Summer Tournament Survival Guide


A summer sports tournament is not the time to pack light. Over the years, I’ve learned a lot from experience – and from peeking into the stylish utility totes of veteran sports moms. Here are some field-tested tips if you’re preparing for a weekend of soccer, baseball or any other outdoor activity.

Organize your athlete. Obviously, the child who will be competing is your first priority. Wash all pieces of his or her uniform and bring extras of everything, especially socks (even if it’s not raining, there’s still the dewy morning grass). Double-check the equipment bag to make sure everything is there – do a mental “head to toe” review if you need to. Label everything to avoid mix-ups with teammates’ identical-looking gear.

Establish a home base. When you arrive at the tournament site, find a safe spot to set up your family’s mini headquarters. You can rig up a canopy, tent or sunbrella if you have one, or go old-school with camp chairs and a blanket. Speaking of blankets, a durable one (or an old sleeping bag) can be a useful multi-purpose item. Keep it in your vehicle at all times for impromptu picnics or unseasonably chilly days.

Don’t trust the forecast. If you’re asking yourself “weather” or not you need to bring something, the answer is always yes. Adopt the same packing approach you would have for camping. You’ll be ready for anything if you have rain jackets, umbrellas, bug spray, hats, sunglasses and sunscreen.

Embrace the need for change. One mom of three confided that her secret to being ultra-prepared for any type of outing, from a sports event to a day at the zoo, is to pack a bag with a change of clothes for each person, including herself. She throws in a full outfit, extra underwear, a cozy hoodie and some plastic bags for wet or soiled items. She stashes it in the trunk until there’s a spill, bathroom accident, downpour, dramatic temperature change or other unforeseen incident.

BYOF (Bring Your Own Food). The venue may have a concession stand, but it is usually stocked with overpriced junk food that won’t do a great job of fueling your young athlete’s performance. Unhealthy or unfamiliar foods, combined with pre-game nervousness, may cause a sore stomach that prevents him or her from participating. Instead, pack a cooler with wholesome foods that you know your child will eat. This way, if treats like Gatorade and Freezies surface along the way, at least you can balance them out with some healthy options. If your hotel room has a fridge, you can also visit a local grocery store and pick up a few essentials.

Bring all the snacks. Always bring way more food than you think you’ll need. Avoid anything chocolate-coated, since it will end up as a melty mess. Some popular choices are strawberries, watermelon, and pre-cut raw veggies. Banana bread is also a highly portable snack for any time of the day. To manage younger kids’ portions, bring plastic containers that you can refill from a larger bag of crackers, popcorn or pretzels. Individually wrapped snacks like granola bars, applesauce pouches or Bear Paws are also lifesavers when the game goes into overtime or extra innings.

Have an ice day. You’ll need lots of water to keep everyone cool and hydrated. Your new best friend is the hotel’s ice machine, where you can fill your cooler and water bottles at the start of the day. I’ve started bringing yogurt or margarine containers with lids and filling those with ice cubes, too. As the day goes on, I refresh the kids’ water bottles with ice and add bottled water from the cooler.

Keep it clean, part 1. Good hygiene habits can be a challenge when you’re in the middle of an open field with only a port-a-potty in sight. You’ll be glad you tossed a package of wet wipes or a bottle of hand sanitizer in your bag. A towel is also handy if your kids (like mine) freak out at the noise of a public washroom air dryer. A mom of four told me that she keeps all eight of her kids’ hands clean by carrying a liquid soap pump with her, since sportsplex soap dispensers are empty 99% of the time.  She also uses it at the hotel in place of those tiny paper-wrapped bars that are mangled after five minutes.

Keep it clean, part 2. A small amount of dish soap and a bottle brush are helpful for washing out water bottles, mouth guards, sippy cups or snack containers back at the hotel. You can also pack a stain-remover stick and laundry soap in case you need to launder anything in the evening.

Pray for a playground. Yes, you’re there to cheer on your young athlete, but he or she is busy with the competition and has plenty of coach support and supervision. The rest of your energy will likely go into entertaining and monitoring any siblings who are along for the ride. Remember how you set up your home base at the start? This helps delineate where younger siblings should stay, or where older ones should check back in if they venture off for a short time. Research the sports complex ahead of time to find out if there is a playground or splash pad for siblings to enjoy.

Provide activities, old and new. Each sibling should have an age-appropriate activity bag of toys and books – school-aged kids can even pack it themselves. My six-year-old’s must-have sideline items are a lunch kit of mismatched markers and a blank spiral notebook. Sometimes I will pre-buy a small dollar-store item to surprise him with during a long day. The main thing I’ve learned is to only bring things that are expendable, meaning that no one will be heartbroken if they are lost or damaged. Sometimes other kids (from our team or the opposing side) will wander by and want in on the action. I have found that beat-up Hot Wheels cars and plastic character figurines (the kind you’d find in a Happy Meal) have universal appeal. Duplo is easily shared and keeps little hands busy (Lego pieces are too small and easy to lose). An old-fashioned deck of cards can occupy a group of kids with a friendly game of Go Fish. The big win here is that you might actually get to watch the game for a few uninterrupted minutes. Go team!




Comment below with your own tips on how to survive sports tournaments, and be entered with win a Mabel’s Labels Sports Label Pack! 

Contest closes August 1st, 2017 at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. One entry per person, winner to be chosen by random draw. This contest is open internationally. By entering you are confirming that you are at least 13 years of age.


Kristi York

Author: Kristi York

Kristi York is a freelance writer and mom of two sports-loving boys. She is a regular contributor to ParentsCanada magazine, Running Room magazine, and the ParticipACTION website.

49 thoughts

  1. Another amazing article with very organized, sensible tips. Those tournament days can be very long for little ones that are not playing. Entertaining them and also trying to watch you athlete can be extremely challenging. Your tips are so practical for everyone. It also is helpful for grandparents who try to help the parents manage the little ones. An extra cooler of snacks or a bag of new activities can alleviate the load on the parents.
    Thanks for another great article that has inspired me to get better organized for tournaments. Should be posted on my fridge.

  2. My biggest problem is when it’s cold/rainy/snowy. I have Cold Urticaria. I am allergic to the cold. Many times I could not attend my daughters soccer games because it was too cold. I discovered an amazing product: Under The Weather pod. It makes it up to 30 degrees warmer! I have tested it and it really works! I can now enjoy my daughters games and stay warm too!

  3. My 13 year old daughter is a first degree black belt and when she has tournaments I always bring Clorox wipes for her sparring gear and febreeze for her gear bag !!! We always bring water to hydrate and bananas for the potassium to fend off any muscle strains !!! She brings her phone stocked with tunes to motivate herself !!!

  4. Put your kid’s name on everything! (Mabel’s Labels help!) They will, without a doubt, leave things behind.

  5. Great article. I like to bring one of those fan/water sprayers. It is HOT here in Florida and they help a little. Snacks and a lot of water are must haves too.

  6. Love these tips!! Especially the extra ice in a container! My tip is to always have extra sunscreen! I like to keep an extra bottle in a cooler and it feels nice and cool when reapplied! I also keep wet clothes in individual baggies in a cooler as a refreshing way to clean faces and hands!

  7. Be prepared for any kind of weather. Bring sunscreen or umbrella. Umbrella will be useful either if it rains or just cover from the sun.

  8. Go to bed early. Tournaments always start so early in the morning and you could end up being out there all day!

  9. I think the most important tip is snacks!! Other toys and activities for the siblings also help. Plus bug repellent and sunscreen…and a little bribe of ice cream for good behaviour never hurts 😊

  10. Great tips! We always pack everything in a wagon – makes life easier moving from field to field and to the car. Topped with a plastic backed picnic blanket to keep everything dry, it’s our tournament staple.

  11. Charge your camera but a video camera is also great to capture those moments and play them back so they can watch themselves in action on tv when you get home

  12. Charge your camera but a video camera is also great to capture those moments and play them back so they can watch themselves in action on tv when you get home

  13. Folding bag chairs don’t take up a lot of room and wouldn’t be a bad option to throw in the trunk. I’d suggest tossing a Frisbee, baseball and gloves, bubbles, etc. into the bag. These can be enjoyed either by siblings on the sidelines or even the team in breaks between games. We got caught unprepared one time and made our own game of throwing pinecones we’d gathered into a cloth bag several feet away. Creativity can sometimes save the day!

  14. What an amazing article that so many sports Moms/Families can relate to! You have definitely hit the nail on the head with all your tips! My biggest piece of advice is to pack the car the night before as this takes away the odds of forgetting something important in the morning rush to hit the road. I also make sure to involve the sibling(s) of the athlete in the packing of their activities for the weekend! That way when you hear the “Mom I’m bored” you can resort back to…”Well you chose the toys, book, game etc…” 🙂

  15. Great tips!!!
    I also make sure I have a kid friendly play list on my phone, great for the rain delay dance parties and for some fun during any down time.

  16. Another great read! Don’t forget to leave room for the kids when you’re packing up!

    Auntie Maureen

  17. Have fun and enjoy watching your child play. Don’t forget to take care of yourself too – stay hydrated, use sun protection and enjoy the healthy snacks you brought.

  18. We play soccer. I bring lots of snacks and cold drinks for everyone. For my youngest, I pack a bag with small toys, crayons, a coloring book, some books and his soccer ball. Also, I bring lots of sunscreen.

  19. Bring extra pieces of clothing to layer on or off, pair of runners especially if the kiddos play soccer, white towels that can be soaked to help cool
    Off, tones of healthy snack and invest in water bottles that keep contents cool for 6 hours at least.

  20. These tips are very helpful. Tournaments or competitions are long days for families. However I would like to remind parents about their use of snacks, healthy or not. In general, weight control is caused by a balance of food input and activity output. Spectators should monitor the amount and type of snacks when sedentary or bored.

  21. I always overpack! Throw everything in the trunk and you will always be ready for anything. I keep a special “first aid” kit in the car too… with lots of bandaids, Vaseline, after-bite, etc

  22. Great tips and ideas! I sometimes bring liquid laundry detergent and hand wash really sweaty jerseys or pants in the sink at the hotel and let them hang dry overnight. It’s amazing how disgusting the jerseys can get after a couple of games.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *