Obviously, what happens at events depends on on the type of event and what your role is at the event. Here are some general guidelines for attending tournaments. Please provide additional suggestions in the comments.
Riding on the Bus
Most events involve a bus ride. Sometimes it might be a very nice charter bus with comfy seats, excellent climate control, and a working restroom. Usually, it’s a typical school bus with hard, bouncy seats (with or without seat belts), a (hopefully working) heater that blasts everyone near it and freezes everyone else too far away to feel it, and no restroom. The rides can last anywhere from 15 minutes to several hours. The longer rides usually start in the wee, chilly hours of the morning and return late at night.
You need to get a little creative in your packing for these bus trips. If you want to break your gear up into two bags–one for on the bus and one to take inside with you–that’s fine. The bus drivers usually do not mind you leaving items on the buses, but you do so at your own risk (so don’t bring valuables along).
Definitely dress in layers, since you never know ahead of time if you will be freezing or broiling. On longer trips, most of the athletes sleep or quietly read on the way down. A soft, warm blanket can help you stay comfy and soften a hard bus seat. A small travel pillow, inflatable camping pillow, or even a rolled up spare hoody can keep your head from banging into the window as the bus bounces along.
Non-perishable road trip snacks and beverages for the return trip are a great idea (many of the wrestlers will be cutting weight and will not be able to eat or drink until after weigh-ins, and they will not appreciate their teammates eating or drinking in front of them). Bring a small trash bag so that you don’t leave a mess behind on the bus.
Arriving at the Meet
Usually, it seems that there is a lot of “hurry up and wait” when we arrive at a meet. You quickly gather your items and sling your gear onto your shoulders and then do a quick forced march to wherever the heck the gym might be.
If we’re lucky, we drop our gear, strip down to our singlets (you did wear yours as your bottom layer, right?), get on the scales for weigh-ins, and then head to the stands to rehydrate and chow down. Other times, we have to wait in the stands for a while before we can weigh in. A sadder, hungrier group of people you will never see than a gym-full of wrestlers waiting to weigh in before a competition.
It is important that you keep your stuff together during this time. Sometimes, we relocate to a different seating area. Sometimes, we have to squish tighter together as more teams arrive. Keeping your gear together and in its bag also discourages thieves from stealing your stuff and helps you not misplace it. Plus, if you keep your gear in your bag, it is less likely to fall through the gaps in old-style bleachers. It’s pretty gross under there, and you do not want to have to try to retrieve something from down below.
During the Meet
Remember the phrase “hurry up and wait”? Here’s where the waiting part really kicks in. After eating, there will be a short warm-up period on the mats. Then you sit and wait. An hour or two after weigh-ins, brackets will be posted. That will cause a flurry of excitement as folks get to see who their competition will be, if they get a bye (a first-round “skip” due to an uneven number of wrestlers in the weight class), and whether it will be a regular bracket or a round-robin (where everyone wrestles everyone in the weight class, usually only if there are fewer than 4 wrestlers in the class). Then you wait again.
The national anthem may play, and then the contest begins. Depending on the size of the competition, it may take only a few minutes before you get called up, or it may take a lot longer. You wrestle for your short match, and then you sit and wait for your turn to come around again. If you are unfortunate enough to have lost both of your first matches, you are probably done for the rest of the day. Time to do schoolwork, sleep, read a book, or become a screen zombie. A better idea is to cheer on your teammates, but, sadly, a lot of people tend to forget to do that.
If you have done well, then you will continue to wrestle and wait, wrestle and wait, and then hopefully wrestle again at the semi-finals and finals of the tournament. If there are not a lot of people, you might have to wait for a minimum amount of time to pass before you are allowed to wrestle. That can result in mats being empty for several minutes at a time. It gets boring. Bring something to keep yourself occupied. If there’s enough room, some people like to stretch out on the bleachers or the gym floor and try to sleep for a bit.
Finally, the finals are held. Be sure that you have all your gear together, because soon it will be time to hurry up again. Individual awards are handed out, team scores are calculated, and team awards are distributed. We take team photos, and then it’s a rush back to the bus. If we did well as a team, the drive home is usually a pretty quick and happy affair. If not, well, a lot of people will just go to sleep and dream of better results for the next time.
Food and Swag
Bring food. Bring good food. Don’t rely upon the snack bars at the venues to carry stuff you want to eat. Sometimes, there is no snack bar. Sometimes they only carry junk that will give you a sugar rush followed by a sugar crash. Do not let that happen to you. Plan ahead. See the article Nutrition & Hydration for more advice.
That being said, some snack bars are amazing! So, bring along money to eat at the snack bar if there’s something there you really want. Some events are even known for their excellent snack bar items (tri-tip steak sandwiches, pulled pork, etc.). Use your best judgment.
Speaking of bringing money, many tournaments have t-shirts for sale. Maybe patches. Maybe there will be other vendors there with cool things to sell, too. At conference and section championships, there is always cool stuff to buy, and it often includes the athletes’ names printed on them. It would be sad to miss out. On the other hand, all that stuff gets expensive. Most shirts are in the $15-25 range, and hoodies and jackets can go for as much as $50. Patches are in the $10-20 range.
Even though credit cards are accepted on a lot more cell phones now, a lot of places still only accept cash. But, you don’t want to flash all that cash around so that someone picks your pocket (or more likely your gym bag when you aren’t looking). So, plan ahead. Keep some snack bar cash on you, and tuck your swag cash away where it’s less likely to be found (like inside a crusty old gym sock maybe?).
Family and Friends
It’s always nice when you have your personal cheering section with you at an event. Your family and friends are welcome to come to all of your events. However, they cannot ride on the team bus, and they must pay the general admission fees to get into the venues (usually $5-10, or more at the biggest tournaments).
For guests who plan to spend the entire day with the team, they can caravan with the bus. They will have to wait in the stands while the team checks in, weighs in, and does their warm-ups. Most guests will prefer to wait until later in the morning to arrive, since wrestling usually doesn’t start until around 9 AM.
As with the athletes, dress in layers. Bring some stuff to make yourself comfy (like a blanket, a folding stadium seat, etc.) and entertained (a power bank for your phone, a book, some crochet maybe).
Be aware that there are some venues that do not allow outside food and beverages. Many gyms have signs to that effect posted at the entrances, but those rules may be relaxed or even waived for wrestling (since our events last for most of the day). Then again, especially at the championships, the rules might be enforced. Obviously, there is also a big difference between bringing in a personal lunch bag versus a 45-quart ice chest on wheels. Since you have your own transportation, leave extra food and beverages in the car and restock as needed. And don’t forget money for the snack bars; it’s how the schools support their athletics programs. NEVER bring alcohol, and avoid bringing glass bottles.
Most little kids do not have the patience to sit quietly on hard bleachers for hours on end. If that is your situation, then you may want to consider trading off on which family member attends the events. Or, they may want to be there for your first match, leave for a while (don’t forget to get your hand stamped so you can re-enter without re-paying!), and then come back for a later match (hopefully you will still be competing at that point).
ALL MEMBERS OF THE AUDIENCE REFLECT ON THE TEAM. Any unsportsmanlike behavior (yelling at referees or coaches, throwing anything toward the mats or at athletes, fighting, razzing another team, etc.) can result in a) the team losing points, b) the person being ejected from the venue, or c) the person being banned from future events.
While that type of behavior is relatively uncommon, there are other things that guests do that cause problems.
- “Down in front” is something that you need to remember. There is an entire gym full of people trying to see the action on the mats. If you are standing in front of people, they can’t see. That’s rude. It might not get you ejected, but it certainly hurts our school’s reputation.
- Stay back from the edges of the mat. First, it’s a safety issue. There needs to be plenty of space for the wrestlers to move. It is amazing how quickly two heavyweight wrestlers can suddenly come into an open spot of the mat and thunder down onto the floor. You don’t want to be underneath all that mass. You don’t want to hurt the athletes, either. Second, you will probably be told by the referees to move back. If you persist, then the refs can cite you for unsportsmanlike behavior or they can just tell everyone to clear the mats and then nobody can get close. Again, this tarnishes our school’s reputation.
- Coaching from the stands or the mat is a big no-no. If you are not employed by the school to be a coach, then you should not be coaching on the mat. Period. It’s super easy to get caught up in the action and start yelling out things you want the wrestler to do, but a) it makes it harder for the athlete to hear his or her actual coach, and b) it annoys the refs who may take action against you. And, if you are yelling from the stands to your wrestler, he or she is probably not hearing you, but your neighbors surely are, and if you do have a Tarzan-like voice, you are, again, distracting your athlete from listening to his or her coach. There are reasons why coaches sometimes have athletes do things differently than you think they should. Trust them to do their jobs. Cheer, don’t coach.
- Never ever argue with a referee or call him/her a name. That is an automatic unsportsmanlike call, and you will lose the team points. You may also get ejected. And some refs have really good hearing, so hold in whatever you wanted to say until you are well out of earshot. If you cannot control yourself, you should not be at an event like this. And if you do it again, you will be told not to return.
Most of the athletes will ride back to Inderkum on the bus, and families will pick them up from the parking lot. However, if family members drove to the event, then they may take their athletes home with them.
If you will be leaving with your family:
- You must let the head coach at the event know that you are leaving and with whom.
- You may not leave (even if you are finished wrestling for the day) until the entire team is dismissed to return to the bus.
- If there are special circumstances, then talk to the head coach at the event and let him know. Only the head coach at the event can dismiss you early. Assistant coaches cannot, though not every assistant coach may realize that at the time.