How to Prepare for a Soccer Tournament (for Coaches)

As a youth soccer coach, one of the biggest highlights of a season is when your team qualifies or enters into a soccer tournament. These matches can be so much fun if you are well prepared. However, if you are not ready, the results can be detrimental to you as a coach as well as to your team’s success. 

How do soccer coaches prepare for a soccer tournament? Some of the things you can do to prepare for a tournament include: 

  • Learn the logistics.
  • Learn about teams you will be up against.
  • Plan a warmup routine.
  • Take field conditions into account.
  • Make sure your team is physically/mentally prepared.
  • Build a starting lineup.

Note that although the above points are essential for getting you and your team ready for their best game, there is much more you can do to be prepared for a tournament. In the remainder of this article, we will discuss what those things involve in greater detail, and what you, as a coach, need to do leading up to the tournament to give your team the best chance of success. 

The following list goes over 15 things youth soccer coaches should do (in no particular order) to get ready for tournaments:

1. Get Your Team Together

Youth soccer tournaments are usually scheduled during school holidays or weekends. This makes it convenient for your players, so it doesn’t interfere with school. However, in some cases, students may not be available the day or weekend of the tournament due to other extracurricular activities or family travel plans.  

Once you’ve confirmed the date(s) of the tournament, make sure that all of your players are available during that time. Communicate to parents as soon as you know the time frame so people can plan around the tournament.

In the event that quite a few players on your team will not be available, check the tournament guidelines about their policies for minimum players. In some cases, tournaments will allow groups to invite guest players to help fill up missing slots. 

2. Prepare for Travel

For some tournaments, you must travel to another location since it won’t be local. Therefore, travel must be arranged ahead of time.

First, make sure that your players and their parents are aware of the location of the tournament. If it’s local, they may prefer to drive their child there to meet up with the rest of the team; some may even offer a carpool option for multiple players, depending on families’ schedules.

If most players on your team cannot secure a ride to the tournament, another appropriate form of transportation can be a bus; this is especially beneficial if you are traveling between cities. However, with this method, make sure that you have made plans for a rental or busing service that is scheduled for the right day and time. 

Provide your players and their parents/guardians with information about where they should meet the day of the tournament for bus pickup. You should also ask for volunteer chaperones to help you keep an eye on the kids during the bus ride.  

3. Prepare an Itemized List

Compose a checklist of items your players will need to pack and bring along with them for the tournament. This will be a good time for you to plan what you need to bring with you as well.

Examples of items that every player should pack are:

  • An extra pair of shoes/socks 
  • Team jerseys and other soccer gear
  • Extra clothes (so they can change in and out of jerseys)
  • A refillable water bottle
  • Jacket 
  • Snacks
  • Swim trucks (if the hotel has a pool or near the beach)

As a coach, some items you should make sure you have on you are: 

Also plan to bring a small, personal whiteboard where you can draw out plays for your team, in case they need help understanding a specific tactic in the heat of a moment. 

4. Have a Warm-up Routine Planned

You should also pack the items that your team uses to run warmup drills during practice, such as cones or pinnies. In addition to this, you should bring along a small stopwatch (alternatively, you can use one that is on your phone if you want to pack light), and a whistle to get your players’ attention. 

Of course, all of these items will not go far unless you have a warmup routine for your team in place. Adjust the warmup to fit your team’s age and skills. For example, advanced, older players may need a more rigorous routine than younger or less experienced players.

Also, make sure that with whatever warmup you come up with, it is applicable for your goalkeeper and defensive players as well. 

Finally, make sure that your warmup routine allows enough downtime for your team to catch their breath before the game(s) and drink enough water. 

5. Know the Logistics of the Tournament

It is a good idea to get in touch with the organizers of the tournament—or check their official website if there is one—to find out the logistics that will pertain to your team on game day. For example, find out the schedule for your team’s first games, where the matches will take place, and the teams you’ll be up against. 

Because of the format of soccer tournaments, you won’t necessarily be able to get precise information about later games should your team advance to the next stage; sometimes, this is dependent on which teams win or lose specific matches.

However, the tournament organizers should at least have details about the time slots where subsequent games are scheduled so you can plan accordingly. Communicate with your players and their parents so they know when to show up for the games and you can reduce lost time during warm-ups.

6. Choose the Bracket You Want Your Team to Compete In

Consult fellow peers and coaches that have had teams in the tournament before to learn more about the skill levels they’ve seen across different participation brackets. Use this information to determine which bracket your team best fits in to compete. 

Many times, officials may offer recommendations for which level or bracket your team fits in, especially for invitational tournaments. As a coach, you are more likely to know your team best, so understanding the brackets available will help you and your players prepare accordingly. 

7. Get Your Team Mentally Prepared

It is said that in soccer, a game depends on 90% of the mentality of players and 10% on your coaching skills. 

In other words, to succeed, a team needs to be on the same, positive, wavelength; one discouraged player can affect how the rest will perform.

This is why, as a coach, you should make sure that every member of your team has the right mindset going into the tournament. Provide encouragement so that each player has faith in their teammates and their abilities and are ready to work together. They should also not feel stressed or overworked—remind them to have a good time on the field. 

8. Check the Weather Forecast

Check the weather forecast for the location where the tournament is being held. From there, let players and their parents/guardians know what clothing will be suitable to bring and if they need anything specific such as an umbrella, heavier jacket, etc. 

Besides being prepared for the weather upon arrival, players should also be prepared to play in such weather conditions, too; although some tournaments may take place in an indoor or covered soccer facility, this might not always be the case.

This means that you need to make sure your players are comfortable with participating in games that may involve light rain or colder or hotter temperatures. 

9. Understand Field Conditions

Knowing the playing field where your team’s matches will be on is another subtle but important factor to prepare for. For example, running and playing soccer on grass can provide a different experience compared to playing on synthetic turf.

Although this is a minor detail, it can make all the difference in your team’s performance, especially if they do not have experience playing on one or the other.  

One way you can help players adjust to field differences is by developing strategies that improve performance for each kind of turf. For example, make sure they have shoes that are best suited for grass and turf, so they reduce any chances of slipping. 

In addition, you can help your team prepare for any field type by holding soccer practices at different locations leading up to the tournament; this will ensure your players are used to running across different types of turf and can quickly adjust to any situation. 

10. Physical Preparation

This goes hand-in-hand with creating a warmup routine for your players, but to be entirely physically ready, your team should be well-rested and feeling good leading up to the game, as well. After all, you want your players to be able to give their 100% when it comes to something as important as a tournament. 

As a coach, your role lies in making sure your players rest and abstain from certain practices before the tournament (e.g., sleeping late, eating a lot of junk food the day before, etc.). Of course, your players don’t live with you, so you can’t control everything they do, but you can certainly encourage them and their parents/guardians to be mindful of their choices, so they do not negatively affect their game.  

11. Build a Starting Lineup

Knowing what your starting lineup is going to be on the day of the tournament should be another essential part of your preparation. Consider the teams you’re expecting to face off against and their playing style to create your lineup. From there, set up formations that will aid your chosen players to offer their best game against their opponents. 

However, even with a solid lineup and plan in hand, you should also always leave room for the unexpected to occur so you can adjust accordingly. Unfortunately, some players may receive an injury, or may not be feeling good to play on the day of a match. Create a contingency plan just in case. 

12. Learn About Opposing Teams

This is in line with one of the previous point. It is always beneficial to learn about all the other teams participating in the tournament within your bracket, whether you believe you will eventually play against them or not. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Who are their strong players? 
  • What formation do they run?
  • Are they aggressive or not? 
  • Are they good at gaining and keeping control of the ball throughout a game? 

Knowing the answers to these questions can inform the strategies and plays you may use with your own team. 

Note that some of this information may not become clear unless your team goes against them in a match during the tournament. However, use previous experiences your players may have had with similar teams—or the opposing team if you have happened to face them before—and use that to build a successful strategy that bolsters your players’ strengths, while taking advantage of your opponents’ weaknesses.  

13. Prepare Substitutions Ahead of Time

Tournaments usually consist of a minimum of three to four games, but your team successfully makes it to the final rounds, expect to participate in additional matches. Multiple games, especially if they’re back-to-back or have limited breaks in-between, can become stressful and quite tiring for young athletes. After all, it is not easy to continue running across a field for 90 minutes of one game, let alone several. 

To help relieve your players of stress, make plans to spread the workload among all of the teammates. For example, do not let one player stay on the bench throughout the duration of the tournament while another is heavily involved in every single match; make sure everyone on your team gets an equal share of game time and bench time. If you have versatile players, try rotating them through different positions (if the tournament allows it). 

You can also take advantage of substitutions. Most of the time, tournaments will allow you to have subs roll on and roll off; for that reason, come up with a list of reliable substitutes that can switch out with players at regular intervals. 

14. Plan Breaks Between Games

This next tip goes hand-in-hand with the previous one. There is usually a period of downtime in tournaments to give the players time to recuperate between matches. With that said, although they will be resting and rehydrating, you definitely don’t want your players to become sleepy or hungry, either.

So, in preparation for the breaks that will occur between games, load up on snacks that players can have in addition to bottles of water. Energy bars and bananas are great snacking options for the in-between periods. You should also keep an eye out for spots where the team can hang out and cool down in the meantime. 

This is a step to ask parents for their help. They will likely be ahead of the game and already thinking through all of this, but it’s good to get on the same page with them to ensure everyone has what they need.

15. Have a Pre-game Message Ready

With soccer, when it comes to important games, sometimes it’s best to give individual players a pre-game message in addition to a speech for the entire team. You can do this during the warmup period. Simply approach each player and give them a few words of advice based on their strengths and weaknesses and encouragement for the match ahead. 

Once the warmup is done, and your team is ready to hit the field, get everyone riled up and ready for a great game! This way, your team is in the zone to win—and if they don’t, they’ll at least feel good about what they were able to do!

Final Thoughts

There is a lot that can go into preparing for big matches as the coach of a youth soccer team. This is partially why tournaments, in particular, require just another extra level of preparation. Not only do you need to get yourself prepared, but you also have to make sure your team is physically and mentally ready. You also need to coordinate with parents and guardians who are involved, as well as officials of the matches. 

With that said, everything that is involved in preparation for a tournament, it can be easy to forget a few key things you need so your players are ready to give it their all on the field. However, hopefully the above guide has helped you note the essentials, so you are equipped to provide all the support your young team needs. Good luck on the field!

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