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Demosphere Sidelines: Tournament Best Practices

An Interview with Houston Dynamo Dash’s Stuart Taylor

Demosphere’s President, Kris Baker, and Account Executive Dannelle Lewandowski, recently had the opportunity to sit down with Stuart Taylor, Tournament and Events Director for Dynamo Dash Youth Soccer, to discuss the success of their recent tournament, the Houston Youth Cup. Stuart graciously agreed to share some feedback about their own event to help other Clubs and Tournament Directors around the country as they plan theirs.

Demosphere: “Tell us a little bit about your organization and some of the functions you do in your role there.”

Taylor: “I work with Dynamo Dash Youth Soccer and we are the youth partners of the Houston Dynamo and Houston Dash pro teams – We have 2 offices, one based in the Woodlands (North of Houston) and one based in League City (south of Houston). The former Texas Rush and Space City Soccer Clubs came together to form the organization that we are right now, representing the youth programs for the Houston Dynamo and Houston Dash Pro teams within 100 miles of  BBVA Stadium. We have approximately 7,500 members with multiple locations serving special needs through elite level players in the Development Academy. 

Like many in the soccer world, I have several roles within my club; I am the Tournament and Events Director for the club, I lead the club’s social media and website, and I coach teams in the competitive program.  I am the Tournament Director for the Houston Youth Cup (August) and Houston Premier Cup (January). I also oversee 3 other tournaments: the 3v3 Winterblast, 3v3 Turf Cup and the 5v5 Memorial Day Classic. These tournaments are focused around the players having fun by dressing up, socializing with their friends and are thought of as a good way to close out the season for the Recreational, Youth Academy and Competitive teams.”

Demosphere Pro Tip: If your organization has different people managing your events from those who manage the website and/or social media content, make sure they work together before, during and after to ensure the event is getting plenty of up-to-date public content pushed out to teams and Clubs. This helps market the event to new teams and Clubs, shares the successes of your event with participating groups and provides post-event buzz to encourage teams to return the following year. 

Demosphere: “We’ve heard your recent tournament was quite successful – can you tell us a little bit about this event?”

Taylor:  “We had 292 teams, U11-U19 teams come from South Texas, all around Houston, Austin, San Antonio, the Valley, El Paso and North Texas teams from Dallas and Waco. The tournament was hosted at 10 different sites. Through our partnership with the Houston Dynamo and Houston Dash we were able to offer discounted tickets to teams attending for an MLS game. Before the Dynamo/Dash partnership, this tournament was known as  Rush Cup. Between Rush Cup and Houston Youth Cup this was our 12th year! 

The Houston Youth Cup is always scheduled for two weeks before Labor Day. This gives our teams and visiting teams the opportunity to play the weekend of Houston Youth Cup, then have a week off before they play a Labor Day tournament, usually in Houston, Austin or Dallas.” 

Pro Tip: Draw on local community resources to make your event unique. Some ideas to consider: discounted tickets to a local event or historic place; meet local pro players of any sport; coupons for local restaurants; bring in some local food trucks for on-site food options; have local businesses come on-site to expo things like athletic gear, injury prevention, health & wellness, training resources. Send us your ideas to!

Demosphere: “What are some of the things you attribute to pulling off such a well-run event? How can other organizations emulate your success?”

Taylor: “The first thing is the support of tournament committee I put together. A Field Director, Milton Arraez,- to make sure the fields are set up properly, lines painted, goals set up;  a Scheduler, Stacey Knox, to help me book fields, schedule games – she’s been doing this for a number of years; she’s my right hand; the Assistant Tournament Director; a Hotel Coordinator, Simon Boddison, to make sure out of town teams get booked in the host hotels so that we collect the rebates. 30-40% of teams stay in these hotels; a Referee Coordinator, Stuart Fitzsimons, who works with assignors to make sure refs are scheduled and get paid; a Site League Coordinator, Jennifer Barrows, who manages the volunteers/ teams who are running some of the tournaments sites. Teams can raise money by selling concessions at the smaller sites and use that money to offset costs for travel, attending another tournament, coaches costs, etc.  

We have some reciprocal relationships with other clubs to track and manage brackets. I like working with other clubs to rank teams too. I send a google sheet out to be filled in to find out what teams they are going to register, how the teams rank in their club – especially if they have multiple teams in the same age group. Once I have this information, I am able to place teams in the correct division. I track registrations through our tournament software and make sure the individual coaches don’t have schedule conflicts.  For example, if one coach has 3 teams in the tournament, I try to make sure that a coach doesn’t have multiple games set for the same time or have to travel from a northern site to a southern site. 

Additionally, I market the event through social media and Hubspot and use countdown posts to encourage action. We actually use Hubspot across the whole club for marketing and communication purposes.”

Demosphere Pro Tip: Having a strong tournament committee is a key ingredient for success. Reach out to participating team managers within your organization. Provide free or reduced tournament entry fees to teams that volunteer to work as site coordinators, field marshals, concessions managers, etc. Use a free tool like Sign Up Genius to manage various volunteer time slots to ensure you have the coverage you need.

Demosphere: “Tell us a little bit about some of the functions for which you rely upon various Sports Management applications to help you run the event.” 

Taylor: “We use a tournament management solution for tracking teams, divisions and generating game schedules. Also Hubspot and social media for pre-registration and promotion of the event. I also use Google Sheets to track registrations and update Directors and Program leads about the progress on registration of our teams as well – we had 150 of our own Club teams. Additionally, I use Excel to see where we are year over year and to know what fields spaces we need for the event, and to manage and track the progress of the event compared to previous years. 

Word & PowerPoint come in handy to create the Tournament Welcome Packet with maps and schedules, etc. We send this to the teams and post it on the website, which is better than just sending it as an email to only the team contacts. Through the tournament packet, we were able to reach other people – folks who might not be on the team distribution list – such as the players and parents.

We generate the game schedules via our tournament management software and then export the schedule to an outsourced Referee assignor that may use some separate software.”

Demosphere Pro Tip: Consider using a tournament scheduling solution that integrates the referee assigning tools. Having game schedules fully integrated with the ref assigning function significantly improves workflow and communication. Demosphere’s Referee Management platform may be just what you’re looking for.

Demosphere: “Proceeds from this event appear to be allocated for a specific purpose, can you elaborate on that concept a bit?”

Taylor: “Funds from the 2019 event will be used to provide scholarship opportunities for players that register for the 2020-21 season. Previously in 2017/18 – 123 players received some level of assistance and in 2018/19 152 players received scholarships. Over the past 10 years the tournament has provided well over 1 million dollars in scholarships.”

Demosphere Pro Tip: Using proceeds from your events to grow participation and membership across your organization is a great idea. Consider managing your financial aid/scholarship program with an integrated Financial Aid solution as part of your Clubs online registration solution. Demosphere’s tools may help you manage this aspect of your organization.

Demosphere: “Were there any takeaways from this year’s event that you’ll incorporate next year to improve even more?”

Taylor: “Next year I’d like to increase branding at the event and use the MLS/NWSL affiliations with signage, tents, banners and traffic barriers. We want a staging area for winners and finalists but with 6-7 places hosting finals  it is not always economical. We want to keep as much money for scholarships as possible. I’d also like to increase directional signage for parking, restrooms, concessions and fields, and provide solutions for traffic control. A lot of teams are coming and going throughout the event. Lastly, we want to increase the number of quality fields. Some of the fields we use are not our regular fields so we want to do what we can do more to encourage the maintenance of the fields we rent.” 

Pro Tip: Partner with a local design or print company to see if they’d be willing to donate signage for your event. Finding local partners to contribute to the success of your event is a great way to cross market and bring the community together.

Demosphere: “How are you dealing with any safety issues during the Tournament?”

Taylor: “With regards to safety: 2 or 3 locations have turf fields and heat is our big safety concern there. As a result, we don’t schedule games between noon and 5:30pm during the heat of the day. We also provide water and cups during games on those fields to make sure the kids stay hydrated. One of the club’s sponsors, Memorial Herman, provides medical athletic trainers for all of the sites. 

We then have set up crews out at fields on Friday to check goals and fields for any potential safety issues beforehand.”

Demosphere Pro Tip: Every youth sports organization should be partnering with a local health provider of some sort. Not only are these organizations great sponsors and partners, they bring a layer of protection and comfort across your member families in the areas of health and safety. If you’re not already partnering with a local group, start that conversation today.

Demosphere: “Are you doing any post event surveys?”  

Taylor: “We poll our staff and teams afterward. They give good critical feedback and understand the challenges specific to our event for things like field availability and locations, etc. We get positives and negatives from each site director as well.”

Demosphere Pro Tip: It’s important to seek feedback from participating Clubs and teams to learn what worked well, what areas needed improvement, and to get new ideas for future events. Consider using a tool like Constant Contact to send out surveys to participating Clubs, teams and parents.

Demosphere: “Are there any other ideas or notes you’d like to share with our readers to help them prepare for their next event?”

Taylor: Identify and delegate the areas that you can have someone else handle and then ensure the most important areas are handled by yourself/the tournament director (medals, equipment, branding). These are the areas that really increase the perceived value of the event. Other items can be delegated to committee members. Also, work with the other clubs in your area to form relationships and to bring in new clubs or more teams from current attendees.”

Demosphere would like to thank Stuart Taylor and the Houston Dynamo/Dash Youth Soccer Club for taking the time to share some of their best practices related to running a successful tournament event. We’d love to hear about what’s working well for your organization too – so we can learn from and share in each others’ successes. If you have a story to share, please send us a note to and we’ll highlight your story too!

Kris Baker

Kris Baker is the President of Demosphere and has been serving the Youth Sports Community since 2006.