Travel Soccer Is Every Parent’s Nightmare

Faraway games, sacrificed weekends, agressive parents—there’s not too much good to say about travel soccer. So why are we schlepping our kids all over creation to play it?

Travel soccer in the Philadelphia suburbs is a nightmare.

We aren’t signing our eight-year-old daughter up for travel soccer.

At least, I’m pretty sure we aren’t. Like, 96.3 percent sure.

Maybe.

My husband and I have only been debating this decision for a year, which is more time than it took us to decide whether to have a third child. The trouble is, last fall, we also didn’t sign Blair up for travel soccer. And then all of her BFFs’ parents signed up all of her BFFs, and they all made the team, and they talked all season long about how much they loooooved travel soccer. In the spring, when our town sent out an announcement about this year’s tryouts, the prodding began. Not from Blair, but other parents: “You should sign her up. She’ll love it.” We know they’re right.

So does Blair. When I ask her if she wants to do it, she says, “Okay.” Of course, she says “okay” to just about anything. She’s cool like that. “Do you want to hunt for snakes?” “Okay!” “Do you want to get sealants at the dentist?” “Okay!” It would seem, then, that travel soccer should be a done deal.

If only it didn’t suck so much.

Having a kid on a travel soccer team requires only slightly less time in a year than it took to build that same child in the womb. All fall, the parents of a travel soccer player must bring said child to two soccer practices during the week, which generally start at dinnertime and can last up to two hours; on weekends, those same parents must transport said child to games that can be hours away, or to tournaments that can be hours away and involve multiple days. And it doesn’t end, either. In the spring, there are mini-leagues and skills sessions and more practices (which adds to the sticker shock of it all, what with the uniforms, gas, fees, pairs of cleats they outgrow monthly … ). With both my husband and me working full-time, and three kids (Blair’s younger sisters are six and two—two!), I barely have time to type this schedule into iCal, much less make it happen in real life.

Sandra in Malvern does it. Her two daughters, both in elementary school, play on travel soccer teams in Lower Merion. Different teams. At different times. In different places. They could play in a league in their hometown, but, explains Sandra, “It just isn’t good enough.”

Apparently, everyone’s doing this, everywhere—Lower Merion, Cherry Hill, New Hope—since colleges are now scouting more and more of these travel teams. So for a kid to have a smidgen of a chance at a scholarship 10 years from now, travel soccer is basically required. The better the travel team, the better your odds. Which may explain why parents are literally going the distance for them.

Still, “The kid has to really want it,” Sandra tells me, though I’m not sure what “it” is that a third-grader would know she “really wants.” To get a soccer scholarship? To drive semi-weekly to Gladwyne? Regardless, if this is what our family life will look like if we have a travel soccer player under our roof (or two travel soccer players, or, sweet Lord in heaven, three), then that’s it. We have to pass. No travel for us. One hundred percent no. Blair can continue to play on our town’s co-ed rec team (a.k.a. “Easy Soccer”), free of the Three T’s—tryouts, traveling and tournaments. If she decides she “really wants” to travel later, we’ll switch then.

Upon hearing my rationale, Sandra is incredulous: “You can’t just suddenly decide when you’re 13 that you want to play travel! You’ll be trying out against kids who’ve been playing hard-core competitive soccer since they were seven! You won’t be able to compete. You have to start young. You have to!”

And suddenly I feel it—that buzz in the back of my throat. I’m pretty sure it emanates from a gland that forms when you become a mother, a special little glob of cray-cray with the sole responsibility of alerting you when you might be doing the one thing no parent ever wants to do—making the wrong decision for your kid.

And this decision is even bigger than I already thought it was. Way bigger. Like, “might alter the course of Blair’s life” bigger. If Blair ends up leaning toward handcrafting bassoons as her life’s passion, we have options to direct her to perfect that skill down the line. But what if it turns out to be soccer? And her parents—too focused on the selfish need they have to, basically, spend less time in a minivan—decided not to sign her up for her only chance at glory?

So.

We are signing up our eight-year-old daughter for travel soccer.

I think.

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