August 16, 2011

YouthCollegeAdultProHigh SchoolEditorial

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A few ideas to make your soccer tournament a better experience for everyone

29 Nov, 2010

By Joe Dougherty

The final outdoor youth soccer tournaments of the year are pretty much behind us, with the spring tournaments in March just a few months away. Directors of spring tournaments are already busy lining up fields, pitching their events to teams and coordinating volunteers from their clubs.

Having coached or played in more tournaments than I can remember, dating back to my first year in travel soccer in 1974 (yikes, I’m old!) – and having served as director of a 380-team tournament myself – allow me this opportunity to make some suggestions to tournament officials as they prepare for the 2011 season.

Tournament field marshals
The more, the better. And make sure they’re prepared! There is nothing more aggravating for a visiting team than to show up at a multi-field location and not know which field is which, if there are bathrooms nearby, etc. Hosting a couple of meetings specifically for field marshals will help eliminate the “I don’t know, I just showed up” answer that many field marshals often give tournament visitors.

Treat guests like, well, guests! Asking a visiting team to do any tournament chores is unacceptable. The most common is to have a visiting team complete and turn in a game report card, complete with the referee’s signature and the signatures of the coaches. This is the responsibility of the host club and its teams, not the visiting clubs. Visiting teams are paying to play in the tournament. After cutting a check, they should do nothing else except show up and play.

Prepare the trophy presenter
It’s a big deal when a team advances to a tournament championship. And for those teams that make it that far, the last impression they leave with is the trophy presentation. What the host presenter says matters! It’s a tremendous opportunity to thank the teams for choosing their tournament over others, to thank sponsors and referees, and to invite the teams back the following year (if they got to the final, they have to be pretty good).

Preparing a generic script for the trophy presenter is a great idea to help make the presentation go smoothly and appear professional. And tournament directors should have someone with an outgoing personality present the awards. They need to act like they care.

Don’t go cheap on the awards
A cheap award is just that – cheap. The parents know it, the coaches know it, and I guarantee you the players know it. Flimsy medals and tiny paper weights don’t cut it, and it sends the message that you’re in it for the money. You want every player to go home, put a huge trophy on their desk or shelf, and say, “I want to go back and win another!

Provide game balls
I think it’s simply outrageous for a visiting team to have to provide a game ball for a tournament. Get a sponsor to provide the game balls, make your host teams keep track of them, then allow them to keep the balls afterward. Get quality game balls, and you’ll be assured games won’t be played with duds.

Assign referees correctly
If you can’t tell the center referee’s age from the players on the field, you’ve done something wrong. Soccer is a physical game, and over the years that physical play has expanded to younger ages. A 15-year-old center on a U-13 game is asking for trouble. And if you’re making these assignments because of a shortage of referees, then shrink your tournament.

Don’t reduce quality for quantity. Players will push the envelope if the referee allows it. A young referee out of his or her depth is a recipe for trouble.

Update the web site often
The Internet and email was non-existent during my tournament director days. We had to rely on land line phones, or donated brick-sized portable phones with batteries that lasted half a morning.

The tournament web site is an ideal communications tool, and should be used as such. Update it regularly during the year, and daily when you’re a few weeks out. Make it a resource parents and coaches can’t live without. And be sure to update the scores, field changes and time changes as quickly as possible.

Be flexible
Don’t be afraid to make adjustments during the tournament. Being rigid can be harmful. One example: It makes no sense to have a tournament championship on a lesser field when a consolation game is taking place on a better field 20 yards away. The finalists deserve the best field possible, so allow the field marshals to use their judgment to make the switch.

Pick good help, give them decision-making power, and back them up It’s tempting for a tournament director to want to make every decision. But that’s just not feasible, and it leads to burn-out. It’s better to pick good people, be clear in your goals and expectations, make sure they understand them, then give them the power to make decisions at the field level.

And be sure to back them up! Nothing will deplete your pool of volunteers more than to throw them under the bus when they’ve made a touch decision. If they’re not sure what to do in a specific situation – such as interpreting a tie-breaking rule – make sure they know they can call you. Otherwise, if they feel they can handle it, let them. Giving volunteers decision-making powers gives them pride in their work. They’re volunteering because they care, and they want to do the right thing. Give them the opportunity to do just that.

These are just a few suggestions for tournament directors as they get ready for their 2011 events. I hope you find them useful.


Joe Dougherty is a long-time player, coach and soccer columnist in Northern Virginia. He played his rec and travel soccer with Braddock Road Youth Club, where he also coached and served as tournament director. Joe also coached with McLean Soccer Club, Great Falls Soccer Club, VISTA and VSA. He currently coaches the Arlington Chaos U11 girls teams. Joe has written frequently about soccer in The Connections Newspapers and Journal Newspapers, and is excited to be a member of the National and Potomac Soccer Wire team. He lives in Haymarket with his wife and three kids, two of which play travel soccer with VSA. The third is a budding gymnast aiming to follow in Paul Hamm’s footsteps. Joe has a USSF “C” license and holds the NSCAA National Diploma. Joe can be reached at

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