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Looking Back on Travel Ball—an Open Letter to Parents of Top Athletes

Roughly twelve years ago, we discovered our daughter possessed a unique talent for fastpitch softball. After two seasons playing at the recreational (rec) level, she expressed an interest in joining a more competitive travel team. With a chance of Olympic glory and promises of college scholarships, we swallowed the travel ball bait. Overcome with joy as a parent, seeing her blossom into her full potential as an athlete.

Today, she is a freshman at the University of Iowa. She decided to let softball go in exchange for an education and career. Her future in the real world had always been more important to her than the athletic achievements her coaches and we, as her parents, had placed upon such a high pedestal.

As we look back with perspective at her time in travel ball, we wanted to take a moment to thank those who played such pivotal roles in her journey as well as to pay homage to the sport itself.

First and foremost, thank you to her patient, caring, rec ball coaches who cultivated within her a spirit of learning and fun. You nurtured her confidence and made her fall in love with the sport, and for that, we are truly grateful.

Thanks to the parents and coaches who elevated success above the physical and mental welfare of the athlete. From you, she gained perspective and learned self-compassion.

Thanks to everyone who equates a player’s worth to the quality of their performance. From you, she learned that her opinion of herself is the only opinion that truly matters.

Thanks to those who dismissed her injuries and made her feel guilty about missing time to heal. The permanent damage to her body will forever remind her of her inner strength and how she can push through any adversity life sends her way.

Thanks to those who questioned her motives and assailed her character for making choices she considered to be in her best interest. She learned the dangers of prejudice and the importance of being true to oneself from you.

Thanks to everyone she trusted, her coaches especially, who claimed to have her back only to place their own goals before what was best for the young people in their care. From you, she learned the meaning of honor and integrity.

Thanks to the many travel organizations she played for whose stated objective to get players spots on college rosters proved self-serving, unnecessary, and costly. From you, she learned to discern fact from fiction, a sales pitch from the truth.

Thanks to our older daughter, who was not an elite athlete but sacrificed her summers throughout her school years to follow her sister across the upper Midwest. She devoted her “family vacations” to hanging out with adults and players’ siblings she didn’t know while watching hundreds of games she didn’t understand or enjoy.

Most of all, thank you, parents, for your wonderful daughters. They rose above the pettiness, criticism, and superficiality of travel ball and the negative conversations at home to form lasting friendships we know the girls will cherish always.

And finally, thank you for the game of travel softball itself. Young people actually gain much from participating in athletics at a high level. Girls, in particular, learn confidence, resilience, teamwork, loyalty, how to cope with adversity, and the dedication, sacrifice, and preparation required to excel in any endeavor.

We wish we had known before sacrificing years of precious family time and dedicating a fortune in resources to travel ball over the past decade is the girls learn all of this by the age of twelve. Everything that follows is purely to feed the pride of the parents and egos of the coaches whose selfish motives and unrequited dreams of glory stifle the truth in the hearts of our children who fear more than anything disappointing the people they love and respect most.

Fortunately, our daughter dared to set aside her fear of shattering the myth we lived for so many years to speak her truth. The truth is that the fun she once had playing this child’s game is gone. Her joy had succumbed to the almost unbearable pressure brought on by adults who heaped such great importance on something so trivial. For that, we are genuinely grateful and immensely proud.

About the Author

Mark Layne is a writer, consultant, husband, and father of two lovely daughters and a pair of dumb dogs residing in suburban Chicago.

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