Using Tournaments To Prepare for Practice

This summer I had the pleasure of watching one of my beach teams participate in a 16U beach doubles tournament. It was the first ones they had played together. One athlete just started playing sand a year ago, and this is the first season she’s actually joined a program to train. The other is 15 and adjusting to the new speed/pace of 16U ball versus 14U. From what I’ve seen over the last four years, this is the toughest jump an athlete has to make in regards to how the style/physical nature of the game is played.
They took 2nd in their pool and lost in the quarterfinals. They made a LOT of physical/mental mistakes in the process. It wasn’t their best showing.
But I couldn’t be more proud of them. Very few teams actually get the opportunity to experience tournament championships – which is why I choose not to prioritize this with my athletes. I have some kids that give their best effort every time they touch the court, and if they maximize their potential, I couldn’t ask more of them than that, win or lose.
I loved how they started down 12-2 in the last game, but then went 10-9 in their final 19 points as they never gave up. I loved how they communicated in between points, not always finding the right answer, but always searching for it. I loved how when one player made a mistake, the teammate would show support and try to pick her up rather than tear her down (and kudos to the parents for following suit).
We went into the next week of practice knowing a little bit more about what my athletes needed to work on. We do scrimmage at practice quite a bit, but to see them play a full day of matches really exposes both the strengths / areas of improvements. We spent a lot of the first two weeks of camp fine-tuning our serve/serve-receive/transitioning, and the players did great with that. We had just started to work on defense/hitting a variety of shots, and after the tournament we spent more time on that as it was definitely where the athletes seemed least comfortable.
In youth sports, we spend a lot of time using our practices to prepare ourselves to be successful at tournaments. However, the tournaments are a great way for us to figure out “When teams are scoring points on us, how are they doing it? What do our teams need to do to adapt to this? What can we do at practice so our athletes are more comfortable making the adjustments the next time they’re in that scenario?”
I’m a firm believer in process over results – but there’s nothing wrong with recognizing results to adjust your process accordingly.