Wednesday, April 27, 2016
To travel or not to travel
For the larger clubs in our region, traveling is very important. It allows teams to play good competition. One of the referees last year joked with me about a great 18s girls team in our region who was so good his question was "Who do they play to get competition?" Also, there is a school of thought that traveling allows kids to be seen by more college recruiters than playing in region. I get all that as my club, Team St. Louis, was one of the pioneering clubs in our region that played mostly out-of-town tournaments to get better competition and get our kids seen by college coaches..
But that was some time ago and when there were only a handful of clubs in the region. Now that the region has expanded from about 50 teams to 500 teams, I am questioning how much traveling benefits most of the players who are now playing club ball. The reason for my change of heart is the cost of that travel to parents vs the benefit to the kids.
Traveling can really be broken down into three major types with some sub-types:
a. 1- or 2-day inter-regional events
b. Inter-regional 3 day events, including national qualifiers
c. 4 or more day national championship events (USA Volleyball, AAU and others).
Let me start by saying that I think a little travel is good for a lot of the teams in this region....IF that travel is done in a fiscally responsible way and by playing in a tournament appropriate to the talent of the team that is doing the traveling. It gives the players a chance to see other competition, to bond and to have some fun on an out-of-town trip. For the coaches and the parents, it gives them a great teaching opportunity for the kids to learn a little about the importance of taking seriously the responsibility of getting rest and playing as well as they possibly can to justify the cost of traveling out of town to play volleyball.
For some of the rural teams in our region, this traveling can be accomplished by coming to regionals as a number of those teams would have to stay in St. Louis as commuting back and forth to regionals would not be possible. For St. Louis area teams they would have to (and do) travel to places like Memphis, Louisville, Indianapolis, Kansas City or Chicago, all within driving distance of St. Louis.
This year our younger team wanted to travel so I tried an experiment. We went to a one-day tournament in Indianapolis, an event of a size that it was promoted on the inter-regional tournament website Advanced Event Systems (AES). A one day event meant the parents would have to stay one night in the hotel and the kids would, well, get to stay one night in a hotel. The tournament was on Saturday so everyone drove up Friday night. Parents had the option of staying over Saturday night or driving back after the tournament. Well, the kids loved it and all the parents drove back on Saturday night to save money. And we won the tournament. Total cost per family was about $125, not counting gas. I think the kids and parents were appreciative of me being able to find them an out-of-town event that was cost effective, didn't cost them a 3-day weekend AND allowed them to have a good out-of-town experience.
So, there you have it. You can travel out of town and STILL keep it cheap. The best of both worlds.
Which brings me to the topic of USA Volleyball national qualifiers. I will be up front and say that I don't like them. I never did. It cost the parents so much money to go to them that I had to swallow hard, even when we had some of the best teams in the country in my club, to ask the parents to pay the kind of money you have to pay for those events. Why do teams go to national qualifiers?
a. The main reason is to chase after bids to the upper divisions of USAV nationals
b. For 'the experience' of playing in a huge event.
c. To help showcase their players to help them get a college scholarships in a location where there are so many teams that a whole bunch of college coaches are there.
Let's examine these three reasons and alternatives:
a. Chasing the bid - To be the best you have to play the best, or so the expression goes. So teams go to qualifiers to try to qualify for the nationals (where, supposedly, the best teams play). Well, a couple of years ago I had my eyes opened to how ridiculous this USA Volleyball national qualifier system is. I don't know if all of you realize this but each of those clubs who are chasing bids to nationals and spending A LOT of parents' money could play some of the best teams in the US, probably at the same level as in USA Volleyball Nationals, simply by playing at the AAU National Championships in Orlando in June. The cost for AAU nationals is almost identical to that for USA Volleyball Nationals because AAU has a lower entry fee which is offset by teams having to register as AAU members. As I understand it, there is no qualifying process FOR ANY DIVISION AT AAU nationals. You just register for the division you want to play in and send in your money. So the cost to parents of 2 or 3 out-of-town national qualifiers can be eliminated from a team's budget just by making a pre-season decision to just register for AAU nationals, even for the highest and most competitive division, Open. You could do the same thing for lower divisions of AAU that mimic the USA, National and American division of USA Volleyball Nationals. Plus you can enter early, make your own reservations and travel plans early to get good deals as you know where your end-of-season tournament would be held.
b. The experience of playing in a big, out-of-town event - This can cost families between $500-1500, depending on whether they had to fly to get there. For many, this would essentially double what they had to pay for their club season, for one 3-day event. To give you an example of how traveling can go wrong and needlessly cost parents lots of money for a not-so-good experience, a certain team in our region has gone to the Kansas City qualifier two years in a row. That team did this despite the fact that I don't think they were ranked in the top 50 teams IN OUR REgION in their age group either year! Each year it must have cost the each family on that team $500-800 in hotel, tournament registration, admittance fees and travel fees to play in this event and EACH YEAR they went 0-6 on the first two days of the qualifier. Last year they lost their first match on the last day to end up 0-7 and this year they won both of their last day matches....against other teams who had lost all their matches on the first two days. To me, this was a ridiculous waste of parents' money and showed complete lack of knowledge of inter-regional events and fiscal irresponsibility by the coaches of this team, but that is just me. Again, that is just my opinion and maybe the parents of the kids on this team feel differently. However, from having done this for years, I know there were better ways for this group of parents to spend their money and STILL get their kids a good out-of-town experience at literally a fraction of the cost.
c. College recruiting - I will cover this one in more detail in a later post but I think you get CLOSELY and CONSTANTLY (over a short, intense period of time) seen by more colleges in other ways outside of the hit-or-miss national qualifiers.
In summary, I think traveling can be a good experience for players and parents. I also think there are potentially some myths about the benefits of playing out of town that need to be re-explored. I think clubs need to be fiscally responsible by being careful about what events to send a team to. I also think more clubs should consider playing in the AAU National Championships instead of trying to qualify for USA Volleyball Nationals.
I suggest that all parents talk to their club if that club plans to have their child's team travel. It can be good if it is done right or it can be a total waste of money and time if it is done wrong by people who have no clue how to do it.