Question: I am a parent of a 10 year old daughter who loves to play softball. While researching travel ball options, I came across your articles (and enjoyed reading them). Since we are not ready to even think about college at age 10, I would like to hear your opinion on when we should consider travel ball? My biggest fear is that she will burn out. She enjoys soccer and basketball too so I want to let her play rec games with other sports as well. Any advice would be appreciated!
Answer: That's a great question, and one I wish more parents would ask. If playing softball (or any sport) in college is to become an ultimate goal, it's important that the family realize the best reason to do it is because the athlete loves the sport and because it's fun and can offer the player many wonderful experiences. Yes, scholarships are great, and they can factor in, but many collegiate athletes will never get athletic-based funding, and this should never be the primary reason for competing. There are many ways to pay for an education, and once a sport because a job---particularly a job you no longer enjoy---it's not worth doing.
As for your daughter and travel ball, from my perspective you have a couple of options. You can start her in travel ball now on a limited basis---e.g., find a team that isn't terribly expensive, that allows her some traveling, but which doesn't necessarily consume the entire family's summer---and let her see if she likes it. (This could be said for any sport she does.) If she's going on eleven, you'd probably start her at 12/U.
Then, by the time she's ready for 14/U, you could move into a more competitive environment---particularly if she's decided she wants to focus solely on softball in the summer. By the time she's entering high school, she should definitely be spending her summer (and probably her fall) seasons in travel ball. You could also wait until she's ready for 14/U and start her then, however, this could put her a little behind other players, and she might have to start on a less competitive team. That could leave her playing catch up with her peer group and might take some of the fun out of playing.
She can continue other sports in high school, but if by that time, she's pretty sure she wants to pursue college softball, then travel ball would be a critical to her competitive growth, and it would certainly be necessary for recruiting purposes. Just keep in mind that 75% of players won't play Div. I, and that most active recruiting for Div. II, Div. III, NAIA schools and even smaller D-I programs doesn't start until the athlete is well into her junior year. So your daughter has time to work on her game, to grow and mature, and to decide if collegiate sports will be right for her.