Tournaments often represent the pinnacle of amateur sport, providing an opportunity for players to test their skills against others and hopefully even win medals and trophies. Even if your team participates in a league, there’s often something special about the shorter format, especially when the whole thing takes place over the course of a single day or a short tour.
Naturally, when you turn up to a tournament, you want to put on the best showing possible. No matter your expectations and whether you have any realistic chance of winning, it makes sense to perform to the best of your abilities, and you stand a great chance of coming out on top with these 10 tips.
1. Confirm Player Availability Well in Advance
You probably have teamsheets and tactics at the forefront of your mind leading up to a tournament. However, all your thoughts and efforts could potentially go to waste if a crucial striker isn’t available. Generally, the shorter the competition, the more likely your first choice XI will make it. Once you get into the realms of going on tour or tournaments that take place over a number of weeks, you might have to contend with absences. It’s the nature of the amateur game – without the high salaries of professional players, it’s a lot easier to find something more important to do. Check who can make it and build your plans around them.
2. Have a Contingency Plan
No matter which players confirm, injuries can happen, and arrangements will change. The fact is, you probably won’t know which players you have available until you’re about to take the field. A good coach has several approaches in mind, and there’s nothing like the tournament format to demonstrate your tactical nous and flexibility. Tactics are criminally overlooked in the amateur game, and a willingness to adapt to circumstances can make all the difference to your team’s performance.
3. Choose Tournaments According to Skill Level
Whether you coach kids, adults or a mix of both, there will be some tournaments that are simply beyond their level. There’s nothing wrong with a good challenge, but repeatedly entering competitions in which your players have no hope of success can damage confidence and potentially see them leaving the team for greener pastures.
Consult other coaches that have played before and enter online and group dialogue with local players to establish what you can expect from each tournament you enter, ideally before you turn up to play.
4. Promote Communication and Attention to Detail
Sadly, fully kitted-out team buses are few and far between in the amateur game, and most players will make their own way to the tournament unless it’s a particularly long distance away. The last thing you need is for your star player to head to the wrong venue or get stuck in traffic, so take every step you can to ensure prompt attendance. Give players clear directions and locations – or parents in the case of youth teams – and ensure you have contact numbers for everyone in the squad list.
5. Train for Conditions
You won’t find yourself entering many tournaments on the day, so you’ll often have at least a handful of training sessions for specific practice. The playing surface, nature of the opposition and even the weather forecast can play a part in your preparations, and if you can get your players accustomed to tournament conditions, they’re far more likely to adapt and perform well when it matters.
6. Strategise for Going All the Way
If the entire tournament takes place on one day, that could mean playing a lot of games. You’ll have to think like a professional manager with plenty of different competitions to contend with and rotate your squad. Sure, you may have eleven players or however many you need for a first-team that are head and shoulders above the rest of the squad. However, there’s no point tiring them out to push for a spot in the final if they’re out on their feet when it matters.
7. Scout the Opposition
Knowledge is power, as they say, and if you have the opportunity to watch potential opponents play, you should take it. This could be during the tournament or even beforehand. If you clash with another participant in a league or another competition, pay special attention to how they set up and play. As we’ve already mentioned, tactical acumen is underrated at the amateur level, so coming up with something to neutralise the opponent can be as good as an extra goal on the scoresheet.
8. If in Doubt, Go on the Attack
If you know nothing about your opposition or you’re short on ideas, we’d say that it’s always better to attack than defend. Even if there’s a gulf in class between the two sides, an early goal can settle nerves and give your side something to build on. Conversely, adopting a defensive approach invites pressure and sees your team using more energy than the opposition early in the game, and they can receive the same benefits of an early goal as you can.
9. Make the Most of Breaks Between Games
Tournaments don’t involve playing game after game without breaks, but you can do more than encourage your players to take on fluids. As the coach, you should try to ensure you bring some energy-packed snacks for those that haven’t bothered, and you can also take this time to create a dialogue with your team. Not everyone performs the same on different days, so see what they think, how they’re feeling and if they’re struggling – and call on that adaptability we discussed previously.
10. Don’t Take it Too Seriously
Unless you’re reading this feature in preparation for the Champions League final, there’s probably nothing more than pride and a trophy at stake. Tensions can run high on the field at any level, so make the most of your leadership role and do what you can to encourage your players to enjoy themselves, win or lose.