Tournament Tips

New to tournaments? Find out what to expect and what to bring.

What the day looks like:


For day long tournaments, play usually starts in the morning around 9am (or for overnight tournaments usually either 5pm or 8pm). You should arrive early for check-in (usually between an 30min and an hour before play.)

Once you check in, find out what net you’ll be on for most of the day, find your friends and set up chairs and tents and whatever else you brought with you.

Pool Play

The first half of the day is “Pool Play”. You’ll be following the schedule on the clipboard left at your net (or the schedule on an app/website for some tournaments.) You play each team in your pool, going back and forth between playing, reffing other games in your pool and having a break. This usually takes between 4-7 hours depending on the number of teams/level/scoring format.

Throughout pool play, be sure to document scores, wins and loses on the provided clipboard/app. It's much easier to do it as each game finishes instead trying to read through all the scores at the end, and helps people keep track of how they're doing throughout the tournament.

After Pool Play is done, teams in each division are placed into playoff brackets. Depending on the format/number of teams the top 2 or 3 teams from each pool/net will go to playoffs, or teams will be separated different brackets (i.e. Gold and Silver) based on record.


Playoffs vary a lot between tournaments, but will usually be a single elimination bracket, either best of 3, or a single set

This is where the more serious part of the tournament happens. People tend to be more relaxed during pool play (since they just need to be in the top half of their pool) but will start to try their hardest in playoffs.

If you are eliminated during playoffs, you are usually expected to stay and ref the next round (either following the team you lost to, or some organizers may have you ref the opposite side of the bracket to avoid any bias.) While you may be tired and/or upset after losing, it's courteous to stay and ref. If you were on the opposite side of the experience and still playing, you would appreciate having a third party to keep score and sort out disputes in games that may be more charged then pool play.

What to bring with you:


Tournaments are long and you’ll sweat a lot. Make sure to bring lots of water and electrolytes. Some venues might have places to refill water bottles, but we always recommend bringing more than you think you need. Especially at hot summer tournaments.

If you’re playing an overnight tournament, having something caffeinated is also a good idea.


You need to keep your energy up throughout the day so snacks like protein bars, dried fruit, granola, pretzels… etc are great. You’ll be there for hours and depending on the location and your schedule you might not get a chance to go off sight to get more food.

Some people find it difficult to eat full meals in the middle of playing, so things like protein bars, jerky or other meal substitutes/supplements can be very helpful for keeping you full without weighing you down.


A big part of tournaments is hanging out and having a good time with friends. Many people bring along beer or seltzers or other alcoholic beverages to drink throughout the tournament. Make sure to balance alcohol with hydration!


Especially for hot days it can be handy to have a cooler filled with ice to keep things cold through the day.

Chairs and Tents

For outdoor tournaments having chairs to sit on between games is great. Having a canopy/tailgating tent is also great for keeping cool during the day and gives you a home base throughout the day.

Extra clothes

Having extra shirts for when you sweat, hoodies to keep warm if you’re in a gym, and extra socks for rain/sweat can help keep you comfortable throughout the tournament.

Things to keep in mind

It’s a marathon

Tournaments can be really long, especially grass tournaments with sideout scoring. It’s not only a test of volleyball skills, but also fitness/endurance. Keeping cool (mentally and physically) is one of the most important things to do during the day.

Have a short term memory

You'll be playing 6-12 sets throughout a tournament. Don't let one bad set (or a few bad plays) ruin your day. Forget about the last set and move onto the next one. Every game is a new opportunity.

Have fun!

Tournaments ARE a place to be competitive and take volleyball a bit more seriously than pickup. Still, unless you’re playing Open Level, or playing for a large cash prize, it’s important to remember to relax and have fun. Some days you might be winning a lot, and some days you might be in a tough pool where you’re losing a lot. If you get down in the dumps, it’s going to make the day miserable for both you and your teammates.