- If possible – get there early to acclimate to time and environmental changes
- Discuss goals and schedules with parents
- Discuss goals and schedules with the team
- Set a curfew and a sleep schedule
- Determine what foods are acceptable or not acceptable and set a meal schedule
- Ice baths are great for recovery
- Talk to other coaches to understand their plans
Out of town tournaments can be a tricky situation for coaches who all want to balance the need for players to enjoy a different experience with making sure they are physically and emotionally prepared to play in a different atmosphere. US Youth Soccer sat down with Tom Lips, head coach of 2013 US Youth Soccer National Champions, Smithtown Kickers SC Arsenal (E-NY), to outline his strategy when his team travels to tournaments.
Lips first mentioned his team’s change in their out of town approach in a 2014 National Championships program story, where he explained the difference between his team’s winless effort in their first trip to nationals in 2011 and their 2013 championship run could be chalked-up to a stark alteration of his team’s preparation among other things.
“We went to Phoenix in 2011 and got there a day before games started, and we really didn’t factor in the altitude, time change and temperature,” Lips said. “After that tournament we had a communication meeting with parents where we decided we had to get to these tournaments at least two days before if financially, and more importantly academically possible.”
Lips outlines a multitude of benefits to arriving at the tournament two days in advance, with one of the key advantages being it allows players to get acclimated to their surroundings.
“First off it helps get them on the right sleep schedule. With all of the technology there are a lot of distractions so trying to get them on the right sleep schedule a week in advance is ideal, but definitely once they get to the tournament,” Lips said. “Once the schedule comes out we also start to train at the times we will be playing our matches to help prepare for the conditions.”
Lips implemented a curfew for his players the year they won the National Championships, and he stressed that this can only work if his players bought in to what they were doing. Lips required everyone to be in their room by 8 p.m. and for everyone to be asleep by 10 p.m.
“When working with older kids the bull and whip attitude isn’t the greatest attitude, and you have to find certain moments, and one of those moments was after our first trip to nationals where we realized a lot had to change,” Lips said. “The players were definitely drinking the Kool-Aid and the curfew wasn’t a problem. I also stressed taking ice baths immediately after the games and also at night. I could tell they were doing it too because you would walk down the hallway and hear the machines in every room.”
As far as eating habits are concerned, Lips emphasizes that he doesn’t allow soda because all it is doing is poisoning his players’ bodies. He also prioritizes having a team breakfast no matter when the game is scheduled.
“We always have a team breakfast to keep food cycle the same,” Lips said. “The important thing is for players to move as little as possible and be relaxed before each game.”
As far as his advice on how other coaches implement similar exercises within their team, Lips recommends reaching out to other coaches and peers.
“Don’t be afraid to ask someone else. There is so much accessible information out there in every fashion, and you get further ahead quicker by learning from others than learning from your own mistakes,” Lips said. “If I had done that then our first trip might have had a different outcome because information like this can make all of the difference.”
Lips explains that all teams are different, and what worked for him might not work perfectly for another coach, but it is important to learn from those who have had prior success.
“You have to leave your environment and go to another in order to get better at what you are doing, and that can be applied to all things and not just soccer,” Lips said. “Ultimately we are helping to prepare these players as they move on to bigger and better things.”