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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Once an MLB bust, Travis Snider now hopes to change youth sports’ toxic culture

Travis Snider with the Baltimore Orioles in 2015 (Wikipedia)

By Brittany Ghiroli

When Travis Snider was 11 and playing in the Little League West Region tournament, he started hyperventilating. He had pitched a perfect first inning and hit a home run. Then, in the second inning, he could not throw a strike. His heart rate shot up, and he started crying. He had to be taken out of the game. At the time, the episode was chalked up to sports-induced asthma.

Only much later would he be able to admit that it had been a panic attack.

Snider had been the best baseball player in Washington state since age 9. He reached the majors on Aug. 29, 2008, two years after the Toronto Blue Jays made him the 14th overall pick out of high school. He was one of the game’s top prospects, a can’t-miss player. Until he missed. And missed. And missed.

He spent eight years clawing his way into a major league lineup, playing more than 115 games in a season just once, in 2014. He was demoted to the minors. He lost his confidence. He was traded twice and designated for assignment. By 2016, he was out of the majors for good, playing with his fourth organization, Kansas City. He spent six years bouncing around the minor leagues, with a stint in independent ball, before he retired in 2022.

When Snider looks back at his panic attack now, he can see that having the game feel like life or death from a young age was debilitating. It left him unprepared to handle adversity or failure. And when he became a parent and a coach, he started to see the effect that kind of pressure can have on a child.

“You start to question your value as a human being,” said Snider, whose first demotion from the big leagues to Class AAA sent him into a tailspin. “You’re geared from such a young age to know your slash line, and that’s what you’re worth. You’re 8, 9 years old, and your whole identity is based off of achievements. You’re on the field to not just earn trophies but to earn love.”

Snider, now a 36-year-old father of three, hopes to dedicate his postplaying career to breaking that cycle. Last spring, he started 3A Athletics, a company focused on fixing the broken culture of youth sports through a curriculum geared at helping parents, coaches and athletes. Still in its early stages, 3A offers interactive guidebooks for baseball, softball and soccer, with other sports in the works.

The rising number of 11- and 12-year-olds who are having Tommy John surgery is not youth baseball’s only concern. A 2024 study by the American Association of Pediatrics found that about 70% of participants dropped out of youth sports by age 13, citing things such as burnout, injuries and overtraining.

“We’re so focused on performance, we’ve lost focus on allowing our kids to develop first as human beings, and I was a product of that,” Snider said. “How we parent our kids in youth sports will have lasting effects on them.”

3A came out of Snider’s relationship with Seth Taylor, a life coach whose clients include professional athletes. Snider started seeing Taylor in 2021 on a recommendation from a friend a few months after Snider’s father, Denne, died. Most of his sessions centered on his unprocessed childhood trauma — having parents who were addicts, being evicted from his home and how that all affected how he coped when baseball grew difficult.

Growing up, Snider felt as if he were living two lives at times. In one, he was a high school football and baseball star, with great memories of his upbringing. His father was president of Mill Creek Little League. His mother, Patty, helped sell T-shirts. In the other life, he remembers them struggling with addictions. By the time Snider was a sophomore in high school, his mother had been in a coma because of pneumonia and had liver failure brought on by alcoholism. His parents divorced during the two-year recovery, and Snider began to go to anger-management classes.

When he returned from his first full season of pro ball in 2007, he still was angry at his mother. They got into a fight, and he told her to leave the home he had bought for her. She was in a fatal car crash days later. Snider was 19.

“The narrative that I crafted for scouts was that all this prepared me to go out and play pro baseball on my own at 18,” Snider said. “I thought I was mentally tough. But I was just suppressing a lot of this stuff. It would come back later, and I just wasn’t equipped to handle it.”

A few years before Taylor started seeing Snider, he worked with a former MLS player, Pat Ianni, on books aimed at changing the culture of youth soccer. Although Ianni was passionate about the subject, only one team actually brought in the books, and he abandoned the effort. The books, released in 2018, sat dormant on Amazon.

About a year into Snider’s sessions, Taylor mentioned the soccer books in passing. A few months later, Snider barged into his office and asked, “What are you doing with this now?” Taylor said, “Nothing.” So Snider bought out Ianni and rebranded the soccer workbook for baseball. It became the book “Hero.”

“Travis sees it as a life mission,” said Taylor, who is now 3A’s director of content. “His career was a complete and total failure. He should have made millions and millions of dollars, but he didn’t because of trauma. And he’s the perfect advocate for this because of that.”

Snider and Taylor believe the best way to fix the culture is to target the two central figures in a young athlete’s life: parents and coaches.

“From zero to 9, that’s a fragile time for identity,” Snider said. “It’s difficult to understand how sensitive our kids are at that age and how quickly we can shut them down. We want to help parents who are feeling that pressure understand that. We don’t have to throw our kids in organized sports at age 3. Take them to the park and play. Save yourself the money.”

Taylor has spent his life trying to help people change themselves. But changing a culture?

“It’s an enormous barrier,” Taylor said. “We are so resistant to change.”

When he dreams big, Snider thinks about 3A teaming with larger youth sports organizations. He hired a chief strategic officer for 3A in January: Michael Nealy, a father of four whose oldest son, Colby, played four years in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ system.

“What’s exciting for me is to get kids, parents and coaches to understand what this is all about,” Snider said, “so we can have healthier, happier athletes who have easier transitions than me and the people I played with.”

In August 2022, Snider was diagnosed with complex post-traumatic stress disorder. He is not shy about admitting he is a work in progress, as a parent, as a husband, as a person. He is still a regular participant in therapy. But he has made peace with his career.

He now sees his struggles in the majors as a vessel to bring awareness to parents that even if your children reach the major leagues or become first-round picks, they can still be broken.

“Do we want to keep putting the idea of achievement on a pedestal without focusing on the life skills of how you act on the field and manage relationships and stress? I overlooked it,” Snider said. “You are chasing the carrot of making X amount of dollars and making an All-Star Game. I want my kids to learn to regulate their emotions, and I don’t care what they want to do, as long as they know that’s not who they are.

“And if we can get more people to really understand and work on that, then we can really start to turn things around.”

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