The Death of Youth Rec Sports

youth rec sportsParents of babies and young kids, prepare yourself now. Youth rec sports is not what it used to be. Perhaps it is because we live in the second fastest-growing city in the country, but what we’ve experienced since my son has begun kid pitch baseball is a travesty. There is nothing more heart-wrenching as a parent than saving up to buy brand new catcher’s gear for your child along with the expensive wheeled bag, and watching him lug it to and from every practice and every game, only to never get used. 

The Benefits of Youth Sports

I’ve been an athlete nearly my entire life. Now, I’m not a naturally gifted athlete, but my parents enrolled me in sports from the youngest age possible because it teaches so many great life lessons — perseverance, respect for authority figures, teamwork, and likely because it made me more tired at the end of the day and I fell asleep more quickly. A lot of the same reasons we decided to enroll our kids in sports. But baseball is different for us. While I never played, I grew up watching my dad and brother play, and to say I have an obsession with the game is a huge understatement. I then went on to watch my husband play in college, and having played nearly his entire life, his love of the game is strong. There is just something different about the sport of baseball. At least for those who respect it. 

The Travel Ball Difference

Soccer was the sport I excelled at the most. However, I still continued to play only rec soccer through middle school and until high school. Why? Because I had two younger siblings, and my parents ran their own company. And life. Life is so busy! I get it so much now as an adult. It is why we often say “no” to some things as a family because it’s very easy to get burnt out in our fast-paced society. And oftentimes we look up at the end of the weekend wondering what we were chasing. I digress. 

But it seems everyone is in travel ball now. We have friends who started their kids as early as 6U (stands for age 6 and under) because they think their kid is the next Ken Griffey Jr. If the word travel isn’t enough to scare you away, then I’ll warn you about the cost. Jerseys, special equipment, or matching cleats and bags are just the beginning. Along with travel, although mostly inside the state, comes hotel, gas, and food expenses. Not to mention not living in your home on the weekends, which if you work in an office, means it’s virtually untouched. Speaking of work, be prepared to ask off for early weeknight practices and games. You can get to the fields by 5 p.m. in Jacksonville traffic, right? 

The Inequality Factor

The main issue is that most leagues, at least our current league (though I’ve heard that others in the area have this, too), requires travel baseball players to also play on a rec team in the spring. That means the majority of the team is made up of travel players and has the same travel coach, with a few non-travel players. 

Let me preface this by saying that we refuse to coddle our children or give them special treatment. They need to work hard and earn things in life, just like we did. We may even be more old-school than some (we hate participation trophies). That being said, if the travel ball players are getting special treatment on the rec team, that means you’ll be having to fight for, at a minimum, equal treatment. Which leads to inequality among teams and players who feel hurt and left out. You have to be an idiot to not notice it, and believe me, my kid notices.

I’m not asking for a lot in the small fee I pay for rec sports, which I get doesn’t compare to your travel baseball fee. All I’m asking is that my kid be treated fairly and get a fair shake at playing positions he enjoys. And maybe that you don’t cancel practice after a long weekend of travel ball, er, I mean because you had something “come up.” Oh, and please don’t allow other kids to use my son’s catcher’s gear if he can’t. We will be voting with our feet and moving to a different league next season, so if anyone can recommend a baseball league in Jacksonville that doesn’t have this insane inequality amongst travel vs. rec, please let me know in the comments below. But I’m starting to think it no longer exists, and I need to move to a small town. #willtravelforfairbaseball


  1. Hi! You make a lot of great points in your article. Kids sports have definitely become intense. I just want to explain that there is a difference between travel ball players and the rec ball travel ball players who are actually considered All-Stars for their local park. Jax Beach Baseball Association and most of the rec ball leagues in the area are part of the Cal Ripken league. The All Stars at Jax Beach are required to play a certain number of rec ball games in order to make the all star team, per Cal Ripken rules. My family chooses rec league all stars because there are no monthly fees, they play with many of their school and neighborhood friends, most tournaments are in the Jacksonville area, and they take pride in playing for their local park. Because they are required to play rec ball, there can be a big skills gap between an all star and someone who has never played before. This can result in some safety concerns and some players may not be able to play certain positions during a game. I watched a kid take a ball off the eye in the infield that an all star hit. I can definitely see both sides, but I think that most coaches are doing the best they can with the rules they are given.

    • Thanks for your comment! Our league is different and not Cal Ripken. I actually thought the Jax Beach league and the way they have All-Stars set up was well-run overall, when we played there anyway. This is a different league and none of these travel ball players (and their coaches/parents) want to play rec, yet they are forced to each Spring. And while some of our coaches have been great, we have just consistently come across this each Spring when this requirement is in place and it’s getting old. I’ve talked to countless other moms who only want to do rec and they feel the same way. Something needs to change.

  2. Thank you for writing this. I talk with a fellow rec sports mom about this at work all the time. I feel like it is unethical to ‘require’ travel teams to play on rec teams. It is basically extending their season into a public offering and bringing the intense culture and values along. I understand in some sports that may be the only way to get good coaches, but there must be experienced parents or coaches who would want to step in for the ‘love of the game’.

    It’s great if parents want to do travelling teams, but what about the families who want to provide their kids with the opportunity to literally learn the sport and didn’t start them In Utero? Or have the experience of playing all the positions or god forbid play at a lower skill level and work to improve? I have a kid who loves the sport he plays and it feels like I have to fight to make sure he isn’t shut out or turned off of wanting to participate.

    I was so surprised to experience this especially since I didn’t sign up for it. I also know that you’re not alone in this observation as so many parents are quietly on the sidelines wondering what rec sports has come to.

    • Thank you! Appreciate your support and hearing your side of it. While you and I both made jokes about the intensity of travel ball and the parents, it’s just shining a light on a huge problem. And watching my son get emotionally hurt by the lack of instruction and opportunity to play a position he wanted to play this year was unnerving.

  3. At FCAA (Ft. Caroline) the rules are “ All recreational team players that show up for games shall be afforded the right to play, while abiding by the association “Sit Rule’’ guidance that no one player shall sit twice before everyone has sat at least once.”
    AND “ Games/tournaments shall in no way interfere with recreational practices/games scheduled. Recreational games are primary and should be played by all players. Advanced/Allstar games are secondary to the recreational game schedule.”

  4. There are a few pure rec/all star leagues left. Mandarin Sports Association is one of them and Mandarin Athletic Association is the other in the Mandarin area. The rest do both travel/all stars and I think it is really unfair for those hybrid leagues to compete in the Rec/Cal Ripken districts, states etc. Travel should stick to their billion travel ball tournaments and leave the all star tournaments to kids who don’t travel.


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