My Life in the Game

Everything you should know about making your child's travel ball experience something worth remembering.

My Life in the Game

Roundball Stories' Tim Kolodziej takes an inside look at everything a parent should do help make their child's travel ball experience something worth remembering.

Thinking of manipulating your child’s travel experience? Don't! No, really, Don’t. I know it sounds crazy, but if I had 10 cents for every time someone used that word near a basketball court, I’d be dropping more dimes than Chris Paul and Lonzo Ball combined.

Not that “Don’t” is bad. Quite the contrary. One of the most powerful phrases I’ve ever heard includes that word and it absolutely changed my leadership philosophy.

“Don’t ever be a child’s last coach.”

The point is simple, yet incredibly profound: Don’t do anything stupid that would prevent a youngster from continuing to play our great game of basketball the following year.

Then there’s another phrase I started hearing as soon as my wife and I began having our children: “Don’t blink. It will go so fast.”

Those folks were referring to active parenting, all the way from the blanky to the binky to the ball games to the booth as our kids vote in their first elections.

Well, I’m not blinking. And it’s still going waaaaayyy too fast.

But it got me thinking. In more than two decades of coaching, training and mentoring young athletes, I’ve had plenty of time to compile my own list of “Don’ts” for basketball parents. And with the travel ball tryout season swinging into high gear throughout the nation, it’s time to pull them from my folder and share them with you all today.

I call it my Hi-Five for your child’s travel ball success:

No. 1 – Don’t “window shop” at tryouts

Here’s what I mean. I’ve seen some kids attend at least five tryouts, some even more, with different travel ball organizations. I don’t get it. You’re not doing your child any favors, and you’re certainly not helping those organizations. It’s confusing and a colossal waste of everyone’s time and your money.

What you should do: Instead, do a little homework beforehand. Talk to the parents of your child’s school teammates for information on different travel ball groups. Check websites. Ask your coaches to suggest the best programs. Identify two or three that seem to meet most of your needs and explore those.

No. 2 – Don’t “jockey” for positions on teams

If your child is selected for a certain squad — even if you might consider it a “B” team — be grateful you have that offer. And there’s usually a good reason for why the coaches made that particular decision. It could be a positional need. It could make sense geographically. It could mean your son or daughter is not ready to play at the level you desire. And in the top travel ball organizations, it usually means something even more important — the coaches are doing what they feel is best for the long-term development of the youngster.

What you should do: Instead of continuing to pepper travel ball organizers with calls, emails and Facebook messages to manipulate teams, simply ask the coach for an honest evaluation of why the decision was made. You may not like it, but chances are it will be spot-on. And it will be the absolute best thing for your kid.

No. 3 Don’t worry about where your child’s coach “played ball”

It doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t. Some of the best youth coaches I’ve ever come across never even played the game in high school. But they love kids. They’re teachers at heart. And they have developed a passion to study and share what they’re learning about the game of basketball.

Focus your search for travel ball organizations on culture and character. In nearly all instances, competitiveness is sure to be a part of that package.

What you should do: Instead, please interview the coach and ask about her general background, why she wants to coach, how she handles discipline in practice and games, and what she believes a child should gain from the travel ball experience. You’ll gain a lot more insight than by simply asking, “Where did you play?”

No. 4 Don’t fall for the flash

And while I’m on the subject, who cares what a travel ball coach can do with the ball? So they can make 100 straight jumpers while lecturing the team. Wow, that’s impressive. So they can spin the ball on one hand while juggling chainsaws with the other? Cool. But here’s the question you should be asking: Can they teach the game? Can they teach my son how to make 100 straight jumpers? Do they really have a heart for kids or are they trying to boost their own careers?

What you should do: There are plenty of snake-oil salesmen posting videos of themselves performing amazing feats. And there are just as many posting photos of themselves with high-level athletes they’ve never trained. It’s good marketing, but is it really good for your child? Instead, look for travel ball organizers who are promoting their players – not themselves.

No. 5 Don’t pursue exposure or trophies over growth

This is a biggie. I’ve had some memorable conversations with parents who were upset because they wanted their 5th-grade daughter to play in “showcase” tournaments. I know the world has turned upside down in a lot of ways, but I still don’t believe college coaches are scouting fifth-grade tournaments. In that same vain, stop stressing about your son being picked for the “stacked” team instead of playing a key role on a solid team. We all know how that one will end. With an angry phone call three weeks later about a lack of playing time.

What you should do: Focus your search for travel ball organizations on culture and character. In nearly all instances, competitiveness is sure to be a part of that package. If your child is joining an established team, talk to those parents about the season-long process. Trust me, you will spend a lot of time together inside gyms, vans and diners. Do all the girls get along well? Do all the parents enjoy hanging out? Has the coach established a culture of stability, player development and safety? If the organization you are considering has a history of teams staying together for more than one season, by all means jump in. That’s the sign of a healthy group.

In the end, the annual travel ball team search comes down to a few critical questions: Why do I want my son to play travel ball basketball? What’s the point of playing travel ball? Is it exposure? Skill development? Making friends with kids from other areas? Seeking out better competition? Learning from other top-level coaches? Or do we feel a need to keep up because everyone else is doing it?

In other words, if you’re considering travel ball for any other reason than the continued physical and emotional growth of your child, I’ve got one more piece of advice for you:


He’s played against Jordan. He’s been coached by Calipari. And he’s produced pieces on the likes of Magic, Coach K, Kareem, and LeBron. You might just say basketball is in Tim Kolodziej’s blood. So is the written word. For more than 20 years, Tim was executive editor at the New Castle News near Pittsburgh, capturing more than 30 state and national writing awards for his columns on faith, leadership, personal growth and sports. He’s also produced award-winning sports websites called The Bounce and Crunch, which were both on the cutting edge of the digital revolution. When he’s not behind his laptop, Tim enjoys connecting with young athletes — from elite AAU basketball talent to youngsters stepping onto the court for the first time. Since 2011, he has been director of basketball operations at Drill for Skill, a training academy he co-founded with legendary high school coach John Miller. Tim believes "every" child is an athlete, and every child can become a "better" athlete through a relentless focus on skill mastery. In 2015, the husband and father of two was inducted into the Lawrence County Sports Hall of Fame.


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