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What Should I Expect from AAU and Club Teams?


For many sports, such as basketball, volleyball, baseball, soccer, and ice hockey, club and AAU participation has been migrating to mandatory as opposed to optional. Unless your child is a world-class athlete that will develop and get noticed without this exposure, participation is becoming the cost of entry for continuing in the sport. There are pluses and minuses about these programs. They will certainly compete at a more advanced level than what is available at their high school, and presumably, playing against better competition should help athletes improve. Here is a list of the things I can guarantee will happen if you and your child choose to participate:


  • I guarantee you will spend a lot of money. There is the cost of participation, which includes uniform and equipment, practice time and rental of space, coaches, and training, and that is only the beginning. The travel costs can dwarf the participation costs, particularly if other family members accompany the athlete. As the athlete gets older and the stakes get higher, the travel gets more far-ranging, i.e., more expensive.

  • As a close corollary to the above, I guarantee you will spend a lot of your weekends in hot, sweaty gyms; on cold, windy, and muddy fields; or at freezing ice rinks. Only once in a rare while will you be in a reasonably family-friendly location like Las Vegas or Orlando. Most of the time, you will be spending what should have been your vacation dollars on budget hotels in places like Ft. Wayne, Des Moines, and Poughkeepsie.

  • I guarantee you will enjoy the company of at least a few of the parents of the other athletes on the team and they will become your new best friends because you will spend inordinate amounts of time together in less than favorable conditions. You will also encounter some parents who should be locked up, or at least muzzled. A club team is like any community—you will like some parents and you will not like others. If the balance shifts too much to the latter, gently nudge your kid to join another team—there are plenty out there and life is too short.


And here’s the bad part:

I guarantee you will start to think that the least your child should get out of this is a college scholarship because you and your family have sacrificed so much money and time for this involvement. Sadly, this falls on the list of things that may happen but aren’t guaranteed to happen.


The list of things that aren’t guaranteed also includes the following:

  • Your child may improve in both skill and understanding of the sport, but then again, maybe not. It stands to reason that if kids invest a lot of time and effort into a sport, they should improve. But this doesn’t take into account that every person eventually hits a point where their skills stop developing, or their body stops growing. When my son was in sixth grade and 5'4", he played ball with a kid who towered over everyone at 5'11". He could hit lay-ups and collect rebounds all day long, but as a graduating senior, he was still 5'11". His skill set never really developed, and he was done with high school ball after sophomore year. Club/AAU teams can provide your child with practice, exposure, and skill development, but they can’t fool Mother Nature.

  • Kids can burn out and lose their passion for the sport. If this level of intensity starts at ten years old, they may grow to hate it by seventeen, and they may resent a parent’s insistence that they stick with it.

  • Your child may have trouble reconciling the club team role with the high school team role, and as a result, the high school experience may be less satisfying. High school programs may require more discipline, structure, and practice than club teams, and because there is no money involved in most high school sports, high school coaches don’t have to deal with the demands and expectations of paying parents in the same way that club coaches do. I recently read an article with a great insight from a high school coach who said; “Kids see how fun AAU is. They travel all overthe country. They play a lot of games and probably don’t have to practice much. The AAU teams are feeding these kids candy and we’re the ones yelling at them to eat their vegetables.” A comment a mother can really identify with.

  • And as mentioned above, your kid may get a scholarship at the end of it all, but there are no guarantees. Sadly, many parents assume that a scholarship is the unwritten promise of club/AAU participation. Your investment in club/AAU sports does not come with payback in the form of a scholarship. There aren’t enough to go around. It’s fine to go into this hoping for a scholarship, but make no mistake, it’s not an entitlement, and if your child doesn’t get one, the club/AAU program is probably not 100 percent to blame. Having said all this, if you can afford these programs, and if you can think about them as a way to invest in your child’s well-being, there is a lot to gain—just not necessarily a scholarship. A father who was being interviewed in Bill Pennington’s New York Times article about the amount of money he had invested over the years in club soccer for his two college-age sons commented on the perils of looking at the money spent as a financial transaction with a payback at the other end: “You are misguided if you do it for that reason. You cannot recoup what you put in if you think of it that way. It was their passion and we wanted to indulge that.”


Club and AAU teams can only put kids into a position to get the needed exposure—the athletes have to do the rest by having, and showcasing, the set of characteristics someone is looking for.

This information was provided by the book "Put Me In, Coach." If you are interested in reading more information like this please consider purchasing the book.

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