white wins the ballAs the fall season approaches, I’ve been talking with my assistant coaches about what events we should think about taking our team to this year. They say the best learning environment is playing in matches, so we try to provide additional playing opportunities for our team while also providing them with a fun weekend where they can gel and bond as a group. We attended six tournaments last year, which may seem like a lot, but most were local and the girls and their families had a really good time attending them (OK, the epic sandstorm probably wasn’t memorable in a good way) The goal is to provide them with more playing opportunities without spending a ton on travel.

Faced with a sizable list of possibilities, we found ourselves putting a significant amount of thought into which event we would attend for our first tournament this season. For those of you that haven’t attended a tournament, this might shed some light on what is involved when choosing one.

Things we took into account included:

  • Cost, which is more than just registration fees:
    • Registration Fees (vary between $200 and $500 per team)
    • Travel costs (we usually play in local events that can be driven to each day, but gasoline is still expensive – so distance to the venue was important)
    • Player insurance fees if tournament was not USYSA sanctioned (we aren’t carded with US Club yet)
    • Do they require you book hotel rooms through their travel agent if you need to stay overnight
  • Quality of fields – there’s no point spending hundreds of dollars to play matches on substandard fields
  • Tournament structure and rules
  • Expected level/quality of teams attending
  • Expected teams (i.e. will it be mostly teams we’ve played before)
  • Date of event (player conflicts, proximity to start of regular season, etc.)
  • Experiences of other league teams that had attended a given tournament
  • Minimum number of games (usually three, but can vary)

Living where we do, near multiple metropolitan leagues with sizable facilities, we have a number of quality tournaments to choose from within an hour or so drive. So we found that we still had a number of choices that met our criteria. Not wanting to just throw darts, we got to talking about the ‘level’ of some of the tournaments. Most tournaments in NC have separate brackets for Recreation, Challenge, and Classic teams, but one has done things a little differently. Initially a ‘Classic only’ tournament, the Twin City Classic added a Challenge bracket last year. This year, however, it was unclear if they would have separate brackets or not. It turns out they may and they may not. You can ask to be put in a 1st/2nd Div Classic Bracket, a 2nd Div Classic/Challenge bracket, or a Challenge only bracket. This is just a request – based on what teams sign up, you may get it another bracket anyway. Our team is currently a Challenge team.

The idea of playing some higher level teams intrigued us. We haven’t exactly torn up any Challenge tournaments we’ve attended, but we’ve done alright, making semi-finals a few times and then missing the finals by a point. We always seem to play a notch down at tournaments compared to our regular season matches. But we also want the girls to have a goal, and many tell us they want to ‘play Classic’ someday, the highest level of soccer in North Carolina. So after much discussion, we decided to go to the Twin City Classic, and request the mid level bracket – 2nd Div Classic/Challenge.

The idea was that by potentially facing some 2nd division Classic teams, it would help the girl’s confidence. Now it’s often said that on any given day the top X Challenge teams can beat the bottom X Div 2 Classic teams, but that’s not the point. We wanted to setup some unexpected motivation for the team. As far as the girls know, we’re attending a tournament where we might face a Classic team. But we won’t tell them who it is if we do or if we play more than one. We just want them to play and afterward use it to hopefully build some confidence. Consider the outcomes if we play one or more Classic teams and we:

  1. WIN A MATCH: It’ll be a huge mental confidence boost for them, even if we beat the worst Classic team there is because of that magical term ‘Classic’. Seems silly, but that’s how it is. By beating a Classic team, they’ll hopefully realize they can play at that level (yes, we’ll have to manage expectations in this case) and play with additional confidence.
  2. LOSE A CLOSE MATCH: If they play tough and hang with a Classic opponent, it’ll take some of the mystique away from ‘Classic’ and show the girls they can play with teams at that level, even if they didn’t win.
  3. LOSE BADLY: It’s never fun to get pounded, but if they go out and lose by a handful of goals, it’ll help them understand the level they need to reach if they want to play Classic some day.

Obviously situation #3 is the potentially dangerous part, but they’ve lost big before and rebounded fine. This will just help them set some context and give them something to shoot for.

So it may seem crazy to put this much thought into selecting a tournament, but I view tournaments as so much more than a chance to play and win a trophy. That part is meaningless to me. They can be fantastic learning environments with lots of coachable moments and fun times for the players. By attending tournaments last season, we were able to play twice as many matches than we would have just playing our regular season. I think this helped the girls improve as players as they got more ball touches in ‘game situations’. Now we’re hoping that attending a tournament with mostly Classic teams attending will help boost our girls confidence some, win, lose, or draw. I’ll let you know how it goes.

As an aside, take a closer look at the picture included above. When I saw it on Flickr, I couldn’t wait to use it in a blog post. Look at the position of the white player’s foot as she fights to gain posession of the ball. Very impressive.