Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

A Youth Sports Blog

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What you aren't told at sports registration, or Travels with Hockey-playing Charley

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The blog Travel With Teens recently had a few thoughts about a common form of, of course, travel with teens: youth sports. The blog, written by one Mary T, went through the history of how the first sports sign-up turned into a lifetime of Ramada Inns, as if the kid was a guitar player for the Gin Blossoms.

As I headed out the door at 6:15 am for one of the eight youth ice hockey games I expect to attend during this school winter vacation week, I reflected on how the seemingly innocent choice to sign the kids up for “learn-to-skate” at age 5 has shaped our family’s travel choices for the last 10 years.   Over the years, as I have watched friends jet off to the tropics for school vacation week while we packed for yet another holiday hockey tournament in Lake Placid, Rochester NY, Cape Cod, Connecticut, Ottawa or wherever, I have wondered about the road we have chosen.  I will say up front, I wouldn’t change a thing because the confidence, friendships, tenacity and character our kids have garnered from their sports activities, and the family friends we have made, have been worth the trips postponed.  Yet, for those whose kids are still young, here are 5 thoughts to consider as you approach your first youth sports registration table:

And what would those five things be? What dastardly secrets are the kindly volunteers at the OfficeMax-purchased banquet table keeping from you?

  • (1) If your child sticks with a sport for more than a year or two they may likely end up on a travel team.  …
  • (2)  Tournaments are rarely in locations you would choose for a family vacation at that time of year.  Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard are great places, but the hockey tournaments are there in November not July.  The upside is that you will almost always get a break on hotel rates!
  • (3) The more passionate your kid becomes about the sport, the more likely they are to participate in vacation week and summer camps.  Day camps when they are 9, 10 or 11 become sleep away camps as they turn 12, 13 or older.
  • (4) If they play sports in high school, remember that fall sports such as football and field hockey start up several weeks before school, eroding opportunities for late summer family travel
  • (5) The chances of getting a division 1 “free ride” to college in almost any sport is very low so don’t expect that 12 years of deferred travel will be repaid with a scholarship

First, I’m glad Mary T has a good perspective on this. At least she’s enjoying the ride, rather than wondering why she’s pissing away all of her hard-earned money for nothing. Second, I asked my 10-year-old daughter, a three-time All-Star in her house league, whether she was interested in travel softball. She said no. And I am eternally grateful.

That reminds me of the sixth thing they don’t tell you at youth sports registration: that even if your kid shows a little talent, turning over your weekends, holidays and bankbook to a sport is not required — the kid might not be interested, and the parent might not be able.

Written by rkcookjr

January 5, 2010 at 11:39 pm

The youth sports stadium game

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If you thought the competition to build massive sports stadiums was just for cities that were, well, cities, then you are correct. As long as you think of those stadiums only for professional teams. Smaller towns and suburbs are drooling to replicate the success of Blaine, Minn.’s National Sports Center, or merely trying to attract big tournaments that fill hotel rooms and restaurants with rude kids running wild (at least that’s what I’ve seen and heard in the hotels I’ve stayed in that were hosting kids playing youth tournaments).

For example, the State Journal-Register of Springfield, Ill., reports in today’s edition that a $60 million youth sports facility is under consideration. It would have, as the paper notes, “a 3,000-seat baseball stadium, soccer fields and a football/track facility.” That would make it the biggest construction project in Springfield since the monorail.

If $60 million in a city of about 117,000 sounds like a lot, how does $60 million in a suburb of about 24,000 grab you?

That’s the pricetag Westfield, Ind., is putting on its proposed complex, which would be located a 5K run from where I’m sitting now (my parents’ house in Carmel, another north Indianapolis suburb.) The complex would consist of a 4,000-seat multipurpose outdoor stadium (which would also be used to attract an independent minor-league pro baseball team), indoor sports facilities, and baseball, soccer, softball and lacrosse fields. It would be part of a $1.5 billion development with retail, housing, hotels and a golf course already there, money to be raised in a public-private partnership.


The youth sports stadium game is like the big-time stadium game in that burgs known for little or nothing (as Indianapolis was when it beefed up its Olympic sports facilities and filched the Colts in the 1980s) are using the facilities to make some sort of a name for itself. For example, Westfield, known nowhere outside of Indianapolis and barely known within it, wants to be known as “the Family Sports Capital of America.”

As Westfield Mayor Andy Cook (no relation to your humble blogger) told Indianapolis TV station WTHR: “To our knowledge, there are two there facilities similar to this. One is in suburban Minneapolis. The other is in Disney World.”

See, there’s Blaine lust again. As for Disney World, apparently Cook is hopeful that someday a Super Bowl winner will yell, “I’m goin’ to Westfield!”


Come in to Westfield, the Happiest Place on Earth.

I must admit, I admire Westfield’s gigantic civic nards in proposing this project, especially in this economy, even though Westfield is a fast-growing burg.

There are plenty of stories out there bragging about how much money youth sports is bringing to various small towns. If you need an exact number, you can always call someone like Patrick Rishe, an economic professor at Webster University in St. Louis, who is making a side business assessing an economic impact number just like people used to do for pro sports stadium projects.

Of course, a lot of those pro sports numbers are in serious dispute, like this report in the Philadelphia Inquirer (via The Sports Economist) states:

In a just-released article in the Journal of Sport and Social Issues, my colleagues and I [Rick Eckstein, a Villanova sociology professor] studied media coverage of 23 publicly financed stadium initiatives in 16 different cities, including Philadelphia. We found that the mainstream media in most of these cities is noticeably biased toward supporting publicly financed stadiums, which has a significant impact on the initiatives’ success.

This bias usually takes the form of uncritically parroting stadium proponents’ economic and social promises, quoting stadium supporters far more frequently than stadium opponents, overlooking the numerous objective academic studies on the topic, and failing to independently examine the multitude of failed stadium-centered promises throughout the country, especially those in oft-cited “success cities” such as Denver and Cleveland.

The argument for youth sports stadiums over pro sports stadiums is that they’re cheaper to build, and that they attract almost all out-of-towners rather than taking money from one local entertainment venue to another. The argument against is that given the relative size of the towns, the money being spent is the equivalent of what a big city pays for a big stadium. And you can’t assume everyone will stay in your town’s hotels, or spend as much money as you think they will spend. Plus, it seems slightly creepy to base a major part of your city’s economy on kids playing games.

However, it’s doubtful this (fools?) gold rush is ending anytime soon. To symbolize where we’re going, Vero Beach, Fla., is looking at converting Dodgertown, the old Los Angeles Dodgers spring training site, into a youth sports complex.