Many teens play on club or select sports teams in addition to their high school squads. In sports like ice hockey, lacrosse, and soccer, teens who aspire to play in college pretty much play their main sport year-round. Many club and select teams lean hard on parent volunteers to help out with fund raising, supply snacks, and coordinating team travel.
In our case, this season we volunteers to coordinate tournament travel for the Princess’s club ice hockey team. So far, since September, we’ve been to upstate New York, Vermont and Toronto (twice!). If you are wondering why things have been a little quiet on the blog – work, school and the need to play travel agent for 20 teen hockey players probably explains it. In theory, getting the team from point A to point B and back again shouldn’t be so hard. Book a bus, a hotel, and a couple of meals and your done….well, not so fast. What about passports and permission to take teens outside the country? What about players from outside the US that want to visit us here? If you are based in Europe but want to join in on these kinds of tournaments and trips, getting the paperwork done is easy by getting a visum usa-ESTA conveniently online. FYI – ESTA means “Electronic System for Travel Authorization”.
Team travel planning requires attention to all sorts of details. Coaches have a lot on their plate and will generally appreciate a parent volunteer carrying the load when it comes to finding hotels, negotiating rates, booking buses, finding venues for group meals, preparing rooming lists, and keeping all the players and families up to date. If you have been recruited to organize your teen’s team travel take a deep breath and run through our checklist for success:
- Expect to communicate early and often with parents and teens. In a perfect world the teen player would get all the information and communicate with their parents, but, in the real world, parents can often be left out of the loop causing confusion and last minute chaos. As long as parents are paying the bills it is worth keeping them in the loop. Set up a group email list or web site to make sure everyone has the latest news.
- Get the big picture early. Meet with the coaching staff to develop a season long calendar for the team’s travel plans and notify families to hold time on their calendars. Double check against major school events – like mid-terms or finals or SATs and give families some warning if they may need to negotiate with the schools.
- Learn your organization’s internal administrative processes – make sure you are clear on how team payments get processed for fees, hotels, etc. Know who to ask for travel permits. Make sure players keep their paperwork up to date – medical profiles, passports, parent permission for international travel, consent forms for medical treatment, etc. Get it all organized early in the season.
- Pay attention to deadlines. Large tournaments typically have cut off dates for booking hotels, confirming participation and submitting rosters. Don’t get left out or end up at a hotel 45 minutes away from the event because your team missed a deadline.
- Set the team travel ground rules up front - is the team traveling with or without parents? Do players stay in hotel rooms with parents or with assigned roommates? How much supervision is needed at hotels, meals, etc. and who is providing it? What costs are included in team fees and what are on your own? What are the expectations in terms of behavior, homework, going off on your own. Can parents take their kid away from the team during breaks — maybe to visit a nearby college — or is the teen’s time 100% committed to team activities? What happens if kids are late.. do they lose playing time? Make sure the coach reviews these expectations with the parents early in the season to avoid mis-understandings.
- Be clear about out of pocket costs. Some teams include significant travel expenses in the annual fees while others collect money individually for each trip, and still others expect families to pay their own travel expenses as they go. Last minute financial surprises can be very difficult for some families to manage so be clear about what costs will be and when fees need to be paid. If your role of tournament coordinator includes collecting money, have an organized system in place before the checks show up.
- Let parents know their roles on the road - this can be tricky. Some helicopter parents will want to get way too involved to the point where they want to approve their teen’s roommate assignment and have family dinners with their teen during tournaments. Others would just as soon stay home. Most are happy to follow the coaching staff’s lead but it helps to be clear. Expectations can vary widely depending on the age of the players and the level of the tournament. A recreation team’s annual out of town tournament will be run a lot differently than a Tier I team heading off to Nationals.
- Set deadlines and late fees for travel commitments. While the expectation is that all team members attend all tournaments, sometimes family commitments, school or health issues can get in the way. With the exception of illness, be clear on when team members need to confirm their participation and also be clear on fines or fees if they are late. Not only does it cause problems for the team to have missing players, but, it can cost the program money if hotel rooms are not filled or pre-booked meals are not eaten.
- For each trip publish an hour by hour schedule - this may sound extreme but believe me, trying to figure out when hungry teens eat, sleep, do homework, get on the bus, etc. is critical. Bus drivers need detailed schedules and the players and coaches need to arrive at the right place at the right time. We send out a detailed schedule once the tournament game times are set and expect players to have a copy available during the trip. Then, every time players get off the bus we announce the next step in the program including when and where they are expected to be next. We have a strict coach and kids get benched if they are late.
- Keep in close touch with the Coach. Despite your best efforts plan for last minute changes. Have team emails and cell phone numbers organized and accessible. Know how to reach every hotel and event location. When plans change on the fly, be ready to move quickly to re-arrange plans – particularly on the road.
Parent travel coordinators are the unsung heros of successful tournament teams. Stay organized, keep the lines of communication open with players, coaches, event directors and parents. Most of all, maintain your sense of humor. Your teens will be off to college before you know it so enjoy your time with them and their sports friends on the road!