Missing a flight on the way to a volleyball tournament can become a nightmare for coaches, players and parents. With all the hours spent on preparing for the trip, losing the chance to compete can kill a team’s morale.
It’s a scenario Sports Performance Volleyball Director Cheryl Butler and several of her athletes found themselves in two years ago. Unable to get on a flight, the team arrived at the tournament 24 hours later and missed the first day of play.
Since then, Butler, who is also the youth academy director at the Aurora, Illinois-based club, decided to alter all of her teams’ travel schedules to include extra time for dealing with delays. Now when booking flights to tournaments, she makes sure everyone is set to arrive in the host city two days before the event. She also has her athletes bring carry-ons filled with everything they need to play in a tournament to avoid dealing with the potential of lost luggage.
While planning ahead won’t eliminate all travel headaches, being well-prepared to handle potential issues could minimize the impact of those hassles. It’s one key strategy Butler and several other coaches and directors of clubs in the Junior Volleyball Association recommend for traveling successfully with young athletes.
Butler also recommends laying out a clear set of expectations for players, parents and coaches and having good communication between all parties to help limit the stress associated with the challenges of travel.
She starts her preparations for traveling to tournaments months before the club season starts. Each fall Butler meets with a travel agent to help with logistics such as booking buses, hotels and plane tickets. Weeks before the first trip, she sends a spreadsheet with the information to parents so they know what to expect.
Butler also holds a meeting with the traveling teams’ first-time participants to provide a clear understanding of what’s involved in the process. To ensure everyone is on the same page, Butler sends all parents a follow-up letter that includes a checklist of items players must pack for tournaments.
Sports Performance teams always travel together because it provides athletes a chance to bond and it allows parents to save money on travel, Butler said.
Traveling as a large group, however, requires everyone to work together to stay on track, and to accomplish that, Butler makes sure everyone understands their roles and the rules for traveling.
Parents, athletes and coaches stay at the same hotel, but the coaches are responsible for making sure the players are in bed and wake up on time so the team can arrive at the site with plenty of time to spare before practices or games. While this puts more responsibility on the coaches, it also allows them to get to know the athletes better, Butler said.
While on the road, Sport Performance relies on the help of “house moms” to collect money for food, plan team meals and assist coaches as needed. It’s all integral to pulling off a successful tournament experience, she added.
“The championships can come and go, and the MVPs and all that stuff, but the traveling is a special bond,” Butler said.
High Performance STL, in St. Louis, Missouri, starts scheduling its travel plans during the fall registration period to better coordinate the process with parents, coaches and athletes, said executive director Scott Mebruer. The club also enlists the help of a travel agent to arrange schedules for approximately 500 athletes each year.
“Just having someone in charge of the travel coordination is the biggest thing that we’ve done to make the process much more manageable,” Mebruer said.
High Performance STL also requires parents play a larger role in travel plans, and club officials make sure those expectations are outlined at the start of the season.
Parents are responsible for making sure athletes bring the necessary uniforms and equipment on the trip, and High Performance STL has its athletes not only travel to the host city with their families but also stay with them — instead of with teammates — at the hotel. Parents are expected to make sure their children are going to bed and getting ready for the tournament on time, as well as eating properly. This allows downtime for coaches during what can be a stressful tournament.
“We try to make sure that our parents are part of the solution and helping us,” Mebruer said.
Preparation, communication and organization are key for clubs to successfully travel with athletes. Providing players and parents with checklists, holding meetings to discuss concerns, and anticipating problems that may arise will help everyone enjoy the time traveling together and allow the athletes to be at their best on the court.
Sports Performance Volleyball and High Performance STL are both members of the JVA. For more information on on the value of a JVA membership for your club, click here. For more on traveling with your team, click here.
About the Author
This article is written by Emily Winters from SportsEngine, the official technology partner of the JVA. SportEngine offers special pricing and packages exclusive to JVA member clubs. More than just a website, SportsEngine can help you solve serious challenges you face with tryouts, billing and collections, team communication, tournaments, and more. For more information click here.