Design, plan and deliver a soccer tournament: my ultimate guide
There are lots of great reasons to host a soccer tournament.
They’re a great way to grow your club. Recruiting new members or volunteers? A tournament is the perfect shop front.
They are also a way to raise extra funds. And you’ll have a good reason to engage with local businesses and organisations too, opening the door to opportunities and sponsorship.
Running a tournament is rewarding and enjoyable, but it’s also quite a bit of work. So, let’s get to it!
Step 1: Do your research
Research is the foundation of a good tournament. Especially if this is your first event, the groundwork you lay now is the key to success.
Who will play? Which teams are your target audience? What age will the players be? Are they able to attend on their own?
Think about your community. Do you have socially deprived areas? How might that affect your decision-making? What about your local schools, youth clubs and community spaces? Will you work with them, and if so, how?
Who will help? Where will you find your event staff and match officials? If you haven’t got a ready-made team, it’s important to consider how you’ll find your volunteers.
Will you work with partners? Other organisations can contribute their resources, contacts and ideas. But what will their role be? Is it a joint event? Think carefully about what’s right for your tournament before reaching out.
What is your tournament’s match format? Are there prizes or gifts to be given out to people? Will teams pay to enter? Answering these questions will help you create a clear promotional message.
Where will your budget come from? And are you in control of it?
Where will you play? Which local facilities are large enough? And which have extra benefits?
Consider the accessibility of each location. Depending on your community, it might be essential to have public transport connections. What is the disabled access like?
When will you hold it? Think about how the weather could affect plans. A family-friendly fundraiser probably won’t work in winter.
No matter how far in advance you’re planning, venues will have standing annual bookings. Get your tournament pencilled in with your site before making too many other commitments.
Why are you running the tournament? This is a key question. Is it a fundraiser? An end-of-year celebration? A recruitment exercise? Something else?
Be clear about your end goal. That’ll give you and your team a clear focus.
Step 2: Design your tournament
Your research is the foundation we build on. Now it’s time to get into the details.
Defining your tournament’s purpose and format
We talked about establishing your ‘why’. You can’t really leave this fuzzy. Aiming for a ‘good’ tournament doesn’t work because ‘good’ looks different to everyone. Without a clear goal, your team will pull in different directions leading to a muddled event.
Define your goal precisely to give your team something to organize around. It also gives you a way to measure success. Be specific. Put down numbers – how much do you aim to raise?
At this stage, explicitly set the budget. To avoid spiralling costs, be clear with your team about what you can spend.
Now it’s time to get creative. How do you want your tournament to feel? What will set it apart from others in the area?
Will your teams just turn up and play? Or are there other activities you want them to be involved in?
With your team, choose five to ten words that will describe your event, for instance; exciting, fresh, innovative, cool, thoughtful. What event or place embodies these things? What can you learn from them?
Now, I know most soccer tournaments consist of a few pitches, a couple of bouncy castles and a lot of umbrellas! But it’s worth spending time on your branding and participant experience.
If you do, you’ll find your tournament grows easily year-on-year, and you’ll create a source of recruits and revenue.
Don’t forget the little details
How long will your tournament last? Be clear so your participants can plan.
Beyond soccer, what activities will happen on the day? And who is running them? Who are your staff and volunteers? Be specific about their roles and responsibilities.
Build a spreadsheet with everyone’s contact details and then send group emails or texts with crucial information. That goes for your teams, sponsors and partners.
What will your prizes be? Who is providing them? If you are charging for entry, you’ll need to reflect that in the level of prizes.
Sketch your layout
Once you have your venue booked, it’s essential to design your tournament layout.
On an A3 sheet sketch out where everything will go. How do you want people to move around? What will happen if it rains? Where will your prize giving and side-events take place?
Step 3: Planning your tournament
Now you’ve got a clear idea of your goals, it’s time to create an actionable checklist. Break each activity down into small steps to take. That will help you delegate jobs and keep an eye on overall progress.
Of course, your tournament will have its specific complexities, so fill in the gaps as you go.
Confirm your budget. Has it changed? Is your tournament still achievable within it? Have you allowed for contingency?
What are your tournament’s rules? Confirm them then let everyone know.
Develop your on-the-day schedule. Which staff and volunteers need to be where, when? When do other organisations need to arrive? What time should your teams show up?
Remember to stay in touch with your venue, especially if you rely on them for unlocking. Confusion can lead to disaster.
With your team, define your marketing activities. Who will write and design your materials? How will you promote your event? What is your message? Which social channels will you use, and how?
Define your marketing strategy. Who will write and design your materials? How will you get the message out? And what is your main message?
Take advantage of all the social channels and contacts you have. Reach out to your newspaper. Will they come along? If not, will they accept a press release from you?
Maintain regular contact with your teams. Follow up directly with teams who are unresponsive to confirm attendance. It might be a good idea to delegate team communication to one person. After all, without enough teams, the tournament will fail no matter what.
Health and safety
Keeping everyone safe is critical. Carry out a risk assessment and address the risks you identify.
Who is your qualified first aider, and do they have the kit they need? Your venue or local government might be able to help with this.
Make sure your staff understand the health and safety procedures and what their roles are in an emergency.
Keep a note of which staff, match officials and volunteers have confirmed attendance. Send text and email reminders often, especially as the tournament date nears.
List everything you’ll need. What about balls, bibs, cones, soccer goals, gazebos, prizes and branded clothing. Consider your players’ ages and get the appropriate kit.
You might even consider providing a set of equipment such as soccer rebounders to keep non-playing teams engaged – would also be a great selling point when marketing your tournament too.
For each item, ask some questions. Where is that coming from? Who is collecting it, and when? Who is responsible for returning it? Making sure everything gets home safely increases your chances of borrowing it again next time.
Keep everyone informed
Make sure your sponsors and partners know the timings, access arrangements and anything they’re expected to do on the day. Manage their expectations and make sure they have a smooth experience, and you’ll likely get their involvement next time.
Is there anything else?
Involve your staff at each stage. Is there anything you’ve overlooked?
One extra thing you might consider is collecting email addresses or phone numbers on the day. That will help you build your community engagement, leading to new members, volunteers and sponsorship opportunities.
Step 4: Co-ordination on the day
By the morning of the tournament, all your research and planning will let you execute a brilliant event. Remember to let the event run, without micro-managing it.
Before your teams arrive, have a final briefing with your staff and volunteers, and then let them do their jobs.
Keep yourself free to respond to problems as they come up and create a great experience for everyone involved.
If they weren’t there, send a short press release and photographs to the newspaper. You can write most of that in advance, and fill in the numbers afterwards.
Make time during the day to thank all your participants. At the end, get your team together to congratulate. Oh, and don’t forget to enjoy it!
Step 5: Evaluating your tournament
On the day, talk to as many of your participants as you can. Get immediate feedback and impressions. That will help you evaluate your event – and possibly improve it immediately.
There’s bound to be a couple of things to wrap up. Did all your equipment get back to where it needed to go?
A couple of days after the event, send a thank you message to everyone involved. That’s also an opportunity to ask for any feedback.
When you sit down to evaluate, go back to your original goals. If it was to fund-raise, did you meet the target? Ask what could be improved for next time, but don’t act on ideas that take you away from the tournament’s purpose.
If the tournament was a success, you might want to run it again! They are a lot of work, but each time they get easier, as you can re-use a lot of the groundwork you did this time around.
Are you organizing your first tournament? I wish you good luck and good weather! I’d love to know how it goes. Send me the photos!
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