13 Things You Need to Survive Weekend Sports Tournaments

As parents, nothing brings us greater joy than watching our kids participate in an activity they not only excel at, but also enjoy—even golf. My kids have been into sports from day one (not golf, thankfully).

During the early years, the commitment was fairly minimal—practices a few times a week and games on Saturdays. But when recreation turned into competition, the level of commitment soared from minimal to: “We can’t. Ever. We have dance/baseball/basketball/soccer/(insert other sports activity here).”

To say I was woefully unprepared for life as a “tournament mom” would be the understatement of the year. Organization has never been my strong suit. I went into this world of weekend sporting activities in a state of conscious incompetence; but over the years, I learned how to be prepared both mentally and physically for these long, sometimes boring, often exciting, always educational weekends.

What You Need Physically

  1. Doctor Mom. Never leave home without a small first aid kit. Be sure to include ibuprofen and Benadryl. Outdoor athletes are always at risk for bites and stings. Adhesive bandages and sterile gauze pads are a given. Antiseptic wipes and antibiotic ointment are great for scrapes and scratches. Instant cold packs always come in handy for icing a sore or sprained ankle or wrist, too.

My daughter’s dance career required me to include other “emergency” items like bobby pins, safety pins and a needle and thread—not that I could actually use the needle and thread, but I always found someone that could! 

  1. Comfort from Home. Blankets and pillows not only come in handy for long car rides, but also are great for the sibling stuck at the tournament or competition from sunrise to sunset. A nap in mom’s lap or under a small tent can go a long way toward making the day more pleasant.
  1. Made in the Shade. Whether you’re expecting rain or not, an umbrella will be your best friend with the sun beating down unmercifully for hours on end. Lather everyone up with sunscreen, make sure to reapply, and stay under that umbrella. At age 52, I’m seeing the effects of my failure to use sun protection diligently.
  1. Walk it Off. Often, there’s some downtime between games, so I always made sure to pack a pair of tennies and some earbuds for a little “me” time. Some weekends, the only way I kept my sanity and met my exercise commitment was taking a brisk walk around the facility where the tournament or competition was taking place. If you can, step away from cheering on your brood and take a few minutes to yourself to reset.
  1. Keep ‘Em Fed and Watered. Food and beverages at tournaments can get pricey fast! Be sure to pack a cooler with plenty of water and healthy snacks. I found that protein bars, trail mix, fresh fruit, small chocolate bars and grab-n-go treats like Land O’Frost’s Deli Snackers were great snacks to give the kids some instant energy without weighing them down.
  1. Keep Backups. Pants, footwear, socks/tights, bats, gloves, racquets, etc. You would not believe the athletic gear I’ve seen break or disappear, and someone will inevitably forget some essential item at home. My daughter once managed to lose one jazz shoe five minutes before she was due onstage.
  1. Capture the Action. Bring a camera, and make sure it has plenty of memory and battery life. They may hate the fact that you’re snapping photos now, but when they’re 30 years old, they will love to look back on those memories—and so will you.
  1. Stay Connected. Batteries die and tournaments drag on longer than expected. Keep a car phone charger handy, and make sure you always have a way to contact the outside world.

What You Need Mentally

  1. Good Vibrations. Weekends revolving around competitions are charged with emotion. Stay focused on what is going right. Your positivity will go a long way toward making the experience a great one for you and your kids. Remember to extend compliments—even if the kid isn’t on your team.
  1. Patience is a Virtue. Some parents are very vocal. Some are downright obnoxious. No one wins if you react to that, especially the children. If it’s more than you can stand, relocate so you aren’t tempted to respond.
  1. Go to Your Happy Place. Yes, it’s frustrating when you watch your son miss an easy fly ball to center field or your daughter fall out of a turn you’ve watched her perform with ease. But you must remember they WANT to do their best. Even LeBron misses a free throw every once in a while, so when they fall short, bite your tongue. 
  1. Keep Your Perspective. These are kids. The true goal of competitive activities is to teach teamwork, perseverance, discipline, goal-setting and good sportsmanship. No one has famous endorsements, and losing isn’t the end of the world. After all, sometimes we learn more from losing than we do winning.
  1. Lend a Helping Hand. Step up and make a difference. Volunteer to help the coach get organized. Share your snack supply or first aid kit with someone less experienced. The kids gain so much from watching their parents develop friendships and have positive interactions with one another. The resulting support system is a beautiful thing to see.

My children are in high school now and have moved beyond the tournament weekends, but the friendships we made have endured. Those bonds that developed between moms who were so exhausted they were secretly hoping for a strike out, or parents who could talk your kid off the ledge when you couldn’t don’t die easily. They are strong and they teach us that we sometimes have much more in common with people than we may think we do. So don’t let the long hours of travel and sitting in a gymnasium, on a bleacher or in a dark auditorium scare you off; see them as an opportunity to connect with someone new. Use the lists I’ve provided here and you’ll be more prepared than I ever was. The lessons and the friendships gained will be well worth the miles and the money.

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