What Made #TheSol So Different?
We are 5 days out from the finish of the first Sol Schwartz #SaveCollegeTennis All-In Tournament presented by Holabird Sports, and I can’t stop thinking about what an incredible experience I had in Baltimore!
There were many intangibles that made this particular junior tournament special, but there were also many tangible items that can be adopted by other tournaments to help improve the overall “feel” for the players as well as the parents and coaches, and that’s what I want to focus on today.
- Tournament committee: Without a strong tournament committee (and volunteers), it’s next to impossible to put on a successful event. Involve community leaders, local business owners, and anyone else who loves tennis and is committed to making your event special.
- On-court coaching: This is a very simple feature to add to existing tournaments that seems to have a huge impact on both the players and the parents. We all know how it feels to sit and watch our children compete, the tension building inside as we try to hide our true feelings behind forced smiles and positive body language. By allowing on-court coaching, we provide a release valve, if you will, so parents (and coaches) can say what they want to say to the players while there is still a chance for the player to act (or not) on the advice they’re given. At #TheSol, several parents and coaches took advantage of being able to – lawfully! – communicate with their player, and the overall atmosphere around the grounds was so calm compared to other junior tournaments I’ve attended.
- Player credentials: Just like the pros get! The lanyards are pretty inexpensive, and once you get the hang of Avery’s online system, making the inserts is relatively simple.
- On-site lunch: Secure a local restaurant sponsor and ask them to deliver lunch each day for players, parents, and coaches. I can’t tell you what a big impact this had on the overall atmosphere of #TheSol! Everyone stayed on site throughout the day. They didn’t have to scramble for something to eat and worry about being late for their next match. Plus, we were feeding the players healthy, fresh food.
- Free water and sports drinks: Again, secure a sponsor and provide drinks on site. It sounds simple – and it is! – but it’s these little things that can make a tremendous difference in the overall tournament atmosphere.
- Think outside the box in terms of prizes: Not every junior tournament can provide a Wilson clothing and equipment package like we did this year, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find alternatives to the plastic trophies awarded at most events. Again, it might mean seeking a major sponsor, but with a little effort you can find local and national businesses willing to donate items in exchange for publicity (and their name on the back of a nice dri-fit tournament shirt)!
- Player Book: It takes a little extra work to put together a Player Book, but the kids and parents loved it! And, it’s another way to provide publicity for your tournament sponsors.
- Take advantage of social media: Create Twitter and Instagram accounts for your tournament. Set up a Facebook page. Get a GeoTag for SnapChat. Then post to these social media outlets before, during, and after your tournament to maximize exposure for players and sponsors.
- Get creative during weather delays. At #TheSol we had Noah Rubin on FaceTime doing a Q&A with our players. You could have ping pong, tables with cards and backgammon, a Karaoke machine – anything to keep the players engaged while they’re waiting to go back on court!
- Host a Player Party: We didn’t do this at #TheSol this year, but we plan on adding it for future events. Again, find a sponsor to help cover the expense then get creative! A local amusement park, bowling alley, or restaurant party room are all great locations to bring players and parents together in a fun environment and relieve some of the tension inherent in junior tournaments.
- Use UTR to select and seed players and put players into compass draws: What a difference it makes when juniors compete against other players at a similar level instead of getting blown out of the water (or blowing someone out of the water)! Of course, using UTR isn’t fool-proof, but it does a much better job than using traditional PPR rankings in terms of making sure every player gets competitive matches. Then, if you use a compass draw, too, players get multiple matches close to their level which is great for overall junior development. It’s a win-win!
If any of our #TheSol players and parents are reading this, please add your comments below in terms of how other tournament directors can learn from what we created in Baltimore last week. The goal is to make junior tennis more enjoyable and more valuable for everyone!