Taking more than 150 people on the road across the country to play a college football game is not an easy task. But with the right amount of preparation and organization, the process can be made much easier. I have been working with the football program at Stanford University since 2000. During this time, I have had the pleasure to work under numerous head coaches, athletic directors, assistant coaches and support staff. I have seen firsthand what works and what does not.
If I were asked about the most important components of “team travel,” I would narrow it down to four important points:
- Produce and distribute a travel manual.
- Always send out advance personnel.
- Be very specific with your meal specifications.
- Understand there is never a “right” or “wrong” way to do it.
I have found that the single most important thing a football ops director can do is create a detailed travel manual that clearly defines the needs and expectations of your team. This manual should be provided to everybody involved with the trip: coaches, football staff, athletic staff, donors, alumni, hotel personnel, bus drivers, charter coordinators, coaches’ wives, and just about any other person that is directly or indirectly involved in the operation.
The manual should contain detailed itineraries, travel policies, bus and charter requirements, meal specifications, meeting room set-ups, check-in procedures, and contact information.
The goal is simple. You want to make sure everybody involved has clear knowledge of what your travel policies will be. To get an idea of what items it contains, see the Travel Manual Table of Contents.
If you have the means to send out advanced personnel prior to the team’s arrival, I highly recommend it. In my case, I have been to every opponent’s city multiple times, so I have a pretty solid level of comfort with the hotels, airports and stadiums. We still utilize an advance person because it is always important to have a “man on the ground” before the team arrives.
Another critical form of advance travel occurs when we add a new non-conference opponent (for example, Duke in 2011), when we decide to switch team hotels in a familiar city (for example, Notre Dame in 2008), or when a hotel or stadium undergoes a remodel (for example, Oregon in 2003 and Seattle in 2006).
In a case like this, it is important to make the trip out to these locations no later than the early Spring prior to the season. I use these trips to select hotels and meet with the home team stadium personnel and home team game operations staff. For more specific details about advance travel, see the Advanced Checklist.
Along with our strength and conditioning coaches, we work with the hotel catering staff to ensure that our meals are prepared with precise specifications. With the exception of milk shakes and cookies on Friday night or the occasional snack of fried chicken strips when we travel two days ahead, most of our meals have very strict dietary requirements.
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First and foremost, our dietary priorities are low-fat, high-carbohydrate, moderate protein and high-fluid intake. As an example, our pre-game meal contains six types of pasta and four types of chicken, a salad bar that contains just about every item conceivable and a deli sandwich spread that allows the players to make a sandwich now or prepare one for pre-game or halftime.
We always have at least six beverage options pre-set on every table (orange juice, apple juice, lemonade, grape juice, water and milk) plus multiple tubs of bottled water and Gatorade situated throughout the meal room. Hotel catering staffs are used to doing just about everything, so try and be as precise as possible. Here’s an example of our specific meal requirements for a pre-game meal.
No Right Or Wrong Way
Like any team, our main goal is to maximize our level of focus, ensure the health of our players and limit the amount of stress and distractions for our travel group. Every team is different, and by no means are these considered the perfect way to travel.
Here are a few things we have done in the past that might be worth adopting with your program:
Security Screening: We always do our security screening at the executive terminal of the San Jose Airport. The screening staff is consistent; there is always a good back-up plan in the event of rain and on that side of the airport, we rarely deal with any delays. I know some folks prefer the screening process to take place at their football facility. Because of our layout, this option does not work for us, but we have looked into it on several occasions. Consult your charter coordinator, your TSA rep or the company that handles your screening and see if this is an option for you. If it can be done this way, it will save you a lot of time.
Team Activities: Don’t be afraid to take your team to a movie on Friday night or bowling on game day. Movies are a great way to get the players out in the community and to bond as a team. It also allows the players to get their minds away from the game for a couple of hours. If you are playing a home night game and school is not yet in session, have your team take part in a light, non-football activity like bowling or wiffle ball. We started doing it a few years ago and it helps eliminate the boredom of sitting around the hotel all day.
Travel Itinerary: I have included an example itinerary. In 2005-2006, we always ate our Friday night dinner at the same hotels, home or away. The reasoning was that our players and coaches would eat our same Friday night dinner in a familiar atmosphere with the usual hotel staff and the usual menu. We didn’t have to worry about an inconsistent meal on the road. By the time we arrived at the visiting hotel, we had a few quick meetings, a team snack and off to bed. It was an interesting, yet sensible way to travel.
The example itinerary shows what our travel itinerary looked like for a cross-country trip, in this case, the game against Notre Dame in 2010. A few things to note:
- We conducted our normal Thursday meeting and practice schedule before departing.
- We faced a three-hour time change in South Bend
- We toured the College Football Hall of Fame on Friday.
The article was written by Matt Doyle, Senior Associate Athletics Director & Director Of Football Operations And Player Programs, Stanford University.