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Differences Between Recreational And Travel Softball: What's Right For You?

Differences Between Recreational And Travel Softball: What's Right For You?

Choosing what type of softball team is right for you or a loved one – recreational or travel (also called club) – can be a head-scratching decision.

Aug 23, 2023 by Briar Napier

You turned on the television earlier this year and saw the action of the Women’s College World Series, or maybe you caught a softball game going on at a local park. 

You or your child may be hooked on what you’re seeing – a fast-paced game with long-distance home runs, wicked pitches and teams (such as WCWS national champion Oklahoma) beyond belief.

But in choosing what type of softball team is right for you or a loved one – recreational or travel (also called club) – it can be a head-scratching decision, especially for those new to the sport.

The demands and competition levels are different, but regardless of whether or not you want you or your child to be the next Jocelyn Alo or someone getting cheered for on the softball diamond across town by friends and family, there’s an opportunity out there for every type of player. 

The trick is finding what works and rolling with it, including by being adaptable, if it changes over time.

Stuck wondering what type of softball is best for you or your child? Here’s a guide that breaks down some of the main differences and may help you in making your decision.

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What Are Recreational And Travel Softball?

The major differences between recreational and travel softball teams are in the ways players are placed on rosters, the type of player they’re meant for, who they play and where they play. 

Many communities across the country have locally run recreational leagues (often tied to Little League Softball) featuring teams full of players from the area/region playing against each other with the intent to give all children who sign up – especially those younger in age – a fun, competitive environment to learn and play softball. There, talent is less emphasized. 

These types of leagues often are more loose, though major competitions between rec teams (even on an international scale, such as the Little League Softball World Series) do exist. 

Many coaches are volunteers, such as parents who are trying to help ensure players are having fun and enjoying themselves. 

In travel ball, talent level is much more important, as the competition levels are amped up, with teams often holding tryouts to decide their rosters, rather than allowing everyone who is interested to join. 

Coaches may include those who have more of a refined, professional background in the sport with high-level knowledge, and as the “travel ball” name implies, teams frequently will trek far away from their home bases (with trips several states away) to play in tournaments and various other events. 

Additionally, whereas rec softball may be limited to just a few months out of the year (mainly in summer), travel softball, with the various organizations across the country that are involved in setting up events, tournaments, etc., is a year-round affair with no true offseason, giving those who are looking for more game time more opportunities to find it.

What Are The Requirements To Join Each Team?

In rec softball, there is no requirement (other than any age limits set by the team/organization you’re joining) to possess a certain level of skills or talent. Simply put, if you want to play, you will by joining rec ball. 

Additionally, the costs associated with rec ball are almost always far lower than travel, helped by the obvious fact that the commitment is less strict and therefore requires less non-local travel, expenses for equipment and other various potential financial demands. 

For travel, you probably don’t just have to be good, you also know that you’re good and have the means and time to continue to grow your game, often with the idea that you can possibly use travel ball performances (especially at the high school level) to attract recruiting attention from college programs. 

Get ready to shell out much more money if you choose to go the travel ball route, too. 

While rec ball costs likely won’t burn a hole in your pocket, travel ball costs, all things considered, can quickly rack up into the thousands or even tens of thousands for those who opt for additional training, college camps and clinics, etc.

What Environment Can You Expect On Each Team?

Rec softball often features plenty of familiar faces around each league, and with a more laid-back atmosphere – friends from school, or elsewhere, often will play with, or against, each other in local organizations. 

They’re also frequently tight-knit, as the people associated in running or coaching the rec ball game aren’t in it for monetary reasons or personal gain, but often are rather good-standing members of the community who are just trying to make a difference and positive impact. 

Travel ball, meanwhile, often will siphon the best players from a given city, area or region, where names on the roster may or may not have played previously. 

Travel teams still can have great chemistry with plenty of fun, along with devoted leaders who are eager to help players get better, of course, but a faster tempo and more cutthroat climate than rec ball. Playing travel ball requires a serious, constant commitment to succeed and win.

What Types Of Games/Practices Will You Participate In For Each Team?

As mentioned previously, rec softball is more of a seasonal commitment than travel ball’s potentially year-long demands, meaning that naturally, rec ball will have less game time and opportunities for live game scenarios to help players get better at the sport. 

Practices and games may be infrequent, with only a few meeting times a week, which for those with busy schedules or those trying to figure out if they like the sport and want to continue it, may be a good thing. 

This is completely different from travel softball, which likely will require multiple practice sessions per week on top of games, which at tournaments can see a team play six, seven, eight or more games in a matter of days, depending on how far it advances. 

Plus, those on rosters for travel ball who are looking for even more practice time may schedule personalized training with instructors and/or private sessions in places such as batting cages to further improve their games on the side, making the potential time needed to hone the craft and that much more demanding – but perfect for those who can’t get enough of the sport and have the ability.

Which Team Should You Or Your Child Pursue?

If you or your child is trying to find out whether or not they like softball and/or have a knack for the sport, rec ball – especially at younger ages – probably is right for you. 

In a low-risk, low-cost environment with ample opportunities to see potential in the sport come out and to gauge enjoyment levels, there’s little harm in checking out if what you see in rec softball is perhaps an indicator of future success in the sport. 

At worst, you or your child broke a sweat and competed in a fun, engaging physical activity. 

If you already know that you or your child has talent above their peers and/or has a passion for the game, travel ball might be the call. 

It’s much more of a commitment, yes, but for those who are serious about getting noticed by next-level programs and receiving guidance from some of the top instructors and teachers in their area, there’s nothing better – and the rewards may be worth it down the line with a college scholarship or more. 

Ultimately, however, there is no wrong answer to which type of environment is right for you or your child. It comes down to preferences, time, financial capabilities and other personal factors, with great fun able to be had in each type of softball environment.