Hitting the road for an out-of-town tournament can be a rite of passage for any young Minnesota hockey player. Some of the bonds that are created during these short trips – with friends, coaches and parents – can last a lifetime.
Fortunately, the community-based model in Minnesota does not require a lot of travel, which helps keep costs down for families and builds cross-town and neighboring rivalries. But for one or two weekends of the season, many teams schedule an out-of-town tourney that everyone looks forward to.
From the pre-trip anticipation, to the hours in the car, to knee hockey in the hotel, eating meals together as a team and, of course, the competition, few experiences in sports deliver the memories of tournament travel.
But it’s not always fun and games. If planning is lax or communication poor, a whole mess of issues can arise, making the experience one to remember for all the wrong reasons. So coaches, team managers – and parents who might offer a helping hand – need to be buttoned-up and have a playbook for pre-, during- and post-trip to ensure a great experience for all involved.
A Road Map
Any winning team needs a winning strategy, and this is also true when it comes to tournament travel. Make sure there is someone – or multiple people – organizing the trip. Securing a hotel room block make a huge difference for families. If you can get a couple of pool-side rooms and a meeting room for team meals (or to dry out equipment!), now you’re really onto something.
“A lot goes into getting ready to ‘head out,’” said Brandon Ruiter, former Buffalo Youth Hockey Association coach and board member. “[For example], what items are you going to need to keep kids entertained on longer trips, verifying your hotel rooms will be ready, knowing how to get to the hotel and the rink and your game schedule.”
Make sure directions to the hotel and rink, along with contact information and schedules are disseminated to all parents. Encourage everyone to plan ahead with food, snacks and beverages. A little spending cash is often a good idea as well, although it’s not a necessity, as many tournaments offer fun memorabilia that kids love.
“The drive is fun,” Ruiter added. “Kids are pumped, the parents are ready. [There is] maybe a little stressing, wondering what you forgot at home. … Mostly it’s a time for bonding and having fun.”
Ready to Play
The camaraderie that develops among teammates when on the road can be profound. Coming together, improving skills or even winning tournaments on the ice can be among the most memorable times in a hockey player’s career, although many former players will tell you they don’t even remember any of the games or results of the tournaments.
Away from the rink, every team has its own way of making the most of the travel occasion and filling its itinerary with fun activities. Potluck dinners (with the Wild or a college game on TV, of course), pin trading, scavenger hunts, bowling, swimming and massive hallway knee hockey exhibitions are all time-honored tournament pastimes. Of course, setting some easy-to-grasp boundaries up front is key.
Set some rules on what is expected of the kids, parents and coaching staff so that everyone is on the same page. Different coaches have different rules, especially when it comes to pool time.
“One golden rule, you represent our association,” said Ruiter. “Don’t get too rowdy at the hotel or arena. We always had a curfew, and kids needed to be in their rooms resting between games and at the end of the night.”
End of the Road
When the last game is played and the hotels are cleared, it’s time to hit the highway back home. For many families, this is a time to reflect – on the fun, the hockey and the overall experience. If all has gone as planned, every player, parent and coach will return with positive feelings and a tighter bond as a team.
“We have always referred to the away tournaments as ‘making memories,’ little moments of togetherness, almost like a family,” said Ruiter. “Most kids look at it as a fun weekend, doing things you won’t typically do at home. There just happen to be a couple of games in there. The key is to have fun no matter the outcome and just enjoy the time.”