I went into the world of travel soccer with no idea what to expect. Here’s what I learned from a full season.
My oldest son Brandon is eight and has played soccer for the last four years, having inherited my love of the beautiful game. This year, he told my wife and I that soccer was the only thing he wanted to play, and that he wanted to play on a team that plays in tournaments (which is a travel team). He’s the oldest of our three and this was a new experience for us and him, so I cataloged everything about his travel team season as a primer for those who are exploring the possibility of their kid doing a travel activity. Here’s what I found, broken down into various components including time and money investment as well as observations on other things of possible interest.
Travel soccer is a step up from club soccer, so there were tryouts involved. Between the travel to and from the tryout spot and the actual tryout (of which there were two), it was two hours for each tryout. Total tryout time: 4 hours
After that, Aston United (who he plays for) held a five-day summer camp for all their travel teams, which lasted six hours a day. Toss in travel time to and from camp, and you have another big chunk of time. Total time for camp: 31 hours, 30 mins
Matches are fun, but practices are where the work gets put in and the growth happens. There were two kinds of practices: a team practice where Brandon would work with his team, and a skills workshop each week run by Challenger Sports. There was normally one of each practice a week from July 31st through November 2nd, for a total of twenty-six.
Each practice consisted of travel time to and from the practice grounds (20 minutes total), a brief warmup before his team came out (10 mins), and the actual practice (90 mins). At two hours a practice for twenty-six practices, this consisted of around half the total time involved in travel soccer. Total time for practices: 52 hours
Eventually though, you have to put what you practice to the test. Brandon’s side played eight matches (not counting tournaments), four home and four away. Home matches broke down like this: 10 minutes total travel time, 30 minute warm-up, 60 minute match. Away matches varied depending on where the field was. Total time for matches: 18 hours, 30 minutes
The last category here is tournaments. A typical tournament would start in the morning around 9 and stretch into the early afternoon. Brandon’s side played in two tournaments, with three matches in each tournament. Toss in travel time again, and you’re looking at another chunk of time. Total tournament time: 10 hours
Add it all up and what you have is nearly five days spent like this. Total estimated time: 116 hours
If you want to play on a travel team, it’ll cost you extra. (This is one of the big problems the US has with youth soccer and developing/discovering talent, but that’s another article.) The fee to be on the team itself was $250 (compared to $115 for club soccer), and another $115 for his custom uniform. It was another $80 to attend the travel team camp as well. Of course, there’s the startup costs you have regardless of what level you’re going to play on, like new boots ($25), a new drink bottle ($5), and sports drink mix ($20). Fortunately, he had shin guards that still fit from last year, but that’s another $10 if you need new ones.
The team gets money from the association at the start to help cover costs like tournament fees but it’s not enough to cover everything, so each travel team has a fundraiser ($60 for two beef and beverage tickets in our case) and takes a turn running the club soccer concession stand on Saturday mornings. Another cost was gas: we drove nearly five hundred miles in purely soccer-related travel. In my 2010 Nissan Altima, that’s a tank and a half of gas ($60).
Add it all up and you can see why being good at soccer isn’t the only requisite of being on a travel team (although it should be): Total estimated cost: $615
This was sort of covered in the previous two categories, but there are a couple things I’d like to reiterate. We drove five hundred miles to soccer-related activities. We played away matches in locations that were anywhere from 12 to 39 miles away. We played in a myriad of conditions, from scorching heat to bitter cold and wind to drizzle, on fields that ranged from pristine soccer-specific grass pitches to multipurpose turf fields which were (confusingly) marked for every sport imaginable. It’s not my intention to scare anyone away from playing travel soccer because I believe it was a wonderful experience for both me and him, but it’s not for the casual, uncommitted player. They don’t call it “travel soccer” for nothing!
Some more on what to expect:
Your son or daughter may have been an all-star at the club level, but travel team is a significant step up. Last year was Brandon’s first year of playing goalkeeper at the club level and he played very well (paternal bias notwithstanding). Travel team was another animal though: the kids were faster, passed better, shot harder. He was pushed by the level of competition in ways neither of us expected; it helped him grow and get better, but there was an initial shock involved. It’s something you may want to address with your child as a tempering of expectations, so to speak.
This is not something you can push your child to do, or they will hate it. Again, it’s not something for the casual soccer player. Club soccer practices once during the week and plays a match on the weekend, all locally. It’s fairly relaxed. Travel soccer meets more, drives more, and is more competitive. If you have doubts about making the commitment, don’t do it.
There was a real push to not coach your child from the sideline during matches as well. This was especially difficult for me at times as Brandon is a goalkeeper and I’d notice something during the match but couldn’t say anything. As parents, we do need to let the coaches do their job, and it’s hard to do if every parent is barking individual instructions to their kid. Ultimately, I just made a note of it and the next time we’d play around in the yard, I’d mention it or we’d work on it, and that seemed to work.
One last note: as in every level of sports, the quality of officiating will vary. In their defense, it’s just one referee trying to judge fouls, handballs, offsides, and everything else all at the same time, but they will miss things. They will at times be inconsistent. Often times too, the fields the kids play on are marked for multiple sports which the ref has to interpret and explain as best he can too. They do get paid to do it, yes, but they are just people as well. Have a little mercy on them.
Here are some things I picked up from experience that may help you:
- Invest in a good, sturdy, comfortable outdoor folding chair. You’ll be spending a lot of time in it. If it has a roof or overhead cover, all the better.
- We went through an unholy amount of Gatorade, especially at tournaments. Buy the powdered drink mix for your sports drink of choice, a pitcher, and a decent drink bottle. You will save money.
- Take a small bag with these things in them: bug spray, wipes, tissues, a small bag for trash, sunglasses/hat, poncho/umbrella, a drink and a snacks for you and your kid in addition to their drink bottle, portable phone charger and cord.
- Keep a jacket or sweatshirt in your car, especially for those fall practices when you show up at 6 and it’s balmy and by 7 you feel like icicles will form on you.
I hope this article has answered some questions you may have had in terms of commitment and what all is involved in travel soccer. Brandon and I both enjoyed the experience of travel soccer, and I hope you do too if you and your child decide to go for it. Best of luck!