13 Tips on How to Start the BEST Travel Softball Team in 2023
So you have a group of players, but have aren’t sure how to start a travel team. You know if it would provide great benefits to the players, but are afraid to get started. This is very normal!
Starting a travel softball team might sound easy. You get a few players, order uniforms, and enter some tournaments. But it’s not. Starting a travel team for softball involves an unexpectedly large amount of time and a significant amount of money. It is a commitment that should not be undertaken lightly.
If you are going to start a travel team, you should consider how long you would like the team to continue. Will this be a one year commitment? Or, are you looking to start a program that could last for possibly eight years? This article aims to provide you with all the things you should think about on this journey.
With that said let’s get started on the tips to starting a travel softball team.
Know the age groupings
Travel ball is organized by age groups.
Softball is even years – 8U, 10U, 12U, etc. The determining age of the child is based on her age on January 1st of the current year. So, if the girl is 9 on January 1 then she will play on a 10U team. You cannot play in an age group that is younger than the child’s actual age.
Baseball is organized differently. Each age has a group and they start young – 6U. The age cutoff was recently changed to August 31, which was a change based on Little League rules because there were so many boys who were 13 playing in the Little League World Series.
Know the Player’s Age
When you build a team, it is important that you pay attention to the ages of your potential players.
Their birthdays could cause teams to break apart or you could be forced to have players “play up” against older, more experienced teams. While playing up is a status symbol for some, it can be rather comical to watch a group of 13-year-old boys play against high school freshman who could be in their growth spurts.
Different age groups play on different fields and in softball, they use different sized balls.
It is important that you use the correct equipment and practice on the properly sized field so your team will perform well in tournaments. Tournament sponsors have information about fields, balls, bats, and pitch counts on their websites.
Baseball pitch counts will vary by age and are closely monitored by organizers, but softball tournaments generally do not have any pitch count rules.
Organizations that sponsor tournaments
There are several organizations that offer tournaments for travel teams.
They are under different governing bodies that have different rules. Before you choose to enter tournaments, it is wise to look at their rules regarding the size of the field (see the differences between baseball and softball fields), whether or not players can lead off, and how many pitches one player can throw in a game and in a tournament.
Those different organization include USSSA, Travel Ball USA, Game Day USA, and Ripken Baseball.
Maximum Travel Distance
But, before you choose your tournaments, you have decide how far your team will travel.
Some teams, especially younger ones, will try to stay local – within 50 miles of the majority of people’s homes. However, some teams, especially competitive teams that want scouting exposure, will travel to different states and even different times zones.
This is something that should be determined prior to inviting players to your team, as hotel and travel expenses can be incredibly expensive.
Finding Interested Players
That brings up another important factor when starting a team – how you will get your players? The best travel teams will invite the best players, but how will you find them? Some teams will have tryouts, but how will you advertise the events? Where will you hold the tryouts? As you can see there are many factors to consider!
You also need to determine how many players to have on your team. Travel softball teams usually only need 11 players, because pitch counts do not exist. For more details, please visit our detailed guide on how many players are on a softball team.
If you have too many players, then playing time becomes an issue. No matter what, your team should include several players who can pitch, a few who can catch, and the rest can play the positions. Hopefully, you can find a few left-handed players to separate your team from the rest.
Finding coaches and volunteers
You will also need to determine who will coach the team.
If you are starting your own team, then you most likely will coach third base – where the head coach is posted. You will also want someone to coach first base and to be in the dugout with your players.
At minimum, that means you need at least three adults with baseball or softball experience. You will also need a parent or a small team of parents to do “the book” or keep the stats in a scorebook and/or digitally.
Compensation for Coaches
Prior to choosing your coaches, you will need to decide how you will compensate them, if at all.
Some teams totally work with parent volunteers, but those often run the risk of having issues with favoritism. But, if you plan to pay your coaches, you will have to figure out where that money will come from.
Some teams give their coaches a discount on player fees, but that means that some players end up paying more than others.
You will also have determine your fee structure when starting a travel team.
Parents appreciate it when the fees to play are affordable and transparent. Therefore, you should thoroughly understand the costs of the tournaments and uniforms. If you live in a place that does not allow for outdoor practice 12 months out of the year, you might also need to factor in the cost of indoor practice time.
It is common for travel ball fees to be $1000 or more per player and this is before any traveling is taken into consideration.
Travel expenses include not only hotel rates – which can be close to $150 per night for three-day tournaments, but they also include food, gas, and equipment you need for softball.
Many weekend tournaments begin on Thursdays or Fridays, so parents usually have to miss work to attend their children’s events. If your team attends three tournaments that require traveling, your parents could spend over $3000 just on travel ball fees and expenses.
Fundraising and Sponsorships
Some teams will find ways to offset the costs of travel ball. They will offer players opportunities for fundraisers. Others will ask local businesses to be sponsors. In this case, normally businesses will request to be advertised somewhere such as a team banner or on the uniform.
Fundraisers can take a lot of time for the players and for the coaches, as many teams hold events like car washes, flower sales, or golf tournaments. With good fundraising, some families might be able to cover all of their fees.
Teams that do substantial fundraising often use the money to bring in expert coaches to hold clinics. These can benefit the entire team and can develop unity as the players get to spend time together learning about the game they love.
Substitute players and injury issues
Almost every travel team has issues with players who are unavailable for single tournaments.
Most travel team coaches will have a few players that they can call if a substitute player is needed. This means that the head coach usually has a few extra uniforms that subs can wear.
Since most players want their own uniforms with their selected number and last name on the jersey, it can be difficult for a sub to wear someone else’s uniform. If you plan to have extra uniforms, you will either pay for them yourself or factor that expense into the player’s fees.
Another issue that arises with travel ball teams are injuries.
They are common and frequent and can affect the outcome of your season. Because injuries happen, good coaches often have well-stocked med kits. Responsible coaches also have insurance for their teams. There are several agencies that offer travel team insurance, including the USSSA. This is another line item that should be factored into player’s fees.
When it comes to uniforms, it is important to have ones that are durable and good looking.
If you are planning on traveling for long weekends, it is helpful to have a clean uniform to wear each day – so your players will need at least three pairs of pants, three jerseys, three sets of socks, a hat, and a helmet.
Some travel teams also like their players to wear the same cleats and have practice uniforms, too.
Players like to select their own favorite numbers. They also like to have their last names on their jerseys so they can be easily recognized.
Coaches will also need uniforms, at least jerseys and hats. There are plenty of places to find affordable, high-quality uniforms for travel ball teams. Brands like Boombah, Mizuno, and Nike have online ordering and customization. There are usually local merchants who can help with team uniforms, too.
Website and Social Media presence
There are a few additional things that travel teams use.
Good travel teams have websites that provide information about players, tournaments, practice spots, and tryout details.
They also have social media accounts that can be managed by trusted parents. These are incredibly important for older players who are often looking for college scholarships if they are good players.
Many teams also have photography events for team banners and photo sales – which can become a lucrative fundraiser for big organizations. Some teams will also invite photographers to come to tournaments to capture their players in action.
Expectations for Head Coach
The best thing that any travel ball head coach should know is that the job involves a lot of time and organization.
It is almost like a part-time job that pays very poorly. Parents and players can be frustrating – especially if they do not get playing time or they do not like your tournament choices. If your team does not win, you might have trouble finding players. It is commonplace for coaches to hear all of the bad stuff, and very little good.
But, if you lay down the rules and establish good communication, you should have a positive experience. If all goes well and your program begins to grow, you might consider investing in an indoor or outdoor facility. It is quite nice to have your own place to practice and showcase your trophies.
Putting it together – A Checklist
Although we’ve detailed everything you need to think about in subsequent sections, there may be some of you that just want a simple checklist without any detail. Here is what most travel teams would require:
- Player uniforms (including extras)
- Uniforms for coaches
- Minimum of three coaches
- Paper or online scorebook with a volunteer
- Med kit
- Tournament expenses
- A place to practice
- A place for tryouts
- Advertising for tryouts
- Softball team – 11 girls (at least 3 pitchers and 2 catchers)
- Understanding of rules
- Fundraising opportunities
- Social media accounts
Conclusion on Starting a Travel Softball team
As you can see starting a softball travel team isn’t easy and requires immense dedication and commitment. From player selection, to finding a place to play and organize travel, there are many things to consider. That being said, probably the most important item to think about is the joy you bring to the kids and the life-long memories they (and you) will make. If you have any more tips on how to start a travel softball team, feel free to let me know what has worked for you!