Have you ever returned from a weekend-long sports tournament and thought, I wish I had a cheat sheet with all the tips and tricks for surviving (and enjoying) these tournaments? If so, then read on for key suggestions on organizing your car, packing your bag, must-haves for your athlete’s bag and for entertaining the siblings!
I had several of those exhausting tournaments my first year as a travel sports mom. So I started taking notes of tips other seasoned moms had given me and tricks that I learned myself along the way.
Here are my best tips and tricks for travel sports moms. Because knowing how to prepare for those long tournament weekends can help reduce anxiety and allow you to enjoy those moments with your child.
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Tournament Tips and Tricks For your Sanity
Leading up to a tournament weekend with your child, there are 4 categories that you’ll want to prepare. Not all tournaments requires preparation in every category. However, at least you’ll have a checklist of these tips for the next time one does.
- Tips for organizing the car
- Tips for organizing your bag or wagon
- What to stash in your athlete’s bag
- Tips for entertaining siblings (or yourself)
Below are a few tips and tricks for each of these categories. And yes, a common theme in each of these categories is to keep snacks handy because the last thing you want is for anyone to get hangry.
Tips and Tricks for Packing Your Car
Sometimes you may fly to a tournament, but oftentimes you’ll be driving to fields in the middle of nowhere. Aside from the standard advice of always carry cash and have a full tank of gas, there are a few tricks I’ve learned while putting some miles on my car.
- Large pack of water. You’ll still need to fill up the large water bottles at home, but these emergency waters are a good backup, especially for summer tournaments.
- Towel. Old towels aren’t just for the dog. They’re also for athletes who just played a game in the rain and who spill drinks in the car.
- Extra blanket. Being a travel sports mom means sitting in chairs or bleachers in all seasons. That extra blanket will be a lifesaver in late Fall tournaments. Your child will also appreciate it after he’s been sweating all day and then hops in the air-conditioned car to go home.
- Portable chair with overhang. Speaking of chairs, this will be the most important purchases that you make as a travel sports mom. Make sure to buy a chair with a canopy. Even if the tournament has bleachers, oftentimes those are hard, cold, wet and don’t always shield you from the sun.
5. Snacks, snacks and more snacks. Chances are, every parent will have a variety of snacks, but they may not be the kind your picky athlete enjoys. Keep snacks with a long shelf life stashed in the trunk or console. We always have Z bars, peanut butter crackers and Cheese Itz. The snack bounty changes with their taste, but the stash is always fully stocked.
Pro Tip: Know the route and estimated time BEFORE you start driving. This may seem like a no-brainer, but I’ve had plenty of near misses where the field location wasn’t accurate. Account for time of day traffic, additional time to park and haul everything to the field, and last minute bathroom runs. It’s those hidden time sucks that ALWAYS throw me off.
Tips and Tricks for Packing Your Bag or Wagon
Depending on whether you’re stuck at the field all day or have a break between games, you’ll want to bring a large bag or your wagon. For tips on bags and wagons, here’s a list of recommendations. Regardless of which you choose, there are several key items that you need to bring because it’s probably a long walk back to the car.
- Umbrella– You’ll leave your umbrella in the car one time and that’ll be the last time you forget it.
- First aid kit– Band-aids, Advil/ Tylenol, Hydrocortisone, Neosporin, hair ties, safety pins, you name it. Whether their use is related to the actual game or not, I’ve used all of these items at some point during a tournament weekend.
8. Sunscreen– Regardless of the time of year, being outside all day means sunscreen is a must, both a face stick and spray.
9. Cooling/ Misting Fan– These are not only great for athletes, but also sports moms who prefer a breeze while watching their athlete play.
10. Hand Warmers– The common theme in this category is extreme weather. Another tip for surviving late Fall tournaments is to stash hand warmers in all coat pockets. Your fingertips will thank me.
11. Mini Cooler (with more snacks)– While snacks in the car are exposed to the heat, a mini cooler in your wagon can keep items cool. Uncrustables are a HUGE athlete favorite at all day tournaments. So are apple slices, fruit bars, Cuties and other snacks with high water content.
Tips and Tricks for Packing Your Athlete’s Bag
Your athlete should have packed his own bag. So in theory, he should have all the necessary items for the game. However, life happens, and things don’t always go as planned. From experience, here are a few tips for avoiding last minute catastrophes.
- Extra socks- Tournaments mean back to back games and wet socks are the worst.
- Extra gear– While you can’t have an extra set of everything, extra lacrosse gloves and elbow pads are a good idea. Same goes for an extra glove in baseball and extra shin guards for soccer.
- Extra required items (cup, shin guards, mouthguards)– This is a big one. Anything that is a requirement to play the sport should definitely have a backup. Athletic cup, shin guards, mouth guards.
- Durable snacks– Yes, your child will walk over to the team tent after the game to grab the healthy snacks. However, it doesn’t hurt to throw in some granola bars, protein bars, or other snacks that he can nibble on from the sidelines
Pro Tip: I put these pouches in my kids athletic bags to hold the extra small items like mouth guards, stick sunscreen, and eye black.
Tips and Tricks for Sibling Entertainment
Sometimes you get lucky and a babysitter allows you the freedom to focus solely on your athlete on the field. But that doesn’t always happen. So for these occasions, you definitely need a few tricks up your sleeve to stave off sibling boredom.
- Rainbow loom kit– This tip may surprise you, but trust me. Last summer my son played in a lacrosse tournament, and I watched an group of siblings entertain themselves making all kinds of bracelets, anklets, necklaces, and rings.
- Card Games– They may be old school, but they’re easy to pack and easy to play with people of all ages. They’re also good for making card houses or magic tricks.
18. Travel Hangman– Like the rainbow looms, you may think I’m crazy, but this game is also great for kids of all ages.
19. Soccer ball– The great thing about outdoor tournaments is the open space! Send your child and some other siblings to an open part of a field away from the action, and let them entertain themselves.
20. Cash for the concession stand– As much as I try to encourage siblings to be active and not resort to electronics (hello, Nintendo Switch), the reality is there’s nothing quite like the draw of a concession stand. Make sure to have plenty of small bills on hand for burgers, drinks, candy, and the inevitable Kona Ice truck.
After years of traveling to sports tournaments, I’ve realized that those weekends don’t have to be overwhelming. Yes, they may be exhausting. But, with some preparation, they can be very rewarding and memorable, for both you and your athlete. So grab this checklist of tips and tricks for travel sports moms, pack your bag and car, and get ready to enjoy this hectic phase of life!