Travel softball differs from rec ball in a few important ways.
A big one is that club teams hold pass-fail tryouts, selecting and organizing players based on skill. Players without the requisite skills will not be offered a spot on the team.
Such teams usually also travel to other cities or out of state to compete, hence the name “travel ball.”
Organizations like the USSSA, the American Softball Association (ASA), Triple Crown, and the North American Fastpitch Association (NAFA) host tournaments all across the country for travel ball teams year-round.
While not every team plays all year long, travel ball still lets your child play a lot more softball than they would in rec ball.
Club softball costs significantly more than rec ball as well, ranging from $500 to $5000 for yearly player fees.
🚨 Important Note: This price range is only talking about the player fees required for representing a particular travel organization. If you can’t wait until the end of this guide to know how much travel softball actually costs in total, skip to our full breakdown below.
The structure of a travel softball season differs quite a bit from rec ball.
In rec ball, you play against the same teams throughout the season, at the same local parks, often practice 1-2 days per week, and play a single game on the weekend.
In addition to being year-round, travel softball includes tournaments, more weekly practices, possible expectations that they’ll procure weekly 1:1 training sessions, along with attending weekend friendlies, scrimmages, or league play.
Let’s break a few of these things down individually.
One of the biggest differences between rec ball and travel ball is the time commitment.
You and your daughter should be ready to spend a great deal of your time on softball once you sign up for a travel team.
As you can see by now, travel ball encompasses more than just some tournaments. When people say it’s a lifestyle, you should take them at their word.
🧢 Reality Check: Your child might miss family gatherings, sleepovers, birthday parties, community events, and be challenged greatly to stay up on schoolwork all due to her heightened travel softball commitments.
Not condoning or condemning here – these are just the current realities on the ground.
And if she’s serious about playing softball and dreams of competing in college ball, these are sacrifices she’ll almost inevitably be expected to make.
Travel softball teams also bring a financial burden.
If you’re spending more money on fees, equipment, uniforms, travel, or other softball-related expenses, that’s less you can spend on your daughter’s other activities.
It might also mean less material things like video games, new smartphones, or new street clothes.
So unless you are very well-off, both you and your daughter must be willing to accept some trade-offs to play club softball at an elite level.
Of course, these realities can affect the financial decisions of your entire family.
Let’s detail the pros and cons of both rec and travel softball, so you can more easily make an informed decision about signing your daughter up for club ball or not.
Emphasis on learning – With Little League/recreational leagues, everyone who signs up gets to play on a team.
The focus is on learning the game and developing values like sportsmanship and leadership.
Coaches will also let girls play at different positions so they can figure out what they’re good at and what they like best.
Stay local – If your daughter plays on a rec team, you won’t have to travel more than 30 miles from your town. Even in small cities, they try to organize leagues so that travel is minimal.
If you’d rather allocate your budget to family vacations than to transportation and hotels for softball, then rec ball may be more suited to your family.
Less expensive – Rec ball is significantly less expensive than club softball. Although fees vary by region, the average is around $100 for a season, which includes a uniform.
Sometimes, coaches will even provide all the necessary equipment for their players.
In most cases, though, you might have to buy your child the right softball gear, which will increase the yearly spend to between $100-500 – depending on exactly what you decide to buy and how well her equipment held up the year before.
Lower competition – Since anyone that wants to is allowed to play, there’s no filter for competition.
Coaches and umpires are usually volunteers, who may have little experience within the game. Many players who want to improve and hone their softball skills to an elite level won’t be able to do so if they continue playing rec ball into high school.
Less organization – Although not the case for all recreational leagues, some tend to be poorly organized.
The entire league might be run by volunteers or city employees with no background administering youth sports.
Poor organization can lead to fewer opportunities for your daughter to play, like if games get double-booked or canceled unexpectedly.
Fewer games – You play fewer games in a season of rec softball than with a club team. The total is about 20 games, not counting weather cancellations.
Fewer games mean less exposure and slower rates of skill development. If your kid loves softball and wants to play as much as possible, it might be time to move up to the more involved club teams.
Better competition – For players who want to improve to an elite level, challenge themselves, and be part of a hard-working team, travel ball may be the way to go.
With travel ball, kids learn the importance of bettering oneself for the sake of greater team success. They also face other elite players, making them more prepared to play at the collegiate level.
More games – If your child can’t get enough of softball, then travel ball might be perfect for her.
Travel softball affords many more opportunities to play and develop, even if you have to sit on the bench sometimes. And for the amount of money you invest in club softball, you can expect a decent number of games.
Opportunity to travel – Some might view the travel aspect as a hindrance, but it can also be an opportunity.
For some kids, the chance to venture outside their city or state could be a great way for them to become inspired.
Costly – We’ll get into the details of these costs below, but after reading this.
Suffice it to say, you will want to make sure that both you and your daughter clearly understand the commitment you’re making to playing travel softball.
Missing out – In addition to costing money, travel will cost you valuable time.
Your kid could miss out on social or school events. You, too, could miss out on work or extended family events by spending all your free time driving your daughter to tournaments and practices.
Many of the parents who can cover the financial curveballs that travel softball hurls at them, will be tempted to breeze past this warning. But it is worth serious consideration.
Difficulty level – Although your child might want to play travel ball, you should be realistic about her current skill level.
Travel softball teams are full of elite, competitive players who are often targeting college softball and its scholarships.
If your kid doesn’t have the same abilities but ends up on a highly competitive team, she may quickly fall behind, see less playing time, and become discouraged with the sport.
But the good news is that within travel ball, there is an entire spectrum of teams with varying levels of skill and expectations.
So part of the team or organizational selection on your end is being realistic as to where your daughter is now, while creating a plan and setting goals to help get her where she wants to be in a year, 2 years, or 5 years from now.
#A Middle Ground Between Rec Ball and Elite Travel Ball
It’s worth mentioning that travel softball teams are split up into categories based on both age and skill level.
For age brackets, there’s 8U, 10U, 12U, 14U, 16U, and 18U.
Additionally, there are often “A,” “B,” and “C” levels for each age group. The “A” teams are the most competitive, the “C” teams are playing more for fun, and “B” teams fall somewhere in the middle.
So it’s possible for your daughter to play travel ball without facing steep levels of competition. Many “B” and “C” teams form to give kids a chance to play more softball than they would with a rec league.
These teams focus less on college recruiting outreach and chasing softball scholarships and more on building character.
Teams like these might play only in summer tournaments instead of year-round. And since they play fewer games, they require less time commitment, and there are fewer associated fees.
Although these lower-tier teams are still considered “travel” softball teams, they might only or mostly play in local tournaments.
Less serious club teams are a great middle-ground for girls who want more competition and playing time than rec ball offers, but who don’t want to commit to continuing to play in college softball.
They’re also ideal for parents who’d rather invest less time and money in their child’s softball – so your daughter and your family can focus on other meaningful endeavors – but want more organized structure than rec ball.
Whether or not you switch from rec ball to travel ball is up to you and your daughter.
It’s truly an entire family decision. No blanket solution exists to suit everyone. And there’s also no particular best age for switching.
The smartest thing you can do is continue on the path of research that led you to this article.
Reading other parents’ experiences with travel ball versus rec ball on message boards and forums can be particularly enlightening. Their impressions might give you an insight into the sport you hadn’t thought of.
Another great way to research travel softball is by word-of-mouth.
Are there teams in your area? Can you get in contact with that team’s parents and ask them for advice?
Sometimes the decision to try out for a club team is based on availability.
If there are no travel teams in your area, you could join one out of town. This practice is actually much more common than you might think.
For example, many elite, Hawaii-residing softball players will fly in and play for travel teams in places like California or Texas during tournament season. But, for most, doing so means driving or flying long distances for both practices and tournaments.
Indeed, many softball parents will tell you that their decision about travel ball is based on circumstances. The location, budget, and presence of teams will all be factors in this decision-calculus.
The most important factor, however, is your daughter’s interest in playing travel ball.
If she’s willing to set aside other parts of her life for softball and wants a challenging environment to improve her game, then she should play some form of travel ball.
Make sure both you and your daughter understand the time and effort that go into travel softball. Go over the pros and cons of club ball together, so you’re both informed.
Once you and your child are clear about what you want, then you can make an informed decision.
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As mentioned, word-of-mouth is a great way to start your search for teams. Ask parents you know about travel teams in your area.
If you live somewhere with a high concentration of softball clubs, like southern California, personal recommendations can come especially in handy.
If you don’t know anyone involved in travel softball, then you can look online. Big organizations in your area will likely come up in a search engine, and this is a great way to find teams.
But not every team has a website – or one that’s really optimized for search – so many won’t show up in search results.
However, all teams that play in USSSA, ASA, Triple Crown, and NAFA must register with the organization. As a result, these websites might have directories of teams in your area.
USSSA is a particularly great resource for this. You can use these online searches as a jumping-off point for finding a team, especially if there are a lot of them in your area.
For cities and towns less inundated with travel teams, joining Facebook groups dedicated to travel softball is a great way to find recommendations.
You could also search for a given team or travel organization’s Facebook page or Instagram profile, as nearly all will have these updated regularly even if they don’t have an official website.
And social media posts from such accounts will often have the most accurate and real-time information about tryouts and team openings – such as, “Looking for a 2025 catcher”.
A final resource worth checking out is HeyBucket. There you will find tryout postings for most of the travel softball organizations around the country, along with a robust forum filled with parents and coaches discussing all things travel ball.
If you want to join a travel softball team, you can expect to go through tryouts first. For teams that want to play in summer tournaments, tryouts can be held as early as the preceding August.
At this time of the year, players are still fresh from their summer season, so ideally, they’ll perform their best at tryouts. Fall tryouts also give teams a chance to work out over the winter and coordinate fundraising efforts.
At tryouts, you can expect a 2-4 hour session similar to a practice. The coaches will introduce themselves and ask your daughter to do so as well.
Travel coaches do this partly because they want to gauge your daughter’s confidence and maturity levels.
This is especially important for teams focused on college recruiting, because these experienced coaches know that these same traits can make a player more or less attractive to college scouts.
And their job as competitive travel coaches, aside from guiding her performance development, is convincing such scouts – who will eventually interact with your daughter – that she’s a great fit for their program.
After introductions, the athletes will go through static stretches, movement-prep drills, and throw.
Next, they’ll either start with offensive or defensive drills or live situations.
Coaches will also want to assess your daughter’s baserunning. If she’s a pitcher or catcher, she will be asked to showcase these skills.
Typically, tryouts are structured as stations, with girls moving from one station to the another.
Encourage your daughter to always do her best at tryouts and hustle continuously without pause.
Coaches at these tryouts are evaluating her attitude and work ethic as much as her softball abilities. If she makes a mistake, tell her – beforehand, not during – to just shrug it off and move on to the next rep.
#Warning to Parents During Fastpitch Travel Tryouts
You might have caught that less-than-subtle recommendation not to call out to your daughter in any way during a travel ball tryout.
That’s because the truth is that for competitive travel ball teams, you as parents are also trying out in a way. Again, this is most true for college recruitment-age teams.
Coaches are always on the lookout for red flags from parents.
🧢 Pro Tip:
Tryout red flags for travel softball coaches include:
🚩 Carrying your daughter's gear for her – it's considered a bad look.
🚩 Parents entering the dugout during a tryout for any reason.
🚩 Talking to – or non-verbal signaling – your daughter through the fence during tryouts or games.
🚩 Publicly yelling at or berating your daughter in any way.
Professional coaches also notice if your daughter looks to you in the stands directly after making a mistake during a tryout.
To them, this bad habit hints at both a lack of confidence on her part and a potentially toxic sports parent relationship, where she’s only doing this to please you and not because she herself loves the sport.
For many travel ball coaches, such observed behaviors can lead to your daughter not making the team.
In the interest of blunt honesty, if your daughter truly has top-percentile talent, such parent red flags may be willfully ignored at the younger levels of travel ball play.
However, no matter how much potential your daughter possesses, these issues will become more of a problem at the older, recruitable 14U-18U ages, for reasons alluded to earlier.
After asking about your daughter’s Rapsodo analytics metrics, GPA, SAT, and attitude tendencies, the very next question that all college coaches will ask your travel coach is “How are the parents?”
The travel ball coach has to tell the whole truth at this moment or risk losing their trusted reputation earned by years of hard work and relationship-building.
Travel coaches know the truth will come out eventually – college coaches are often even more conscious, observant, and disqualifying in response to the red flags we listed – and not many travel coaches are going to be willing to lose face by lying.
If your daughter is still within that 8U to 12U age range, this section is still worth heeding early. Stop bad habits on both your parts before they start.
#How to Choose the Right Travel Softball Team for Your Daughter
There are eight major things you should keep in mind during your travel ball team selection:
How is their season structured? Does the team play tournaments year-round or only in the summer? Which tournaments will the team play in?
At younger ages, staying closer to home for tournaments is ideal – your daughter can still learn and compete and you can save your money for when she’s more serious about softball, closer to college-age.
Traveling long distances to the most elite travel ball tournaments in the country will eventually be necessary if she’s interested in playing D1, though.
When thinking about the organization of the team you should also look into their practice schedule and winter workouts.
Off-season training sessions are when your daughter will build upon her skills the most, so these practices are vital for her improvement.
When it comes to younger teams, players should be moving around positions and getting as much experience on the field as possible.
During tournament pool play, everyone should have about equal playing time. Once bracket play starts, though, the emphasis is often on competing at the highest level possible.
As players get older, their positions will become more fixed, and playing time should be based on performance.
Most elite travel ball coaches won’t give you a straight guarantee on your daughter’s playing time. Their priority will be putting together the best team that can compete at the level they’re playing at.
You should look for teams that foster character building in your kid. Improvement in the sport and college ball preparation is important, but you and their coaches should keep an eye on the bigger picture.
What kinds of values does this team instill in its players? Do they encourage a strong work ethic, respect for teammates, and good sportsmanship?
These are the types of skills players should learn in youth sports because they translate to adult and professional life.
Above all, the experience should be fun. Your daughter should enjoy playing on this club team and everything it involves. If it’s clear the other girls on the team aren’t having any fun, that’s a bad sign.
Travel ball players and coaches are a serious bunch, but they shouldn’t be so tightly wound that they make the experience miserable for everyone else.
At the younger ages of 8U-12U, there is less distance traveled, as teams mostly compete within their local state or even county.
However, they usually play more tournaments in total, as there is no so-called “dark period” for these younger athletes.
The dark period is the time that high school-aged softball players cannot play travel ball because it is high school season, and the regulations do not allow them to play both at the same time. This period is enforced in almost every US state.
Besides the travel to actual games, you must consider the travel to practices, which occur 2-4 times per week – depending on the team and organization.
And for all this travel you and your family will need to get some food and drinks, at least some of the time.
Moreover, there is the wear and tear on your vehicle and its maintenance to consider.
Lastly, you or your significant other may need unpaid time off in order to attend various games and tournaments throughout the year.
Travel Cost for younger ages: $700-3,000 yearly
At the older ages, 14U to 18U, the travel cost varies greatly.
It depends on the competitiveness of the team and whether they are focused at the regional level or if they are chasing D1 scholarships at the national level.
You’ll also need to at least consider purchasing your daughter’s bats, cleats, batting gloves, extra uniforms, extra socks, athletic tape, eye-black, hair accessories, and sliding shorts.
Some of these items may be included in your monthly or yearly dues to the travel organization or team that your daughter plays under.
And you will be expected to contribute financially – usually in the form of bringing snacks or drinks or buying tickets – and time-wise to various team fundraisers and bonding events throughout the year.
Most travel softball players get private lessons or participate in group clinics for hitting, pitching, catching, or fielding.
Some travel softball athletes also get additional training or help keep them optimized physically from strength and conditioning coaches, PT’s, and/or chiropractors.
Additional Training Cost: $500-4,000
Once athletes are recruiting age – technically 8th grade to 12th grade, but here we mean high school – they may want to attend college softball clinics and camps to get additional exposure to particular college coaches, and help their chances of getting recruited.
So, the approximate price range, depending on a ton of different variables – which is why the price gap is so massive – for participating in travel softball each year is between:
$2,000* and $23,300.
To be honest, both of these numbers represent extremes on the low and the high sides of the spectrum.
But we included this expense exercise to help parents like yourself begin to think about how serious a financial investment travel softball is.
The only way to make decisions that are best for your daughter and for the rest of your family is to be informed about what such decisions might entail.
Finally, it should be mentioned that the majority of softball athletes begin travel ball at the 10U or 12U level – between 9 and 12 years old.
If your daughter competes in travel all the way until the 18U level at 17 to 18 years old, you can now get a rough idea, from these yearly approximations above, toward what an entire competitive career in travel softball might cost.
We’ll let you do that career-length extrapolation on your own though – this no-nonsense guide has likely stressed you out enough by this point.
That said, hopefully this guide was a tiny brick on you and your daughter’s long road through this wonderful game that we call softball.
*On the lower number, we did not include the “Additional Expenses” categories, because they might not be needed depending on the age and competitiveness-level.
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