I’ve been trying to write this post for months now and I just haven’t been able to find the right words. Lately, I’ve been seeing many statuses and articles pitting travel softball against league softball. Many have negative opinions when it comes to travel ball, saying it’s detrimental to high school programs and ruining community leagues. I wish I could say that I understood these accusations but I cannot even begin to comprehend them. You can say what you want about select softball, but it produces quality competitors and fosters talent in a way that is incomparable to anything else. This post is just my perspective of league softball and travel softball, because they have both made such an enormous impact on my life.
I would not believe in love at first sight had I never picked up a softball. From the first time I stepped on a field when I was nine years old, I was hooked. I started out where many do, playing league. I loved the rush of game days, the thrill of sliding into home, the smell of freshly cut grass. I attended every game and got better and better, practicing with my team and on my own, pitching every chance I got, and eagerly awaiting any opportunity to compete. League ball provided my foundation. It was there I learned the fundamentals and how to win and lose with grace. However, by the time I was ten, my parents realized that the athlete in me wanted and needed more than the ten games per year league ball could provide, and thus, my nine year long relationship with travel ball began.
I don’t think my family quite anticipated the impact travel ball would make on our lives. In my almost nine years as a travel ball kid, we spent birthdays, Easters, and anniversaries at the ball field. I’d come home from a tournament in Oklahoma at 2 AM on a Monday to sleep for three hours and wake up for school. I missed homecomings, football games, and proms. I played in hundreds of games per year, sometimes eight or nine per day. I played through brain surgery, broken bones, and staph infections. I made numerous sacrifices for travel ball and yet, it never seemed that way to me. I was just doing what I loved. I was chasing my dream.
By the time I got to high school, I had played in hundreds of softball games. I knew the game, and I knew it well. I earned a starting varsity position as a freshman, as did the three other girls from my high school that played travel ball with me. In fact, all twelve of the girls on my tournament team at the time earned a starting position on her high school’s varsity team.
I continued to play travel ball throughout high school. My freshman year, my select team changed our mission from winning trophies to securing scholarships. There is no doubt in my mind that travel softball is an effective way to earn the opportunity to play at the next level. Of the fifteen girls I grew up traveling with, thirteen ended up with scholarships to play softball at the university of their choice. Off the top of my head, I can name at least fifty other girls (probably many more if I wanted to think about it) I know personally that played travel ball and ended up playing in college. That just doesn’t happen in Dixie or even for girls who play strictly high school. At any given large exposure tournament, there are anywhere from fifty to sometimes hundreds of college coaches present. I would venture to say that in the softball world, it is now next to impossible to play collegiate softball without playing travel ball. (Baseball is a bit different and this is not so much true.) Softball has evolved… things don’t work like they used to. It is difficult to even compare community leagues to travel ball because they serve completely different purposes. If you just want to have fun and learn the game, league ball is the way to go. However, if a scholarship is your ultimate goal, travel ball is undoubtedly the best option.
Don’t get me wrong, I have been a Dixie umpire for five years now, and Dixie has affected my life in ways I never thought possible. I have made lasting relationships with the girls I call for and I have thoroughly enjoyed watching them progress as athletes and people. I understand that Dixie provides things that travel ball cannot, such as sense of community. I am in no way knocking the advantages of league ball. I am just attempting to defend the one thing that has occupies a bigger part of my heart than just about anything else.
My softball story does not quite have a happy ending. Somewhere along the way, after a few visits to various schools with scholarship offers and many months of deliberation, I realized that collegiate softball did not have a place in my future. Before my senior season even began and to the shock of my parents and teammates, I retired my cleats. It was the hardest decision I have ever made and it was certainly not one made due to lack of passion for the game. It was a very personal choice and it was simply what I needed to do at the time. I have never regretted my decision and I know it was what was best for me.
The fact that anyone could ever say that travel ball does more harm than good is absolutely mind-boggling to me. It is not for everyone, and I understand that. I cannot speak for everyone but I can say that travel ball gave me the best memories of my life. I have had opportunities and experiences that most young athletes will only ever dream about. I am so thankful for my travel ball days and the many life lessons I learned during them. I would not trade the weekends I spent at tournaments for anything in the world.