Why AAU is Hurting Youth Sports

It isn’t what it was meant to be. Travel sports like AAU, travel soccer, baseball, softball, and volleyball are the perfect example of building specific skills on top of a poor foundation of fundamental skills.

Travel team sports for young, developing players should be about teaching skills, developing game knowledge, and improving function. I see less and less coaching going on with these travel teams and more playing games. Kids are learning to play with poor foundational skill sets.

Granted, there are some travel teams that actually spend some quality time on skills development. Good for them! But there are way too many more, only focusing on winning the games. They do what they have to by putting kids in positions so the team can win. This doesn’t help the players develop; it just makes the team win.

I have seen top-level junior high and high school basketball players unable to dribble, pass, or shoot a simple layup with their left or non-dominant hand. Yet, they are playing 30 to 50 games over the summer with travel sports and never have their limitations addressed.

Travel sports could be great if done in the right context and with the intent of improving each athlete’s ability. But, like always, we put playing more games and winning as the top priority.

Here is what I see happening. These kids on travel teams are winning games and developing a false sense of skill level. Then they have to play on a structured school or college program, and their fundamental skills are so limited they fail to meet the success they had on travel teams. This leads to problems because the player and parents are now wondering why they are not being put in situations to be successful like they did in travel sports.

It all comes back to we want quick fixes, don’t want to work for anything and expect things to be handed to us when we are unhappy. Sorry! Life doesn’t work that way.

We need to take back our sports and develop our athletes the correct way. I know travel sports are the way to be “seen,” but give me a break. If you can play, you will get noticed.

I would much rather take an athlete and limit their off-season gameplay (still allow them to play, but not as much), and develop their skills to the point they are dangerously serious athletes.

The only way this will ever work is if it is a nationwide effort to change the focus of travel sports to an advanced form of developing athletes.

The response I usually get when I bring this up is, “Kids don’t have to choose to be on a travel team.” That is correct, but the kids that do choose are the ones that we are talking about. These kids lose out on becoming better players, and just because they are on a winning team does not mean they are good.

We are so in love with the flash and the glamour that we have ignored the foundation of improvement and development.

Yours in Speed,


Scroll to Top