Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Soccer tournament review: McMillan Invitational in Costa Mesa

The 2014 McMillan Invitational, held Labor Day weekend in Costa Mesa, California, was one of the best youth soccer tournaments I've attended. Not perfect, mind you (see below), but overall the tournament did many more things right than wrong.
Action in the 2014 McMillan Invitational

Putting on a good tournament requires attention to detail, and the McMillan organizers did well in areas where some competitions fall short. For example:

  • Schedules for the tournament were sent to coaches (and presumably forwarded to parents) a good eight days ahead of time. That's nice and gives families time to plan. Some tournaments can't seem to get schedules done until just a few days ahead of time.
  • Game scores were posted quickly online and standings quickly updated. It was easy to tell where your team stood. Many tournaments don't even try this.
  • After each final, a small awards presentation was held for the top two teams. This was nice and helped the players feel special about their achievement.
There were other positives. The fields were all grass, flat, and  in reasonable, if not spectacular, condition. (Too often, in an effort to cram in fields, tournaments end up placing a field on a slope or across the dirt of a baseball diamond.)

Real bathrooms not porta potties were available, though perhaps the tournament should have had both. At one point, one of the girls' bathrooms had an extended line out the door.

The competition was fairly balanced, another plus. The McMillan tournament is specifically for "Extra" teams (selected advanced players) from American Youth Soccer Organization leagues. Perhaps because of this limitation, the games were pretty competitive, with only a handful of blowouts across all divisions. This is good; teams benefit most by playing opponents of equal, or near-equal, ability.

All that said, the McMillan Tournament did have some negatives.

  • The placement on Labor Day weekend is inherently a problem, for two reasons. First, some families may not like giving up one of their few three-day weekends a year for a soccer tournament. Second, this weekend falls smack in the middle of the hottest time of the year for Southern California.                                                                                                                         Even though this year's temperatures weren't particularly high compared to historical numbers, it was still in the low 90s at midday and both spectators and players out in the sun got roasted. If you do this tournament in the future, be sure to bring canopies and umbrellas for shade, and plenty of water.
  • The parking situation was poor, although I give the tournament some credit for at least pointing people to alternatives. "Parking is going to be a challenge," the tournament warned parents ahead of time.                                                                                                                                   The lots nearest the fields at Costa Mesa High School and the adjacent Jack Hammett Sport Complex filled up quickly, and many drivers found themselves circling in search of a space or, worse, trapped in a parking lot deadend.                                                                                     But families who paid attention to the tournament's warnings found some alternatives available. A neighboring church was charging $5 to park in its lot. And there was free parking, with a slightly longer walk, across the street at Orange Coast Community College. Some drivers, unfortunately, chose the wrong entrance to the college and ended up parking much further away than necessary (psst: The right answer is Lot A.)

  • There were too many champions. Seems odd to say, right? But nearly every division of the McMillan was split into two completely separate flights. Thus, there were two champions. Over here, for example, you might have one team celebrating because they are the Under-11 girls champs. But over on the other side of the field there's another team celebrating the exact same thing.                                                                                                                                       This just isn't right. It diminishes the value of the championship. To change this would mean some significant changes either another round of games, or fewer teams.  But in the end, it would make the title "McMillan Invitational Champion" more meaningful.

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