CHAPTERS SIX AND SEVEN
These chapters cover why we go to tournaments and in which tournaments we select to play. We also discuss behavior as we travel and while we are at the tournament.
When we started the Club fifteen years ago, the only way to play top competition and experience different styles of play was to travel to tournaments. In the intervening years, the local competition has improved and the quality of many tournaments has significantly declined. As a result, tournaments do not offer the benefits they once did.
Too often today, tournaments are detrimental to player development. One of the major drawbacks for tournaments is the number of games in too short a period. A study published in the AMERICAN ACADEMY OF PEDIATRICS, in March, 2000, found that the number of injuries players suffered increased significantly in tournaments over once a week league games. The culprit was fatigue. In tournaments with games close together, players did not have sufficient time to recover from a previous game. The problem is much worse for older players. Players who have not entered puberty recover faster. They also play games that are about half the length of older players and on fields that are a quarter the size.
Coaches have long recognized this problem across the country. Many college coaches leave college showcase events after the semi finals knowing that the quality of play in the finals, even though they may offer the best teams, will be very low - the players are simply too exhausted to play well.
Tournaments still offer benefits. Having the players all together can be great for team bonding. Also, while exhausting, having a concentrated group of games allows the players to also have a concentrated opportunity to put in practice what they have learned, get feedback, and play a second or third game to see if they are understanding the concepts.
We balance these and other factors in selecting tournaments. For older players, who need more recovery and challenging competition, we look to tournaments over long weekends when there is no school on Fridays or Mondays. The extra day allows time for rest and travel. Examples of these tournaments include:
For younger teams we try to pick the better local tournaments that offer better competition and less expense. Examples of these tournaments include:
In recent years, we have scheduled more and more friendly games in lieu of tournaments. Friendlies cost less, are often only two games over a weekend, and allow us to schedule appropriate competition. For older ages we have scheduled friendly matches at colleges so their coaches could see our players.
Tournaments can and should be fun. Many families build vacations around them. At older ages they can be in some very exciting and wonderful places. However, WE ARE GOING TO PLAY SOCCER - EVERYTHING ELSE IS FOR AFTER WE FINISH PLAYING.
Travel to the Tournament. One of the worse feelings is being at an out of town tournament and not knowing where your players are as time ticks down to the game. Not as bad is being at an out of town tournament and having a player with no uniform because his luggage was lost. To solve these problems and make our players as safe as possible please follow these Rules:
Soccer travel brings different competition, and teaches players to function on and off the field in different environments. We can also use the sport to broaden players' views of the world. Soccer travel should incorporate off-field activities to maximize the non-soccer benefits as well. It will be common, for example, for older teams to visit college campuses during their trips.
Teams must be clear about purpose when they travel. Unless otherwise stated, these are soccer trips. They are not, to dispel the most common misconceptions of parents and players respectively, family vacations or extended slumber parties. While off-field activities are an element of decisions about which tournament to attend, successful soccer travel puts soccer decisions first. No different from decisions about practice content and organization, these decisions are made with an eye on creating an environment where the team will perform at its best - despite the challenges - both on the current trip and over the longer term.
With meals, the more that can be taken in common the better. This enables more direct supervision of the nutritional needs of the players and may be the best venue there is for team interaction. It also takes some effort to do well - planning, making reservations (a must near many tournaments), settling the bill, and so forth. (For real fun, try to convince a head waiter that he wants to seat a group of twenty-four, sans reservation.)
By far the most important ingredient in successful soccer travel is adequate rest. Preparing to travel can be unsettling. Many players don't sleep well before trips, particularly if they haven't traveled much. Add to this the difficulty most people have trouble sleeping the first night in a bed that's not their own. And, a couple of games a day. And, all the other things that are just "different" on the road. It takes much more rest than people think and much more than most teams provide. In between games it is usually best to return to the hotel and sit in the lobby or lay down in bed. If the hotel is too far away, a good alternative is to go to a shopping mall and sit or go watch a movie.
When staying in hotels, players need to have their own rooms, (three players to a room and one adult chaperon is common.) In this arrangement there are no competing agendas. Players who must have "lights out" early will not be disturbed by adults coming in later or wanting to watch the late news. Similarly, players often need to get up very early for morning games - to eat, digest, get ready and be off to the fields in time. They should not feel the need to tiptoe around sleeping adults while doing this. Make no mistake, supervision is required and some players inevitably require stronger measures to ensure their respect for others' needs for rest, if not their own. Still, no other arrangement provides as great a likelihood that that this most basic of player needs will be met.
There is much more to this game than just the game; soccer travel can provide experiences and benefits that extend way beyond the field. That said, if you're going to travel it makes sense to be the best on the field that you can be, and that priority needs to be clearly in focus both in the planning and execution of your trips.
Coaches have control of the schedule for players in order to have the best rested and mentally prepared team possible. Parents are not to take their children for activities without consulting the coach first. The coach may say no.
From the players we expect the following as a minimum: