Friday, April 11, 2014

So You Want to Host a Hockey Tournament

Should your organization run a tournament? The key question to ask is, can you run a good one? Bad ones can hurt your reputation,  leave you exhausted and possibly in debt. They're a lot of work! But with the right guidance, motives and preparation, hosting a weekend extravaganza could end up feeling as rewarding as a tournament hat trick. 

   The team behind the successful Troy Albany Hockey Association's Rink Rat Tournament says your motives need to be genuine. " The goal should never be "doing it because we always do it" or "do it to make money". If you do it for the right reasons: giving your own kids a home tourney and your guests a good experience when they are in town- the rest - the profits etc will take care of themselves," says Rink Rat Tournament Director Bill Andrews.

Decisions. Decisions
  " I ask myself and others what do teams look for when they are picking a good tournament to go to? There are different types- when I host one for an AAA level - those teams are looking for a different experience than a Pee Wee C team. 19ut1 girls and 16t1 girls are looking for something different than AAA or combined or even girls T2 level teams. The idea is to be cognizant of the focus and interest of the target group and to provide them with an experience as close to what they are looking for," advises Andrews. 

   Andrews also points to the importance of knowing your audience,  "Some want scouting opportunities- so competitive teams and reaching out to schools is a must; some want hockey bling- so hats, bracelets, sweatshirts apparel as much as possible; some want pool time, knee hockey and multinational nerd war battles in the hotels where they take the wait staff hostage in epic nerf and rubber band gun wars. Well- we need to make sure we have tolerant hotels who are up for letting kids be kids. Some are all about playing teams from as far away as possible; some want only the standard one game fri, two on sat, one on Sunday and cross overs. If you think about the population you are trying to serve and work to serve that group as best you can- you end up w a good tourney. People are willing to pay more for quality. People don't like being shaken down or hit up at every corner. Everyone remembers the great games, the best experiences and the most horrific events. Everything else is a blur and fading memory over the marathon that is the youth hockey experience.  A tourney that strives to create a positive memorable experience will undoubtedly do that - when there is a conscious aim and objective to achieve that result. The hockey community is small. Coaches in regions all know each other. Coaches that coach certain levels- like the girls programs - are mainstays. And they talk to each other.  Give a memorable experience and word spreads." 

 Little Things Can Make You Big 
   Andrews credits much of the success of the annual Rink Rat Tournament to paying attention to details,  "There are certain things I do for every tournament that are targeted to connect with the expectations of the incoming teams. All in all those things are simply paying attention to little details that are simply designed to give your guests the best experience possible."
  According to Andrews, some of those things could including having honor guards or bag pipers at the
championship rounds, having singers there too to sing both Canadian and American national anthems. "Some tourneys it's skills sessions, always it's a great raffle, no gate fee, give aways, good competition ( with a concerted effort toward having parity in divisions), good apparel, and extras-like discount tickets to nearby D1 games, bonfires and fireworks, etcetera. And if its a smaller one- then it is appropriately contained- good schedule, good competition, and ease of access." 
Our Rink Rat Pee Wee Champs
    "If your goal is to sell 10 boxes of cookies- it's pretty easy to do. And you will net a small reward for those sales. If your goal is to sell 10,000 cookies in a 5 month period- well that takes a larger effort and a coordinated approach. It requires, like any operation, planning, goal setting, setting steps, inducting helpers and getting them to buy into your project, following through, and thanking them for their sacrifices and putting in the many hours. Success has many parents as we know, and failure is an orphan," says Andrews.  

         A dinner break for Sophia and teammates
during the Rink Rat Tournament 
   Vice President of Operations for the Troy Albany Hockey Association, Keith Zimmerman, agrees with Bill about the need to focus on the tournament being family friendly from the rink to the hotels, " We have all been to Tourneys where you get your games and leave. It is the extras that make it a memorable experience."
   Zimmerman says they've also discovered something pretty big in the Albany area with the smallest and the youngest sets;  Mite Jamborees. "A few years ago with the adoption of cross ice for all of the U8 programs the question arose ' How do we get these kids out to play other teams?' Yes there are Mite Tournaments out there but that is old school when there was Full Ice Mite A and B teams. It really comes down to Coaching Ideals and program structure. If you follow USA Hockey the Mites should be all about fun and skill development. No scores should be kept in the games," says Zimmerman
     In the Albany area, each Association will host one or two Mite Jamborees during the season." Kids play four 20 minutes games (2:00 min shifts). Ice is divided into three sections so there are three games going on at the same time. Teams are classified into Advanced, Intermediate and Novice. 4 vs 4 with goalies (3 vs 3 if numbers dictate). About 9 players per team. Some of the larger Orgs might bring three teams while the smaller only have enough for one or two teams. These are free of charge we just ask each family to bring a snack or drink to share (Potluck style). These Jamborees have worked out wonderfully. The kids get to play against other Orgs and it allows all levels or play. I have found that the traditional Mite Tourneys tend to be fairly competitive and the younger/newer players get eaten alive," says Zimmerman.
Sophia when she was a Mite 

  Zimmerman says Mite Jamborees already have proven track record with their organization, "Two weeks before the Rink Rat we hosted a Mite Jamboree at Frear. We had 15 teams from 8 different organizations. In a 3.5 hour block of time there was @160 mites and 400 parents at Frear. Controlled Chaos was the buzz word of the day. All the players wanted to know was who they were playing against and what was on the snack table. It was a tight fit in Frear but a great time was had by all. Even with all of those people we didn't have any of  "Those Parents". The Mites from Skaneateles were even coming out until half the team got sick. They had never heard of such an event so It got me thinking that perhaps it was just a local thing that we did in this area. It is really a great way to spread the fun of the Tourney atmosphere while at the same time keeping it local so the families are not going to hotels, etc."
    Tournaments can be emotional powder kegs, but with the right focus, they can create great memories that will last your kids a lifetime.