Balancing Fun and Competition: A Guide to Traveling with Youth Sports Teams

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Are you finding yourself traveling with youth sports teams on the regular? As a mom who’s navigated the highways and skyways with my son’s soccer team for more years than I can count on my fingers, I’ve become quite the seasoned pro at the delicate dance of traveling with youth sports teams. I’ve even done a few weekend drives for swim meets for my daughter through the years. Whether it’s a family affair or just one of us cheering from the sidelines, each trip is a new adventure with its own set of challenges and opportunities.

Through the countless weekend drives to neighboring towns and the few but far-flung destinations that have us buckling up on flights, I’ve seen firsthand the joys and trials of these journeys. There’s the thrill of the game, the camaraderie among the kids, and the chance to watch our young athletes grow—not just in their sport but in life.

Ready for a balanced approach to embracing both the fun and competitive elements of traveling with youth sports teams? Because let’s face it, we’re not just ferrying future sports stars—we’re nurturing young spirits ripe for adventure. And if we are traveling every weekend, why not find a way to enjoy it and create amazing family memories at the same time?

Elite Academy Soccer Tournament in AZ

Preparing for the Trip

When it comes to youth travel sports, preparing for the trip ahead of time makes all the difference between a great weekend away and a hot mess!

1. Planning each trip

Planning ahead is the cornerstone of any successful trip with a youth sports team. It’s about more than just securing a hotel room, figuring out where you can have a team dinner, and mapping out the road trip — it’s about anticipating the needs and dynamics of young athletes on the move.

Good planning ensures that every aspect of the trip supports peak performance while also allowing room for downtime and team bonding. It’s this careful blend of enjoying the location and preparing for games that can turn a simple game weekend into a cohesive, enjoyable experience for players, parents, and coaches alike, reducing stress and setting the stage for both competitive success and personal growth.

👉 Pam’s insider tip: Consider adding an extra day before or after the games so you can spend a day exploring the area. Last year, my son and I had a blast with an Ybor City Food Tour the day before a tournament in Florida.

2. Coordination with travel team

On most of our trips, the team prefers to stay in the same hotel. This allows the boys to hang out when they aren’t playing and it’s much easier to get together for dinner or to have fun between games.

If we are traveling for sports tournaments, there is usually a hotel block booked, but if it’s just two games fairly close to each other on the weekend, we might have to find our own hotels. In those instances, I use my favorite tips for finding the best family-friendly accommodations (and use hotel points if I can to keep costs down), and then I share my findings with the rest of the team to stay at the same place if they want to.

3. Take care of necessary logistics

Because we are on a youth sports travel team that has away games two to three weekends a month, I like to sit down at the beginning of the month and plot out a plan. I book all the hotels for the month and we decide which parent (or maybe both of us) will go along.

Once the hotel rooms are booked, because I’m me I do a little research to see what there is to do at each location. Some weekends we don’t have time to do anything, but often there is an afternoon or evening when we don’t have any team commitments and we can go do something fun! Just in case I like to have some ideas so I’m not scrambling when that free time comes up.

hanging out in the hotel room on a soccer weekend

On the Road: Achieving the Balance

Now comes the tough part. Achieving the tricky balance between the scheduled games, rest time, family time, team bonding, and hopefully a little fun.

Structuring time

It would be quite easy to just go to the games and then sit around the hotel in between, but what would be the fun in that? And what kind of family travel expert would I be if I let that happen?

The way I handle structuring our time depends a lot upon the game schedule. That’s what I let lead the way – because much as I wish these are vacations, I have to remember we are there for the sports team. Typically we have one game a day and depending on when those games are tells me what we can do – and after years of this, I know how much we can handle.

If it’s a morning game, I’ll typically find something fun to do in the afternoon or evening (but probably not both as rest is critical for peak performance the next day). However, if it’s an early game on the second day, then I’m not concerned about the kids getting worn out and we can do whatever we want for the rest of that day.

If the game is mid-day, the boys typically enjoy a leisurely breakfast and just hang around the hotel until game time. Then we typically go out for dinner as a team (or at least a group of the boys and parents who want to join us). We might hit an arcade or miniature golf for an hour, but always try to call it an early night.

Finally, if the game is late in the day, we’ll spend most of the day relaxing. If there is a nearby town or something very low-key we might go check it out (like a local coffee shop or brewery), but that would be about it. After the game, the boys chill at the hotel (usually playing video games in one of their rooms) while the parents enjoy a drink in someone’s room or in the lobby – nothing too crazy of course and we always make it an early night.

Nutritional consideration

I’m pretty darn lucky that my kids are foodies and enjoy good food, so this isn’t a big issue for us. We simply use my favorite tips for finding the best local restaurants (and we’ve even taught some of the other boys how to search on Yelp) and consider that a fun part of our weekend.

Definitely try to avoid fast food – it isn’t good for anyone, and athletes won’t perform well when bogged down with junk. I also always pack a cooler with drinks and healthy snacks like fruit and string cheese, and I bring along a case of water.

Psychological aspects

This can be a tough one. Some kids take losses very personally, so it’s up to the parents to help them work through challenging feelings. Every kid handles this differently, so know your kid and know what they need. For instance, my son does best with a great meal and the distraction of having some fun with his friends versus sitting around the hotel room moping. But pay attention to what YOUR kid needs and act accordingly.

soccer team - keeper saving a potential goal

Parental Involvement: Traveling with Youth Sports Teams

Parents play a pivotal role in fostering an environment where fun and competition can coexist harmoniously during sports team travel. Here are a few ways they can contribute to this balance:

Dos

  • Encouraging Team Spirit: Parents can organize group activities that are not only fun but also promote team spirit and camaraderie. Things like team dinners or a quick sightseeing detour can make the trip more enjoyable while also strengthening the team dynamic. A great example of this is my suggestion to our team to head over to the arcade located next to our hotel on Saturday night for an upcoming trip.
  • Supporting Rest and Recovery: You can help ensure that players get proper rest between games. This might mean setting and enforcing quiet hours at the hotel or arranging for nutritious post-game meals that aid in recovery. We always make the boys go to bed fairly early on weekend trips.
  • Focusing on Learning, Not Just Winning: By emphasizing the learning aspects of each game and not just the outcome, you can help young athletes appreciate the value of competition as a way to improve skills and teamwork, rather than just a means to a trophy.
  • Providing Perspective: Parents can help young athletes process the highs and lows of competition, celebrating the wins while also seeing losses as opportunities to learn and grow, which can make the travel experience more positive and constructive.
  • Modeling Good Behavior: How parents handle the stress of competition can set the tone for their children. Demonstrating good sportsmanship, patience, and positivity contributes to a supportive environment for everyone.
Jeep decorated for soccer game

Don’ts

When contributing to a balanced experience of fun and competition for youth sports teams on the road, there are certain pitfalls parents should avoid:

  • Overemphasizing Winning: Avoid putting too much pressure on winning games. This can create unnecessary stress and detract from the enjoyment of the trip.
  • Neglecting Downtime: Don’t schedule every moment with activities. Kids need time to rest and relax, especially when they’re away from home. This one is hard for me, but through the years I’ve accepted that these weekends are for the athletes, not for vacations.
  • Sideline Coaching: Refrain from coaching or giving too much advice from the sidelines. Trust the coaches and allow them to guide the team.
  • Ignoring Team Rules: Ensure that all rules and expectations set by the coaches are respected and followed, even if they differ from personal opinions or parenting styles. We’ve had coaches who said no swimming between games and some who didn’t care – so we follow whatever guidelines the current coach sets.
  • Don’t be one of those crazy parents in youth sports: We’ve all seen them, right? Always model good sportsmanship by respecting officials, opponents, and the rules of the game, regardless of the outcome. It can be hard, but you’re an adult, so you can do it!
  • Isolating Your Family: Don’t separate from the group too much; it’s a team trip, and participating in group activities is part of the experience.
  • Creating Cliques: Avoid forming cliques with other parents that could lead to exclusion and affect the children’s team dynamics.
  • Ignoring Other Kids’ Needs: Be considerate of all children’s needs and preferences, not just your own child’s, to foster a supportive team environment.

By steering clear of these behaviors, parents help ensure that travel for youth sports remains a positive, growth-oriented experience for everyone involved.

Skeeball machines at an arcade

Importance of Balancing Fun and Competition

Maintaining a balance between fun and competition in youth sports is essential for fostering a healthy attitude towards both the game and personal growth. The fun keeps the passion for the sport alive, ensuring kids stay engaged and eager to participate.

Competition teaches valuable lessons in resilience and hard work. But too much emphasis on winning can lead to stress and burnout, stripping away the joy that brought kids to the sport in the first place. And knowing how much my son loves soccer, this would be such a tragedy.

It’s the role of us as parents to help nurture this balance, helping young athletes enjoy their sports journey while learning important life skills along the way. This equilibrium not only enhances their current sports experience but also equips them with a balanced perspective for the future. I truly believe sports are great for kids – it keeps them active and out of trouble.

Creating Lasting Memories

Competition creates lasting memories for young athletes through shared challenges and achievements. The adrenaline of the game and the unity in striving for a win are powerful experiences that stick with them, forming stories they’ll revisit time and again.

Downtime offers a different kind of memorable moment, where friendships deepen and relaxation balances out the intensity of the game. These quieter interludes, filled with laughter and casual fun like going out for ice cream or playing video games in the room, are just as important in shaping a rewarding and memorable sports travel experience.

soccer bags hanging on a wall

FAQs: Traveling with Youth Sports Teams

What age should you start travel sports?

Depends upon your kid and the level of competition. Some clubs start at age 9, but many kids aren’t mentally ready until age 12.

How do sports teams work?

A youth sports team is a team of players that play at an elite level.

Are travel sports good for kids?

Travel sports can be a great way to teach kids life skills such as juggling schedules, working hard and winning or losing gracefully.

Soccer team on the field

Conclusion: Embrace the Club Travel Sports Season of Life

Let’s face it, striking the right balance between fun and competition is the key to a fulfilling travel sports experience—for the kids and their families. Through my many years as a travel sports mom, I’ve learned that while the thrill of the game is unforgettable, the quieter moments of connection and rest are equally vital.

Both elements are essential for creating a well-rounded, memorable journey. By planning effectively, encouraging team spirit, and ensuring there’s time for both competition and relaxation, we set our young athletes up for success on the field and off. And, as parents, we get to witness our children not only score goals but also grow into team players in the bigger game of life.

Let’s cherish these travels, for they are more than just trips—they’re chapters in our family’s story, each one a unique blend of dedication and joy. The time commitment is worth every memory you’ll make. I know as my years as a soccer mom are winding down I’m already missing them!

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Are you finding yourself traveling with youth sports teams on the regular? As a mom who's navigated the highways and skyways with my son's soccer team for more years than I can count on my fingers, I've become quite the seasoned pro at the delicate dance of traveling with youth sports teams.
Are you finding yourself traveling with youth sports teams on the regular? As a mom who's navigated the highways and skyways with my son's soccer team for more years than I can count on my fingers, I've become quite the seasoned pro at the delicate dance of traveling with youth sports teams.