Category Archives: Tournaments

Starting a youth soccer tournament

So, you think you want to run a soccer tournament.

Why?

It’s not a flippant question, but one that needs to be answered before you do one more thing on your event. If your answer is “because everyone else is doing it,” stop, click away and pursue other hobbies. Without a clear purpose for your event, you will fail.

Ok, now that we have all the hobbyists and dreamers out of the room, let’s get down to the serous business of putting together and running a successful soccer tournament event.

The first thing you should know and never forget is a very controversial position. You must remember this always and never be swayed from this one simple, but hard to defend fact. If you lose this focus, you will fail.

Ready?

A soccer tournament is not about soccer competition; it is an entertainment event centered around soccer.


Teams and clubs play soccer in their leagues and schools. Their league standings determine how successfully they will be ranked, whether or not they will advance within their state cups, etc. Sure, there are a few soccer tournaments that are about soccer and rankings and points, but they are run by the US Soccer organizations, not by clubs. Your soccer tournament event is not one of them and won’t be. Points don’t matter.

Have you been scared off yet?

Good. Let’s keep going.

Now that we have accepted a soccer tournament is an event, let’s back up to our first question; why are you producing a soccer tournament?

Now that we have established that your soccer tournament is an event, your why should be aligned with event production thinking. Some reasons for holding an event are:

  • A fundraiser for our club, league, community or cause.
  • To promote the club brand within the larger soccer community.
  • To provide a fun, family-friendly event that promotes the local community.
  • To provide a pre or post-season event for teams to prepare for an upcoming season or wind down from a season.
  • To provide a venue where higher caliber teams can compete to prepare for tournament play in their state cups.
  • To provide a venue where less competitive teams can compete in a soccer tournament format.

Each of these is a good reason to produce a soccer tournament.

Your reason may even be several of these intertwined. The important part is that you understand why you are producing your event and who your ideal guest teams are. It will drive everything you do.

But don’t be inflexible. Things change. Your club mission may change; the soccer marketplace may change, your community might change. Change is good, but purposeful change is better. Always, remember that your soccer tournament is an event, though.

One more important point to remember:
A soccer tournament is a business.

While you may be holding it to raise money for your club, need volunteers to help run it and your mission may be to advance the sport of soccer in your community, it is a business. Venders and suppliers of goods and services need to be paid. Contracts need to be signed, you need insurance and teams need customer service. Someone in your organization will be held responsible for commitments and this should not be taken lightly.

Marketing your event will be hard work. A couple decades ago, you could call a few coaches, get some teams together for a weekend and run a pretty good tournament event. Today, your competition is sophisticated. They have been marketing themselves offline and online for longer. They have traction and a long tail. Moreover, they have built trust within the soccer community. Marketing will be your biggest challenge and is no longer something you can do on a few nights and Sunday afternoon. Thanks to the internet, your soccer tournament is now a 365/24/7 event that never sleeps and never takes a winter break.

Your competition may not even be another soccer tournament. Attending a soccer tournament usually absorbs a family’s time for an entire weekend. Your competition may be other sports, festivals or simply “do nothing” time. If there is enough push from the parents, a coach will not sign up her team regardless of how great your event is. Always size up your competition, both inside and outside of soccer.

Ok. I think we’re ready to get started.

Congratulations on your soccer tournament. We wish you many years of success.

PHOTO CREDIT: Michael Blackwell, 2019 DaytonStrong 3v3, Dayton, Ohio

The most asked questions of a soccer tournament

The most asked questions of a soccer tournament right now by coaches and parents are:

Are you planning on having a 2022 tournament?

Is there a website?

When is registration open?

Our advice:
Decide. Have answers. Nothing kills off a great marketing plan by saying, “we don’t know.” Because if you don’t know, the teams asking are going elsewhere.

Selling a soccer tournament during a pandemic

Selling a soccer tournament during a pandemic

How do you sell a soccer tournament during a pandemic? The short answer is; you don’t.

Instead, you pivot to marketing your event for next year. Everyone is now on the same level playing field, all of your competitors have the same market conditions under which to attract teams. Nobody has any particular advantage, points don’t matter, especially if everyone was required to cancel last year.

Teams have short memories. They will remember their experience from last year, but their experience from two years ago will be a foggy memory, if they remember you at all. When they don’t even have a memory of last year, you have a marketing problem.

Or an opportunity. The choice is yours.

Think first year
First year events are a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they don’t have a history to point to. Research shows the number one reason a team or club applies to your soccer tournament event is they had a good experience the last time. But you don’t have this. You had to skip a year.

The good thing, though, is you don’t have to live with your history. You can change things about your event that maybe you’ve been wanting to do for a while, but your history has been holding you back. Do it now!

You also have the experience first year soccer tournament events lack. Leverage your experience by becoming your own mentor you would have liked for your first-year running a tournament.

Think smaller
Soccer tournaments for next year will be smaller. Teams will not be attending as many events, so they will be pickier about who they choose. This doesn’t mean giving discounts or running giveaways or contests, but it does mean you will need to think about things you have done or marketing messages based on size and scale. You may also not have volume discounts with vendors and providers you enjoyed in the past.

If you are a large, sprawling event, think about if that is a good strategy for your event going forward. Ask yourself, “is the size of my soccer tournament event the reason teams apply?” It well may be, in that case, you will need to market to the reality of a smaller event next year, with the promise of a larger one as we move past this pandemic.

Think local
Many teams will be restricting travel for next year, maybe even the year after. Because the United States does not have a consistent pandemic response for every state, each state has developed their own rules, some backed by laws and executive orders, others by the US Soccer associations sanctioning policies and most with the combination of all of the above. Because it is confusing for teams, many clubs are simply mandating their teams play in local events through next year.

If you were always a soccer tournament event for local teams, you have an advantage. You know how to do this and you should be leveraging hard. You also have a problem with other tournaments who may have relied on out-of-state teams now marketing to local teams. Get in there first; don’t assume local teams are loyal. Again, teams have short memories and some don’t remember you.

Our advice:
This coronavirus pandemic has turned the soccer world on its head, most affecting the viability of your soccer tournament event. Training has begun, league play will follow if it hasn’t already but tournament events will be the last soccer format to get up and running, taking several years to become robust again. If you relied on your tournament to raise much-needed funds for your club, you need to get tournaments healthy again.

Hire a marketing firm to assess your event, position you within the tournament and soccer space and execute your marketing strategy well, including developing out your social media, other traditional media and email marketing. Now is not the time to bargain-hunt; you need someone who understands the soccer tournament landscape and has a proven marketing record.

Make sure your website is current and spot on updated with everything. No marketing program is going to work if you are not operationally ready and buttoned up. Make sure you are ready to take applications for your soccer tournament and have a clear cancellation policy in place. This year came up fast and took everyone by surprise; next year can be planned. A lack of a clear direction for next year will be read by teams as a disorganized event they will avoid. Don’t give them a reason to pass you up.

That’s pretty much it. Think first-year, think smaller, think local.

And wash your hands, wear a mask, keep your distance and stay safe so we can all get through this together. We’d hate to lose even one soccer player, their fans and supporters to this pandemic.

Carol Maas and Michael Blackwell standing in front of the Hank and Carol Maas Warrior Soccer Complex in Dayton Ohio

Carol Maas

It is with great sadness we learned of Carol’s passing last night. Without her vision and passion for the sport of soccer and her tournament — the adidas Warrior Soccer Classic — it is no small thing to know that TourneyCentral would have had a rockier start and might not even exist today.

Carol took a risk on a crazy idea from two soccer fans twenty-one years ago, in whom her faith and trust never wavered. In return, we learned from her what true community investment meant and saw how many lives she touched. From a simple idea of creating a soccer tournament to a sprawling complex, witnessing her faith in the potential of others was humbling and breathtaking. I was lucky she gave me a front-row seat into her world and embraced me as a friend. I shall treasure having known her the rest of my life.

My heart goes out to Hank and her family in their hour of grief. Her legacy will always and forever be felt with every whistle blown, every medal won, every touch of a ball.

Rest In Peace, Carol; you will be deeply missed.

—–
Carol really hated it when I took her photo, but I did anyway on occasion, even as I knew she would yell at me. In the photo above, she is standing with Michael Blackwell who, because of her, was able to bring out the life of her tournaments in photos that have been shared and treasured immeasurably by thousands of players and their families.

soccer ball with medical mask

It only takes one

It only takes one player with courage to make a difference and affect change.

It only takes one player to stand up and do the right thing. I’m not talking about the first one to do something, like insisting on wearing a mask at all times — even on the pitch — during a pandemic. That player was born with courage; she is always going to do the right thing no matter what. To attempt to coach this quality out of her is pointless.

I’m talking about the second player to support her. I’m talking about the second player to stand up, face her and put on a mask.

Being that second takes an incredible amount of courage.

Soccer is a team sport and requires all its team members to pull together in the same direction. Inevitably, the question of dissent creeps into this argument by way of questioning a player’s “coachability.” Is a player who defiantly takes a stand “coachable?” Surely not, most coaches would say.

But they would be wrong. When a player takes a stand that is the moral and ethical thing to do, one that is supported by science and data, what right does the coach have to suppress that?

She doesn’t. In fact, she has a duty to stand up and be that third person to support her player.

A great coach draws good qualities out from her players, supports and nurtures them. A great coach recognizes that she is not the true leader of her team, but the players who are instilled with bravery and fearlessness, who charge onto a pitch that contains the unknown and untested — armed only with the confidence in their convictions and skills — are the true leaders.

Treasure those players. Support them and they will support each other.

Have the courage to be that third.

There’s a global pandemic raging right now. Take care of yourself and others as you seek to safely play this game we all love. Wear a mask, wash your hands often, practice safe distance by playing the ball and not the player. Be safe and we will all get through this together. The game will go on; make sure you are a part of it.