My son Bradley was standing there in the same spot for probably 20 minutes. It was a lineman drill as part of a “tryout” last week for what is a year-round “travel football” program, but the coaches kept calling the same names over and over to take part. It certainly looked like the coaches had an agenda, and that was to get the kids they knew the most reps.
I turned to the father of another child at the tryout and said to him that it appears as if they have their team. He agreed with me, and it was clear that many players who are selected to be will just be there to fill out the roster and stand on the sideline with fancy uniforms that won’t get dirty.
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I asked if the team guaranteed playing time if your child makes the team. They said no; only the best players will play. That’s not exactly what a parent wants to hear when they’re being asked to shell out a substantial three-figure dollar amount if their child makes the team. I’ve written in the past that if a parent has to pay to play, in any sport, then the child should play.
In this case, the risk-reward for a couple of hours on a weekday night was justified. The best-case scenario was that Bradley would have a great time, show off his skills, and perhaps get some good news in a few weeks that he made the team and would play.
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But the worst-case scenario of not participating enough, not getting a good vibe about the program, not having a T-shirt in your size despite indicating the size during online registration, and not having the chance to snap one ball even though he plays center. In this situation, that was still OK because the fee to try out was small, and Bradley did get to be active for the better part of a couple of hours.
In the car on the way home, Bradley shared with my wife Sheryl and I that, while he appreciated the opportunity, it just didn’t feel like something he would enjoy. It will be a nice feeling for him if we get an email in a couple of weeks inviting Bradley to play, but it certainly sounds like a summer football camp or two would be a better option instead of this travel football program.
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In fact, I spoke to three high school football coaches about it the next day and they all had reservations about this type of program.
“(The program) is a money-maker,” said one coach. “An utter and complete waste. It’s total (baloney).”
Another coach I spoke to wasn’t familiar with the program, even though it’s in his region.
“I have no idea about it or even where they are based out of,” said the coach.
Bradley and his brother Jared already attend a three-day non-contact football camp at the end of June. For Bradley, some additional football experience before the middle school season begins is certainly a good idea, but our feeling now is that adding the travel program, especially with no guarantee of playing, is not the right option.
“Personally, I don’t believe in that travel football stuff,” said a third coach that I spoke to. “I think they are trying to make bucks and be like the other travel sports. I would stick to school teams at this point and camps possibly.”
At camps, like the one my boys go to, the kids get group and individual attention and have the opportunity to learn proper fundamentals for tackle and flag football while also getting a chance to rub elbows with terrific instructors, including current and former NFL players and coaches. One of the instructors at the camp that my sons have attended has his own camp in our area later in the summer, so that seems like the better fit in terms of adding summer experience.
Every football parent should certainly look around and do their homework when it comes to finding a football camp or program for their child. The camps are generally the better route because the kids are going to get better instruction that they would with a travel program.
“I just haven’t seen enough of these “travel teams” and I know the struggle it is to get good coaches on the JV and middle school level,” said another coach. “These are just glorified coaches and leagues who are in it for the wrong reason and it can be a detriment.”
When looking for the right youth football team, camp or program, it’s a good idea for parents to do their due diligence. Any affiliation with USA Football and the Heads Up Football program is certainly worth looking at, but also ask other parents and coaches in your community to get some additional feedback to help make a quality decision for your child.
Peter Schwartz is a sports anchor for the CBS Sports Radio Network, FOX News Headlines 24/7 and WCBS 880 Radio in New York. His older son Bradley plays youth tackle football for the Super Bowl Champion East Meadow Rams on Long Island, while his younger son Jared plays flag football for the LSW Giants. Peter, his wife Sheryl and the boys are busy cheering on the New York Jets when they’re not at a youth football field.