Football tournaments can be a lot of fun.
Your players get to play different formats of the game, play against players they’ve never met before as well as get to eat lots of ice cream!
But coaches who take their teams to summer tournaments need to plan the weekend very carefully. It’s all too easy to make a mistake that will spoil the event and waste the (sometimes very) expensive entry fee.
So what should be on your tournament checklist?
1. What’s the weather going to be like?
If your players are going to be outside in hot, sunny weather all day, you need to make sure that they have plenty to drink.
While you might think parents will use common sense and bring plenty of fluids for their child, will they bring the right fluids?
Sports drinks are better than plain water. Plain water contains no carbohydrate or electrolytes, causes bloating and discourages further drinking. It also stimulates urine output and therefore is inefficiently retained.
And make sure your players drink to a schedule, say every 15 minutes, whether they feel thirsty or not – thirst is not an accurate indicator of fluid needs.
You should provide somewhere for your players to get out of the weather (hot sun or driving rain!) and rest between games so a gazebo or tent will be useful. If you don’t have one big enough to hold all your players, find a parent who has or hire one for the day.
Ensure parents bring sunscreen for the players and that it is applied every time they have a drinks break.
2. Know the rules!
Tournaments often play to non-standard rules. Slide tackling may be prohibited, goal kicks may be taken from the goal line, the ball might not be allowed to go over head height, etc. So make sure you check them and tell your players about them before the first game kicks off, not after!
3. Player preparation
A series of short, intense matches requires good player preparation.
Warm-ups should be brief, intense, and take place before every match (not just the first one) so that your players are prepared physically and mentally.
Aim to finish each warm up with a game of keepaway or Swedish Handball a few seconds before your players take the pitch.
b) Player rotation
Tournaments are an opportunity to give every player in your squad an equal share of playing time. You simply can’t play your “best” players in every game – it’s unfair on the players on the pitch (who will quickly become exhausted) and the players on the sidelines (who deserve to play, not watch).
As soon as I can, I get a copy of the tournament fixtures and write a team sheet for every match, making sure every player gets a fair share of playing time AND gets to start in at least one game.
4. Coping with finals
Your team has played well and you’re through to the final stages of the tournament. Your players are understandably excited and some are clearly nervous.
How are you going to help them play to their potential in the big match?
Seeing your way to success
For some years now, I have used a psychological technique called visualisation to help my players overcome nerves and play without fear, no matter how important the occasion.
Visualisation will not give a player technical skills that he or she didn’t have before but it will make them believe they can play well and help them relax.
You can use the technique with players as young as eight or nine but the older they are, the more effective this technique will be.
I have used it with U11s who were so nervous before a final that they were couldn’t sit still and U15s who were terrified of letting themselves down in a final against their biggest local rivals. On both occasions, my players took to the field eager to play but calm inside and they played some great football.
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