Here we are on the cusp of another spring and summer travel hoop season filled with concession stand lunch and dinners, 8’oclock games am and pm, yoga pants and bedazzled numbered team gear, charges and push-offs, and all things between that make us either rant on twitter or scan for our child’s name for the retweets. The travel season is a grind for everyone but particularly the families who will ultimately shell out thousands in the name of “exposure”. Whether the grind of the summer brings you games of joy or car rides of pain depends in large part of your family’s ability to select the right travel team.
I’m here to help. I don’t pretend to be an expert but allow me to share some observations from my experience over the last 10 years of being a travel basketball parent. I have felt the highs, the lows, and everything in between. My family has picked right and picked wrong, luckily almost always ending up right where my son needed to be. My advice won’t save you the thousands you will spend on entry fees, Bojangles, hotels, gas, and your pre-shrunk parent gear. But I’m hoping to help save you around $20 and some thousands in frustration.
First, for all of my grade school parents… if your son/daughter is in seventh grade or below, and you are searching for the right travel team, I need you all to do me a favor and skip the rest of this blog. Call your best travelling and drinking friends, have your kids call their best friends that also hoop, and all of y’all just go play together somewhere that is convenient and have the best time possible. I know it seems like it matters, but in all honesty at this level it makes absolutely no difference where your child plays, so long as they are having fun. The more fun they are having, the harder they will play, and the better they will get. The better they get, the less stressed you are, etc etc. Spend as little as possible on travel and as much as possible on development with a trainer. Pay no mind to how the team does and focus on whether or not your son/daughter is getting better. Out of respect I won’t give the list of kids that played on the “loaded” middle school and grade school teams that were “that dude” back then but didn’t pan out as even high school hoopers, but to quote the great philosopher T.I “Where they at doe?”…many are on a milk carton still 6 feet forward/centers. So, middle and grade school parents go enjoy the rest of your day/night. Cheers!
For high school hoopers/parents, it gets a bit more complicated. Should you try out for a “Shoe Team”? is a predominant question at the high school level. Any parent who stands on a soap box telling you that were never allured by the opportunity to say their child plays with the biggest badest circuit team with their chest completely poked out is dealing in fake news. “Where does your son play?” (moves belt from left to right, arches shoulders back, puffs chest ALLL THE WAY OUT) “Team Curry/Loaded/G Road/CP3 ya bishhhhh”. Now I’ve never felt this but there must be an extra sense of pride for a parent to say that their child plays at the highest level and there is no shame in admitting that.
Here is where it gets complicated.
The honest truth is that 95 percent of HS kids (Monden-estimate) aren’t and don’t even need to play at that level (and every kid that plays on a “shoe team” isn’t better than any kid that doesn’t, but I digress). In NC there are five “shoe teams”, so if you average 10 players per team that is 50 kids in your grade that play at that level, and about a zillion who don’t. Those teams get hundreds of kids showing up at tryouts that have no business there. You don’t have to be in that 50 to play basketball in college if that is your goal.
There are certain parents that know their child isn’t at that level and are either stubborn or blind and send their hooper to a tryout on some prayer that they may get picked up somehow and someway. These are the kids I call the “tryout fleas”. Buzzing around in the way. If a coach has to explain a 3 man weave to you at a circuit team HS tryout you don’t belong there. I have no advice for that type of parent that would send their child there. Do you! Actually, my only advice is to withdraw the tryout fee at your own bank so that you don’t waste the $2 transaction fee on top of the $20 you are about to donate.
There is another group of parents who sincerely just don’t know any better. I think we assume that all parents spend all day on social media or are connected in ways that make them informed to the travel hoop culture. That isn’t always the case. So, for those parents who truly don’t know any better, I have the following questions for you and your child to answer and guide whether or not you should try out for a HS “shoe team”:
1. Did your child play on the team last year?
2. Has the team reached out to you and/or your hooper directly during the past few months asking for you to commit to playing with that team during the spring/summer?
3. Does the team account or coach follow your child/engage with your child or your school account on social media?
If these are “no”, then we are heavily leaning towards not trying out, but we can continue just to be sure…
4. Are you 6’8 with a handle, jumper and post moves?
5. Is your parent Lebron James, or any other NBA legendr?
Still no? Then you kind of have your answer. The shoe team is most likely not your thing for this season so think wisely about your $20 tryout fee/donation.
Instead, spend some time finding a program suitable to your hooper’s level. There are plenty of independent programs that do an excellent job of putting kids in college. Independent teams come in all sizes, shapes, and color uniforms, and choosing one takes some homework.
Here are the best qualities of an independent team:
1. A level-appropriate team where your hooper has an actual chance to play. Traveling hours to a tournament just to watch your child watch a game is big sadness…but you will save money on laundry.
2. A team with a good amount of social media engagement. Check how many coaches follow the account. Scroll back to last May and check their posting traffic. If you can’t quickly tell who their “guys” are, or how much they impacted a game in any tournament, then find another squad.
3. A team with a proven track record; How many people in their program were offered and committed somewhere in the past season or two? How many at your hooper’s size/position?
4. What type of pedigree do they have at your grade? Go back and look at tourney machine or any other scheduling app and see what court and times they played. You don’t want to be on the court with the light blinking and the back rim with no net at 8am or 9pm. That matters. Aux gyms, Court 9s in HS is not really the move.
5. Personal preference here but the uniforms should not be trash.
There are a lot of qualities to investigate when you are trying to find a team that extend well beyond this short list. These are just a few of the types of teams are worth your $20. The most important thing is “fit” and “fit” takes some honesty about the level at which your son/daughter should be playing.
You may be a shoe circuit fit, and you may not. That judgement is between you, God, and the coaches. I don’t wish to dissuade anyone from trying out at the highest level. I only wish to offer my experience and reassure you that playing at your level, whether that level is independent or sponsored, is always worth the cash.
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