Seeking help in creating a youth sports league or tournament schedule? You are not alone. Creating a game schedule that works for everyone’s needs is often a very difficult task. League scheduling is made more complex by conditions such field availability, time limitations, field lighting, blackout dates, division balance, rest requirements and much more. While you may feel like punting the schedule process to someone else, here are 8 sports schedule development tips that will help you keep your sanity and produce a great schedule.
Keep Last Year’s Schedule & Notations
Starting a youth sports league schedule from scratch is often the hardest thing to do. Save a master copy of the prior year’s schedule and as the season progresses make notes on how well the schedule worked. Refer to last year’s schedule before starting this year’s. Doing so will provide you a visual reference point and help keep your process moving.
Use an Online Scheduling Tool
Online scheduling systems for leagues and tournaments are great time-saving tools. Often wizard based, the systems walk the user through a schedule creation process. Sample schedule scenarios can be tried and viewed before a schedule is saved and published. While there are many options for online scheduling tools, a best practice is to choose a system, like Engage Sports, that integrates website, registration and scheduling all in one package. In that way, double data entry is eliminated and after a schedule is completed, the online schedule system will automatically populate the schedule to your website and calendars. Any changes that are made thereafter are likewise automatically distributed. Plus, keeping heed of rule #1 above, online scheduling systems automatically save copies of all schedules for quick reference in later years.
Know the Blackout Dates
Developing a comprehensive list of blackout dates is an important step. The sooner these are known, the better. There is nothing worse than completing a schedule and then realizing that you put games on a holiday.
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Know your Fields
Playing fields are usually not equal. Some fields are larger and can accommodate the older teams, some have lights others don’t, some are overflow and only used as a last resort. Whatever the issue, knowing these factors and limitations is important. A best practice is to keep a matrix of your fields with annotations denoting which age groups they support, if they have lights, etc.
Balance your Divisions
Make sure your teams are grouped in the correct divisions prior to starting the scheduling process. Ideally your registration system is integrated with your scheduling engine and feeds the teams in automatically. If not, you’ll need to make sure to enter them in advance and check for imbalance with the number of teams in a given division. You might find it helpful to enlist age group coordinators who know the teams better than you do and can assist with seeding the divisions.
Season Beginning & End Dates
This goes almost without saying, but the opening and end dates of a schedule are important data points to have at your disposal. Often the opening day is set in stone, but the end of the season can be more variable. This can be due to weather or the need to extend play to get more weekend dates. Often your trial schedules will pinpoint how many weeks of play are required to complete a season.
It’s a Numbers Game
Now that you know the number of teams, the number of games and the number of time slots on your fields, it all boils down to these numbers. Make sure you have enough field capacity for the games you need to schedule. Hopefully your registrar knew your field capacity in advance and registered teams in accordance with facility’s field availability. There are practical limitations to the number of teams you can accommodate each season. Know your numbers.
Have a Co-Pilot
A youth sports league revolves around its schedule. Thus in many respects the league revolves around the person who manages the schedule. If that person should become incapacitated, resigns or is unavailable, and schedule issues arise, your league may be up the creek without a paddle. It is vitally important that more than one person within your youth sports organization be skilled at creating and managing the schedule. A best practice is to have a schedule assistant or co-pilot who is equally trained on how to create and manage a schedule. If you are using an online sports scheduling system, this is even more important as there are access credentials that must be entered before changes can be made and while online scheduling systems are easy and powerful, there is a good bit of time in the seat needed before one would be considered an expert at the process.
There is a definite learning curve associated with league and tournament scheduling. Your first attempt will be the hardest, but successive schedules become easier to generate with your growing experience. That’s why it is so important to have a co-pilot so that more than one person gains this knowledge. Technology, information and patience are your friends. Use technology to simplify the task, gather all your details up front and patiently work the process and you create great schedules for your organization.
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