Practicing competitive sports does not necessarily mean traveling

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To travel or not to travel?

That’s the question many kids and families are asking as another youth sports season begins.

Travel teams, some of which start as early as the first year, usually cost more and involve weekend tournaments and more time in the car to travel to faraway matches. Travel teams are not for everyone.

That’s what Jason Targoff, an engineer in Cambridge, Massachusetts, thought 10 years ago when his son, Lou, was 8. “My wife and I absolutely did not want to travel.”

Targoff stepped in and ran Lou’s third- and fourth-year football league instead. Not knowing exactly what to do, Targoff started the season with a round-robin tournament in which teams were named after soccer nations such as Italy and Cameroon.

“The kids loved it. So we kept the same teams all year.

Targoff and the folks at Cambridge Youth Soccer (CYS) have made some improvements for next season. They bought better jerseys for the city teams and changed the language on the league website so it didn’t look like all the good players played for the city travel teams.

After Targoff became president of CYS eight years ago, “enthusiasm for the game in town” began to build. The number of players in town nearly tripled to more than 1,500 children.

Many kids and parents find it more fun competing with and against kids in their Cambridge community than playing against kids over an hour away.

In addition, more and more children of different types can play because it is easier for them to travel to practices and games. Because training and games all take place on Cambridge grounds, Targoff said, “some kids [can] walk or ride their bikes. And the league in town is much cheaper than travel and club teams.

City teams play seven-on-seven matches on smaller pitches. This allows all players to get more ball “touches”. That’s because Targoff believes children “learn to play by playing.”

League kids can still play on CYS travel teams if they wish, but they must also play on a local team. City players have training on weekdays and a game on Saturday. Travel team players simply add a second weekday practice and play a travel team game on Sunday.

Targoff says there’s nothing wrong with travel teams, but they “just don’t need to start at such an early age.”

Targoff and CYS are working to make local leagues an even better experience by improving training and getting more girls to play.

Still, CYS is a wonderful example of the benefits of city play. More kids having fun playing with and against kids in their own community. It is, as Targoff says, “what youth sports should be.”

Bowen will appear at the National Book Festival at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center on Saturday at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. with illustrator James Ransome.

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