During the tryouts for the travel team, you knew this day would come: You're spending the weekend at a hotel, not of your choosing, for an extended competition. But veteran sports families and travel experts have a few tips for making the most of your nonvacation getaway and finding the best accommodations:
Most inconveniences arise after you forget to reserve a room when tournament organizers send out the emails, says Janine Schofield, president of the Towson Recreation Council and mother of four whose children play five different sports.
Club teams often reserve a block of rooms for the team, but if you don't confirm early, the booking period may lapse and you'll be on your own.
During tournaments, there are typically a dozen options, but the closest hotels fill quickly.For example, during the Soccer Association of Columbia Invitational Tournament over Memorial Day weekend, there are typically 30 to 40 hotels for 630 teams to pick from, says Craig Blackburn, president of the Soccer Association of Columbia-Howard County.
Check with teammates when possible to coordinate so the team can stay together.
"It's great for team camaraderie," says Carol Pohlmeyer, director of Spark Field Hockey Club in Gambrills. "Parents will have more fun, too. The kids usually eat breakfast together, and the parents eat together."
Check the group rate
Chances are that there's a group rate for the tournament or team. But you may not always get the best deal that way. Sometimes, hotel honor point systems or your roadside-assistance membership will provide a better discount.
It doesn't hurt to call the front desk and ask if there are specials or discounts available to your team. In most cases, the team is getting a significant break, says Andy Shilling, head coach for the Baltimore Lacrosse Club, and event coordinator for B'More Lax Co.
Read the reviews
If you're in charge of making the arrangements or families are making individual arrangements, check the ratings.
No one wants to spend the weekend in a hotel that's under construction, or whose pool is booked for a party, or one that's just plain dirty. And you definitely don't want to come home with a tournament trophy and bed bugs.
Sure, you'll hear people complaining occasionally because they're being fussy, or raving about the hotel's breakfast buffet — could someone love the waffle maker that much? But you'll also see trends: Are multiple guests complaining about the noise? Is the free Wi-Fi reliable? Was there a problem with parking?
The reviews are also dated, so you can tell if it's a long-term problem or a more recent issue. In addition to popular sites such as Trip Advisor and checking reviews on Google, there's also a website that tracks bed-bug reports: raveable.com.
Find the right amenities
Distance is probably your first priority. "You'll probably be going to the field, back to the hotel, back to the field," says Shilling.
For large tournaments, there may be 20 or 30 "participating" hotels, but some may be in the nearest large town, not the nearest town.
Those with swimming pools are preferred – the bigger the better.
"It's good for off-the-field socializing," says Schofield.
Breakfast on-site is also an important consideration for many families, because these sporting events tend to start on the early side and there may not be time to find a local diner. (Be sure make sure the hotel's breakfast starts early enough for your schedule.)
When you do look for restaurants, look for ones that can handle the crowd. "Teams like to go out in groups," says Blackburn.
Don't forget your needs
Yes, parents are there to support children in their athletic endeavors and cheer them on. But let's not forget that this is your weekend, too. Would a latte make life on the lacrosse field at 7 a.m. livable? Will siblings be tagging along? Make arrangements accordingly.
True, most youth sporting events will not be held in the most grand vacation spots, but a quick trip to the mall can mean the difference between resentment and contentment.