The Sports Edge, Ask Coach Wolff

TRAVEL/CLUB TEAMS: Why The Time Has Come For Real Oversight In This Industry

I had a fascinating interview this AM with Bob Germano, the owner/operator of the North Jersey Vipers softball program.

Considered one of the best run programs in the country, Bob is one of those club operators who would like to have some real oversight and supervision when it comes to the $17 Billion youth sports business. It’s just hard to believe that in such a huge industry that there’s really no federal or state regulatory body that oversees these entrepreneurial ventures.

As a consequence, sports parents are on their own when it comes to trying to figure out which program is the best fit for their son or daughter. Mind you, these programs cost thousands of dollars, run year round, and require a tremendous amount of time and energy — and commitment – from the athlete and their family.

What’s the upside? In programs like the Vipers, the girls receive excellent and personalized instruction, all designed to improve their individual skills in softball. Practices are run efficiently, and games and tournaments are all well-mapped out and organized. But as Bob pointed out, a youngster’s experience can vary dramatically depending on which club program they join. Some are much more expensive (the Vipers cost $3,000 a year), some don’t even have a website (they post on Facebook), and in some cases, there are no background checks on the coaches who are hired. There can be real concerns about playing time, or playing a different position, and so on.

All in all, it’s up to the parents to do the heavy lifting in terms of finding the right program for their youngster.

But more than that, because there’s no real barrier of entry on starting on a club team, entrepreneurial sports parents or coaches can put out a shingle today and announce they’re starting a program. It’s as easy as that. Assuming they can rent a field or a gym (which is easy), and they can get insurance (also easy), then they are off and running. The owner determines how much to charge, who makes the team, who to hire as coaches, and right down the line. And they even determine the mission statement of the team; that is, is the overall purpose just to win…or is it to develop athletic skill? Trust me, that’s an important question to ask.

Club and travel teams now pervade just about every town and state in America these days, and some have grown into multi-million dollar operations. Many are run well. Some not so. And it’s true that if your son or daughter really has aspirations of playing sports in college, they will most likely need to be on a club team in order to attend a showcase or two to exhibit their talents to college coaches.

But Bob’s message was clear -and I agree with it: before you start to write checks for thousands of dollars, do your homework when it comes to travel teams. It’s just a shame that there’s no Consumer Reports or an independent third-party organization that can provide you with some real honest and objective feedback on all of these programs.

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