Managing Sports Tours: Competition or Culture? | Sports Destination Management

Managing Sports Tours: Competition or Culture?

Aug 31, 2012 | By: Robin Lee
What is the focus of your international sports tour?


Piotr Pawinski/

When talking to a prospective client about taking their team on an international sports tour, there are a number of basic questions that we always ask:

Where do you want to go?
When do you want to travel?
How many days/nights do you want to be on tour?
How many people in your group?

It says something of the American character and competitive spirit though that the answer to our next question (What do you want the focus of the tour to be?) is invariably: “We want to go and win something.”

If you’ve saved a large number of vacation days and have a large enough budget, you can combine the two, but in general most international sports tours fall into two categories. You can travel and play in a tournament, or you can travel and play a series of friendly (scrimmage) games. Both have their benefits and both have their drawbacks, but you should definitely consider both in your tour planning process.


Lukas Blazek/

The majority of tour planners initially have one thing in mind – playing in an international tournament. In many of our youth sports (especially soccer, lacrosse, field hockey and basketball which are the most likely sports to travel overseas), our competitive calendar includes a number of weekend tournaments where teams from various states come together to challenge themselves against teams they would not usually meet in their normal local league schedule.

Depending on the level of competition, many of these tournaments supply shiny medals for participating, and oversized trophies for winning. It is a natural extension in most tour planners' minds, therefore, to enter a similar tournament in a foreign country. After all, that is how you compete when away from home, isn’t it?

International tournaments, primarily located in Europe, can be a wonderful experience. Depending on the tournament you choose and its size and prestige, you can end up competing against teams not just from the host nation, but also from across Europe and often even South America, Africa, Asia and Australia/New Zealand. The lifetime experience of that diverse opposition is indescribable.

The larger (read: better and more established) tournaments also normally include activities and extras that your players will remember forever. Opening ceremonies modeled on the Olympics (and therefore probably a big selling point this year) regularly include dancer shows, fireworks spectaculars and the always-loved ‘Parade of Nations.' Closing ceremonies can also be extravagant affairs, especially combined with prize giving ceremonies in stadiums or arenas of professional teams.

Most international tournaments will also offer reduced admissions to local attractions, social events for coaches and team leaders and a variety of other activities to keep the participants entertained. So all in all entering an international tournament can be a wonderful option.


Nico Smit/

On the flip side, though, there are a number of reasons why they may not be the best tour option for your group. For a start, most major European summer youth tournaments are not only played over a weekend, but are anything from four to seven days long. This could be a significant proportion of your time abroad. You may only play one game per day, but if that game is scheduled right in the middle of the day, it seriously restricts your opportunities to explore the local area. If you have two games in a day, that means the day is all about sport. Do you want to spend all that money to travel across the Atlantic to sit on a field or in a gym all day? You could do that at home and spend a lot less money.

Similarly, especially for field sports, the logistics of a major tournament mean they are not usually located in or near major cities. Rarely are there enough quality fields to allow large-scale youth tournaments in an urban or suburban setting. They tend to be in rural areas which though quaint and giving a sense of the 'real people' of that country, might mean you do not get to visit the major cities. Do you want to go to England but never get to London? Travel to Spain but not see Barcelona or Madrid? Weigh those factors in as well because they will come into play.

Finally, though the tournaments will always do their best to secure equity, you never can tell what the quality of your opposition will be. There is always the chance that you will be head and shoulders above your competition and walk your way through to lifting the trophy. It will still be nice to bring that pretty thing home, but will it mean the same if every contest was a blowout?

Similarly, you don’t want to travel so far, lose every contest heavily, and be knocked out of a tournament when there’s a couple of days of elimination games still to play. This latter point is made all the worse if your tournament is rurally based and you’ve already exhausted all the sightseeing options.


Dmitry Argunov/

Rather than focusing on pure competition at an international tournament, though, you can shift the concentration to culture and discovery on a friendly (can you tell I’m English?) tour. On such a tour, your provider can design the itinerary so you visit all the major sites/cities of your chosen destination, and play scrimmage games against local teams as you travel.

For instance, it you head to Italy, you can fly into Milan and start the tour there and in Lake Como, continue down to Florence and Tuscany, and finish in Rome. In each location your can explore the area as you would on a non-sports tour, but also take time out to train at local facilities, often with local coaches if desired, and play scrimmage games against local teams. In doing so you create a balance of sport and sightseeing, and hopefully have the best of both worlds.

On a friendly tour, you don’t get the thrill of competing for a prize, but you do get to fully discover your destination. These types of tours also often lead to a much more significant cultural exchange. Although you may only compete against teams from the host nation, the atmosphere of a scrimmage game can be much more welcoming and culturally diverse.

Host teams will sometimes participate in joint practice sessions the day before your game, so coaches can exchange ideas and players can get to know their adversaries. After the game, many teams will host a “social” where you are invited into their clubhouse for refreshments and dialogue. Social networking at these events is immense and the long-term value of establishing Facebook, Twitter or simple e-mail friends may be much longer lasting than your tournament participation medal

Either way with the right tour planner, you will have a fantastic experience on your international sports adventure. The young players will have lifetime memories and the accompanying family members an immense pride in seeing their children playing overseas. If you are thinking of planning an international sports tour, though, be sure to consider both. The competitive coach in you will love the intensity of a tournament tour, but the youngsters and family members that form the majority of your group may just benefit more by keeping things friendly.

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