Tournaments tend to be very bad for getting the right amount of sleep, good food, and the correct amount of rest between games. This section looks at how you can mitigate the damage done by living in a hotel, eating out, and playing four games in two days.
The first and most important thing you as a coach need to do is plan ahead. Know the time between games and if there is time for grabbing a meal. When should you eat if you have a game at 1:00 and your warm-up starts at 12:30? What about if your next game starts at 5:30? Players should eat after games but what they eat might change if they have another game right away. Since parents may not be on the trip with you, and those that are, may not know much about nutritional planning you as a coach should pre-educate the parents with dietary suggestions; vegetable, fruits, whole grains, and easily digested food for before and in-between games, proteins to help development afterwards.
If the tournament is out of town or long way from home, where are the local restaurants/grocery stores? These places should be spotted and mapped especially if you are in an unfamiliar area. You do not want to spend 30 minutes finding a place when you only have and hour to eat. The better you plan, the easier things become.
Some teams will grab a few parents and designate food/nutrition managers for the tournament weekend. These parents are in charge of the nutritional snack, and meals for the players throughout the playing of the tournament. We recommend choosing the parent who eats well themself, not the one with the fast food cups littering their minivan. With planning ahead you can also set up team dinner so that (1) nutritional control is in place, and (2) you can use it as a team-builder for the group.
Before games you should help players to avoid any foods that tend to be heavy and sit in the stomach (burgers, steaks, hot dogs), sugary food and drinks (chocolates and sodas), and any processed foods like chips or quick fix meals. Players should never play on an empty stomach no matter how much they say they are not hungry. Often, in times of anxiety and excitement, players’ hunger will be held back. The best idea is to eat around 2-3 hours before the game, and then have healthy replenishing (not sugary) snacks during the game. This is all well and good until your first game starts at a ridiculous time, like 7:30am. How do you get them up and fed in time for the game without an alarm call at 4:30am? We have no magic answer – just use common sense, maybe eat a bit less an early as you can before the game.
Players are excited about tournaments and can sometimes use that excitement off the field to get themselves in trouble on the field. Our job as coaches is to maintain the right energy for the tournament play, but control it and deal with it off the field as well. The reason this is so important is that, no matter how many games you are scheduled to play, the players will have more time not playing. The off-field down time should be spent getting recharged and bonding with teammates. The time after the last game at the end of the day should be used to unwind and relax. The coaches that understand this will create a well planned and organized schedule to keep everyone on the same page.
Coaches need to also understand that although players might spend a lot of time with their parents at tournaments, they (coach and player) should also have lots of time to bond with each other; to discuss thing outside of soccer like school, family, life, or anything else. The coach should take advantage of these types of opportunities, both for getting to know the player as well as giving them informal feedback which can be rare during a typical soccer practice or game. The fun and enjoyment spent while riding to the games as a team, eating together, joking around at the hotel, and telling stories are great memories that will last a long time. I still cherish the time with my teammates from when I was a kid playing at tournaments.
It is obviously important that players are sleeping. If they are with families this will probably not be a major concern for you. If players are staying in their own rooms with other players you will need to set rules and probably police it to make sure that everyone gets the sleep they need. Research has shown that sleep does not affect performance as strongly as other factors, but there is no point neglecting it when you are trying to cover all the bases.
What is important is resting. Between games it is often prudent to have players relax outside of the heat and sunshine. Walking can help keep the muscles active so that they don’t cramp up, but running and swimming might tire the players out even more than had they only played the two games. Although we would never say don’t let the players have fun, we would say that between games they should think about what will help and what will hurt their performance later that day.