Here's a tip off...there are a least 4 key tips that youth sports leaders can learn from the 2016 NCAA basketball tournament.
Wider inclusion leads to better tournaments.
The NCAA basketball tournament starts with 68 teams and whittles down to one winner over 19 days of play. Starting with a wide pool does three things: Creates a wide audience appeal, generates increased revenues and leads to more interesting play. There are 36 teams that automatically qualify based on conference wins and another 32 teams are selected by a committee who look for the best teams across a wide spectrum of qualifications. Often some of the most exciting play comes from the 32 hand-picked teams who upset top seeds or create closely contested games. The lesson for youth sports leaders is to strive for wider inclusion in tournaments. Playing against the same teams year after year gets boring. Cast a wide net with your tournament marketing to entice new and more teams to participate.
Publish brackets early and widely.
NCAA basketball bracket mania has swept the land, almost taking on a life form of its own. As soon as the bracket is published, the sports talking heads hit the airwaves with their predictions and picks. Even in youth sports tournaments it is important to publish brackets early and widely. A good online tournament scheduling tool as offered by Engage Sports can help with this task. Once schedules are created and saved they are instantly published on the tournament site and participating coaches are notified by text and email. The earlier your brackets are published the greater the chance for preparation and engagement. Expand the marketing of your tournament by publishing links to online tournament brackets on community websites, bulletin boards, and local entertainment sites. People can't attend if they don't know your tournament is taking place.
Keep the games moving.
The NCAA basketball tournament runs like clock work. Aside from the dreaded final minute of closely contested games, the NCAA tournament games follow a brisk pace with limited downtime between events. The lesson here is to keep the pace of play moving. Unnecessary downtime saps both participants and attendees of their energy and enthusiasm. For youth sports tournament leaders, the lesson is to make sure times are clearly posted and notify coaches of any last-minute changes as soon as possible. Have set warm up times before games so that teams arrive on time and ready to play. Start on time and avoid delays. Last but not least, make sure the referees and umpires have the same schedule! There is nothing worse than two teams ready to play with no umpire/ref in sight.
Fun Fact: If you are wondering how long the final minute of an NCAA men's basketball game lasts, on average its 6.63 minutes. That was the conclusion of a study published in Regressing.deadspin.com that looked at all 52 games of the 2014 NCAA men's basketball tournament. The study found the longest final minute was 14.2 minutes and the shortest was 1.1, with the total average final minute lasting 6.63 minutes.
Good sportsmanship - keep the focus on the game.
While college basketball is filled with interesting personalities and highly talented players, for the most part they exist in the background. Coaches are well behaved and players play ball. The tournament is played with a air of respect and dignity. Coaches and teams congratulate each other following play. The lesson for youth sports leaders is to over emphasize good sportsmanship and that starts with coaches and adults demonstrating sportsmanship behaviors and expectations to their kids and players. Clearly state in your tournament rules that unsportsmanship-like behaviors will not be tolerated. Ask volunteers to report unruly spectators and coaches who may cross the line. Emphasize quality of play over winning. Create opportunities for the players to mingle and meet off the field of play.
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While the difference in scale between the NCAA basketball tournament and a youth sports tournament is enormous, when you boil it down to the basic's, there are great lessons to be learned. To create a great tournament, encourage widespread participation, publish the brackets early and widely to increase preparation, engagement and excitement, keep the pace of play moving and lastly, do everything possible to encourage good sportsmanship from coaches, participants, parents and fans.