Tournament Tips: Planning for Success

By: Robin Flachbart, Team Manager, Alabama

As I write this article, my team is busy working on their Team Challenge solution. For us, it is now crunch time as the Regional Tournament is only two weeks away. I cannot tell you how much joy these young ladies bring, and to hear them talking, debating, working, and laughing in the next room or in the garage, always brings a smile to my face.

When I was a first-year Team Manager, my feelings two weeks prior to tournament were much different. The thought of tournament day was a source of significant stress. I did not want my lack of experience to impact my team’s success at the tournament.

If there is one thing I have learned in the past five years, it’s that everything always seems to come together. Sometimes, things don’t always work out the way the team (or you) originally planned, but the end result is still a significant accomplishment and much can be learned from both the successes and the failures.

The two keys to a successful tournament are planning and attitude.

Perhaps my experience as an engineer at NASA taught me the most about planning for success as well as for the possibility that things will not always occur as you planned. In the Space Shuttle Program, we always did everything we could possibly do to ensure a safe and successful flight. That included planning for the unexpected and having procedures in place to deal with issues. With that in mind, here are some of my tips for tournament preparation:

  1. Make a list! All NASA missions have checklists. I start making a list about a week before the tournament. It includes items that the team or I will need on tournament day including: sets, props, costumes, repair supplies, safety equipment, items that need to be picked up that day, extension cords, paperwork, tournament schedule, and tournament map. As I watch the team’s dress rehearsal, I have paper and pen handy to write down any items that I missed.
  2. Make a schedule for the day. Find out when your team is performing and build a timeline for the day! NASA does not conduct a space mission without a timeline, which is sometimes planned down to the minute. Suggestions for things to put on your timeline are: challenge times, check-in times, makeup/costume preparation time, time to work on props/sets before check-in, lunch, breaks, time to see other teams perform, travel time between rooms or buildings at the venue, and the awards ceremony. I provide that timeline to the students and the parents.
  3. Know your venue. If you are not familiar with the venue, try to visit it a day or two before the tournament if possible. Look for the Team Challenge area including the loading and storage areas, launch area, and performance space. Note any difficult to navigate spaces and floor surfaces. Look for the best place to unload the vehicle carrying sets and props. You don’t want any surprises the day of tournament.
  4. Have a dress rehearsal with sets, costumes, and props. NASA rehearses everything so that procedures become almost automatic. Don’t forget to bring a stopwatch or use the stop watch feature on most smart phones. Rehearse moving from the launch area and setting up on stage. That set composed of ten heavy pallets may be a challenge to carry and set up unless your team designs for that aspect of the tournament.
  5. Try to find a quiet place to run through the skit the day of the tournament. A run-through typically helps the team with day-of-tournament jitters.
  6. Bring a “repair box.” The NASA philosophy is to have a back-up whenever possible. The repair box could contain unique materials necessary for the team to make repairs to the set, props, and costumes, plus basics such as scissors, duct tape (don’t leave home without it), box tape, paper, sewing kit, markers or sharpies, trash bags, cardboard, small tools if needed, and a box cutter. That repair box may be your team’s only way to recreate a prop or costume that was left at home.
  7. Bring snacks. At some venues, you may be located far away from the tournament snack bar. Confirm with parents if any students have allergies or preferences and plan accordingly.
  8. Don’t forget your tournament forms! Review the Team Challenge materials and communication from your affiliate to be certain that you have all of the correct forms including the correct number of copies.
  9. Solicit help! Many parents are eager to help on tournament day since the Interference Rule prevents them from helping in other ways. They can bring a snack, help load and unload sets, carpool students to lunch, volunteer a truck or trailer, make a supplies run, help supervise younger students, and hang on to personal items and phones during Instant Challenge. Plan for your tournament needs and ask for help.
  10. Encourage the team to bring something (preferably not electronic) to occupy their minds if there is down time in the schedule, such as a book or homework.
  11. Before going checking in for the Team Challenge, spend a few quiet minutes with the team. Commend them for all they have accomplished and encourage them to have fun, watch out for each other on stage, and enjoy the moment!

Click here to read Part 2 of this Tournament Tips series, Learning from Adversity.

Author: Robin Flachbart is a five-time DI Team Manager with the Alabama Affiliate. She is an aerospace engineer working as a NASA contractor and also pursuing History and Art History degrees from the University of Alabama in Huntsville. She is also a huge fan of STEAM!