So your team is considering an out-of-town tournament? Your first reaction is: “What a great experience this will be.” That is, until reality sets in about the amount of time, money and effort required to make a travel tournament happen.
Too often, improper planning and unrealistic expectations can leave teams with stressed-out parents, worn-out players, and disappointment all around. There are easy solutions that can keep travel tournaments from becoming back (or bank) breaking labor.
In all aspects of the tournament, the key words to remember are foresight and flexibility. Too little planning can result in chaos and paying exorbitant prices. Getting too set on a schedule, on the other hand, can lead to disaster when plans change.
There are three main methods of tournament travel — bus, plane, and carpool — and each have its advantages and pitfalls.
For airlines, it is important to book flights at least 45 days in advance to get the best rates and ensure that the group can travel together.
Using an experienced travel agent can save both hassle and expense. A lower-cost option is to have each family book flights independently, with arrivals in a two- or three-hour window. This is the easiest method when there are less than 45 days to plan the trip and it allows families to take advantage of Internet specials and frequent flier programs.
When the team travels by bus, find out whether it is cheaper to hire the bus for the entire tournament or for two one-way trips. This will depend on the company, the distance traveled, and the length of the event. If the bus is providing one-way transportation, make sure that there are sufficient cars driving out to accommodate all the players and their gear on the way to and from the rink. Purchasing communal food for the bus is less expensive than buying it at a rest area, and movies are always a hit.
On carpool trips, look to save space (and gas money) by using rooftop carriers for the hockey gear. Work out a schedule in advance that assigns people to specific cars. This way, there is no confusion on the day of travel. Sometimes it can be fun to designate “kid cars” and “parent cars” so that each group gets to ride with friends and enjoy the road trip experience. Parents can take turns driving the kid cars.
When it comes to hotel stays, cheap rates can end up costing your team in the long run. Certain hotel features may cost more initially, but will pay for themselves in money and sanity saved.
When the tournament offers a choice in hotels, look for places with indoor pools and breakfast buffets. The pool helps everyone to relax, entertains younger siblings and cuts down on outside entertainment costs. The buffet makes hectic mornings infinitely less chaotic and ensures that players will eat at least one complete meal each day.
Another extra worth paying for (although with a large group, it can often be negotiated for free) is an additional “community” room. This creates a space where the group can meet, eat and watch movies without being hindered by mountains of gear.
Parents can save money by bringing coolers of food and drink and storing them in the community room for team meals. After the players nod off, parents can enjoy one another’s company in the community room without disturbing younger children or coaches.
In the case of high school-aged players, some parents may want to stay in another hotel entirely, which can offer better rates and a quieter atmosphere.
At the rink, it is important to consider the non-hockey children traveling with the group. Bring toys and crafts, as well as plenty of warm clothes. When the younger children are happy, both parents and players can focus on the game.
In the stands, remember that parents not only represent their community, they set an example for the kids. Stay positive towards the team, opponents, and officials. The players will find their time on the ice much more rewarding. Also encourage the team to make a good impression by leaving behind a clean locker room.
Playing Away From There
The number one mistake made by many parents is to over-schedule their team’s free time. The kids need options, but not obligations. It is important to remember that the players are tired. They also provide constant entertainment to one another by simply “hanging out” at the hotel.
That said, a few additional activities can enrich a team’s tournament experience. Team meals can be fun, with buffets and pizza parlors typically providing the best options. These restaurants offer inexpensive group prices and allow the kids to eat quickly and comfortably.
As for other activities, designate a parent to call ahead to the Chamber of Commerce to find out about the area. Most towns have malls and movie theaters, but some places also have interesting museums, historic sites and indoor amusements like rides or mini golf. Tourism bureaus and hotel clerks can supply coupons for these attractions.
For older players, travel tournaments provide opportunities to explore institutes of higher learning. The team can arrange to tour a campus in the area or catch a college hockey game. Individually, parents and players can set up an official visit and stay an extra day after the tournament for information sessions or interviews.
Lastly, remember to share the fun with those members of the hockey family who are unable to attend the tournament. Designate a Web-savvy parent to send out an e-mail update each evening with a summary of the day’s games and activities.
After all, with proper planning and a positive attitude, each travel tournament should have plenty of good stuff to share.