A weekend spent out of town bonding with teammates at a big hockey tournament. Is there anything better than that for young hockey players? But for every fun youth tournament, there are hours of preparation that go into making sure youngsters enjoy a hockey experience they won't soon forget.
"From the pros all the way down to a squirt team, there is a lot that goes into it. A coach or a manager has to coordinate all of it so that it happens correctly. It's a big responsibility," said Dick Bertrand, a head coach for over a decade at Cornell University before becoming director of the East Grand Rapids Amateur Hockey Association. "You have to set up how you're going to get there. You want to know where you are staying."
With a few helpful hints, that next youth hockey trip can be one the kids will remember for a long time.
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On the surface, a lot of youth hockey tournaments appear to come together seamlessly. But there are months of planning that preceded all those games. As youth tournaments start to get bigger, more and more planning is required. And tournaments are definitely getting bigger. Take the Bauer World Invite, which recently hosted dozens of teams and hundreds of boys and girls players in a series of games played in Detroit and Chicago.
Along with naming a final roster, coaches must confirm travel arrangements and accommodations quickly. With those crucial details taken care of, there's plenty more to account for, especially if you're dealing with a particularly young group of kids. Any activities you can organize for them between games will benefit the team in the long run by establishing chemistry while keeping the young ones busy.
"You have to keep them together. You can set up a tour someplace. If you're in Toronto, tour the Hall of Fame, go to the zoo. Just make things happen with them," Bertrand said. "Have them structured with getting out of bed or eating at a certain time. Have a meeting to get them ready for the game and tell them when you're going to the game."
Get parents involved
Obviously, not every parent will have time to contribute to the cause, but parents can prove invaluable in putting together a successful team road trip. Moms and dads can be incredibly helpful when it comes to the basic logistics, like assisting with travel, meals or even coaching. But there's so much more they can do.
"You get everyone together, which includes the parents in most cases. You just go over the itinerary and the planning," Bertrand said. "It's not just hop in a car and away you go. There's a lot of supervision that is required. Make it an experience that they may remember the rest of their lives."
Getting parents involved before, during and after these trips can help make weekend tournaments easier to navigate. If nothing else, they'll inject a family dynamic into the trip that will make it even more memorable.
It should be implied, but it never hurts to remind a team who they are representing when they travel. They're representing their team, their families, their town, maybe even their country. That means players carrying themselves -- no matter how young they may be -- with the right amount of courtesy.
If a team is staying in a hotel, they're expected to leave it as they found it. If they are staying with billets, then they should be gracious and kind guests. Whether they win or lose, they should project the utmost sportsmanship in their games. That attitude will enhance the overall experience and make it easier to form new long-lasting friendships.
"You're teaching them lessons. I always stress that with the coaches. There's other stuff that goes into play here," Bertrand said. "How they act at the hotel, how they act at the rink, in the dressing room, with the other coaches and players. Just sportsmanship. All of that comes into play."
Hockey being one of the ultimate team sports, there are few better opportunities to enjoy team bonding than a fun trip to a tournament or exhibition out of town. With proper planning and a good attitude, coaches and parents can save themselves plenty of headaches along the way -- and most importantly, make new memories for their kids.