
Urbanek said the most important thing is just get the kids to on the court or field and just play.
“We’ve tried to make it about more than just winning or just statistics,” he said. “We try to make it about the joy of the game. Playing the game you love, being with your teammates, building those memories and relationships.”