The Travel Softball Experience
For those who want to experience serious softball, find yourself an ASA, NSA, PONY, or USSSA tournament (or any other sanctioned travel team tournament) on any summer weekend near by and go and watch the play. Regardless of age level, you will be amazed at the skill, discipline and knowledge the better teams display.
I remember my first experience with travel softball. My oldest daughter was nine at the time and had just completed a successful recreation league year where she was selected as an All Star. As a matter of fact, her travel team was made up of All Stars from her league, specifically hand picked to compete in post recreation season travel tournaments.
The first thing I noticed was the beautiful uniforms (it was the first time my daughter had her name on the back of her uniform, and she was thrilled), the expensive bats, the bat bags, and so forth. This was a 10 & under invitational. How bad could it be? After all, my daughter's team was all All Stars! Unfortunately, the recreation league did not allow stealing until the ball crossed the plate ... in the tournament, runners could start at pitcher's release. And what was this drop third strike stuff? What do you mean you can throw a runner out at first from right field? The other team's players can hit and drag from the right AND the left side of the plate? Needless to say it was an eye opening experience, but one that made my daughter realize that to really be a good softball player; she had to compete with these players. She had to play serious softball. She had to play travel softball.
Travel softball is a great experience, but, make no mistake, the family will have to make sacrifices and the player must be ready to commit to learning how to play serious softball. Depending on how many tournaments your team plays and how far away the tournaments are, you will be asking your team and, depending on your team's age, the parents to spend entire summer weekends at the tournament site. In addition, family vacations will need to be planned after
the travel tournament season is over. These expectations must be set upfront as part of the team letter
Travel softball is a year round commitment. Although there may be periods when there are no tournaments, the team still practices year round to sharpen its skills. This accounts for the knowledge and experience these players exhibit. There is no way to teach every nuance of the game of softball in a typical recreation league season.
Travel teams are generally split between "A" level teams and "B" level teams. I have seen some C level tournaments, but they were not prevalent in our area. The "A" level teams are the best of the best. Generally have three very good pitchers and the team displays the nuances of the game, from bunting techniques and the short game, to fielding plays to meet the situation of the game and so forth. A "B" level team is generally less experienced, and usually has one maybe two good pitchers, but not at the level of the A team. The team (and coaches) is still learning how to play serious softball.
The goal of every serious softball travel team is to be invited to Nationals, a national tournament sponsored by one of the fastpitch softball associations. These National Tournaments do have a pecking order. In our area, the national organizations are ASA, PONY, NSA, USSSA and NFSA. There is also the AFA, but it was not present in our area. Coaches will select a national tournament to target and enter the various local tournaments to qualify for Nationals. Each of the local tournaments will have so many "bids" to hand out. Teams earn a "bid" by placing high in a particular local tournament, usually first or second. USSSA uses a point system to qualify, based on not only how the team placed in the tournaments but also how many USSSA tournaments the team attended. Note that tournaments listed as "invitationals" usually do not have a national bid at stake. They are good tournaments to play in as you will generally find a mix of A and B level teams, but be aware that if you are trying to secure a bid to a national tournament, this experience will not allow you to achieve it.
The perception in our area of the quality of the national tournament was that ASA Gold (A level teams that either won or placed highly in ASA A Nationals and invited by ASA to have the "Gold" designation) was the top, followed by ASA "A", PONY, NSA "A", ASA "B", NSA "B", USSSA and NFSA. Quite frankly the "B" level tournaments were all pretty evenly matched. I cannot speak to the quality of the AFA tournament, as we never encountered them. USSSA is fairly new in our area and has supplanted NSA as sponsor of a number of local tournaments, so it seems to be moving up the ranking.
The above ranking is just my perception of the various levels of serious softball. Please share your view on the rankings of the various national softball tournaments.
How Would You Rank the National Tournaments?
Every area has a different view on the National Tournaments. What organizations sponsor tournaments in your area and how would you rank the various national tournaments?
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