Hello, friends. I'm not sure if anyone really uses this board anymore, but I have had a few thoughts brewing in my head about how we can make tournaments function better. So, I'm going to use it.
Without a doubt, tournament hosts do all of the hard work in our community - I truly dread items like finding spaces for increasing numbers of debaters (which is such a good problem to have...more debate is always good), securing food for both concessions and judge lounges, and dealing with the teacher on Monday morning that is irate that the third desk in the fourth row has been moved one inch from its proper place. We are fortunate to have great people host us each weekend.
And, without a doubt, I truly enjoy supporting tournament hosts as much as I can in the logistics role the tournaments I attend. I know full well that I can tend to be obsessive and curmudgeonly when it comes to this work, but trust me...I love helping with tournament operations. It has become part of my DNA. And, given that I do it pretty regularly, I've noticed a few trends that would be good items to think about to maximize tournament efficiency...and to help DJ, myself, and all of the tournaments hosts to provide a quality experience that will make Saturdays more enjoyable for both coaches and debaters. Please note: NONE of this is an indictment of any particular person, school or group. Nor is it meant to assess blame for anything or to be preachy. Rather, these are thoughts that I think can help us, as a debate community, do better in the service we provide to kids. This all comes out of a sincere respect, love, and appreciation for the Minnesota debate community (I came back from Fort Lauderdale/Miami beaches and sun just because of how great this place is and you people are).
With that said, ESPECIALLY given the technology we now have at our disposal, I think that the following can make the work we do for kids even better:
1. As coaches, we can try to do more to have accuracy in competitor data. Tabroom.com has given us the ability to make changes to our tournament roster as late as the start of registration. Even though coaches can (and often have been) using this feature, DJ and I have still printed off registration sheets at the start of registration each tournament so that schools can physically verify their entries. Despite the fact that coaches can now make changes to their entries while en route to the tournament via computer/smartphone, and can physically verify their entries at tournament registration using printed registration sheets, entries have had to be changed 10-15 minutes AFTER THE RELEASE OF THE ROUND ONE PAIRING because of inaccurate data at every tournament I have been at so far this season. This has included coaches not properly dropping students not in attendance, not recognizing there were students on the bus that were not registered, and not realizing that their students were entered in the wrong division. With tabroom.com, coaches completely control the data; inaccuracies in registration are solely due to the school and not the tournament. Inaccurate data has a major effect when it is not caught until after the release of the round one pairing. I hate byes, because they prevent kids from debating when they came to a tournament to debate. Mathematically, I get it when we have a bye because a division has an odd number of entries. But, we have now had 2-3 byes in a single division the past few weeks because competitor data was wrong and we had to make changes when it was too late after the release of a round. To me, that's way too many kids that are sitting around when they could be debating.
2. As coaches, we can try to do more to have accuracy in judge data. Tabroom.com gives you the option to make comments regarding your judges (just as Joy of Tournaments did). There are three categories of data that would be very helpful to have, but often are not noted in school registrations. (1) Conflicts. Especially as coaches change schools (which I know I'm guilty of...but as an FYI, I have it so good that I am not planning on leaving Eastview until retirement), conflicts are harder and harder to track. And, there are lots of instances where judges have had to be replaced because conflicts are not noted in the system. Putting a comment regarding entries or students a judge should not judge would be helpful, as we wouldn't have to lose time finding a new judge that fits, and wouldn't have debaters prepping for a judge that won't actually be judging the round. (2) Experience. There are lots of parents and friends of programs that judge debate...and that's awesome. I think all parents should come in to see what their kids do. But, when there are no notes regarding experience level, parents and other new judges get rounds in JV or varsity that they feel uncomfortable judging. While DJ and I do our best in trying to have coaches adjudicating higher level varsity rounds, there always comes a time at tournaments where judges get dirty and we need new people to judge...and quite often, parents that have no desire to fill the void are assigned because there were no notes indicating their experience or comfort levels. Having good information regarding what your judges can and want to do would greatly help tab staff in keeping your judges happy. (3) Correct names and availability. There have been many instances in which schools show up missing one, two, or several judges that they are committed for. Or, where judge names are wrong, so the judges that schools have hired do not pick up ballots because they do not see their names on the schedule. This puts an incredible strain on the tournament staff that then needs to replace judges, and on the actual judges themselves that now are judging more rounds than they should, without a break, to make up for the missing judges. Availability has been another issue - judges that are not available for the last round or two in the day. There have typically been enough judges to cover, but knowing availability would be helpful for tab staff so that we know not to give byes to a judge that needs to leave early (keeping other judges clean for later rounds). The ultimate point: the more knowledge tournaments can get about judges, the better off they are. On a much less serious note...we hear from every judge, every round, when their name is spelled wrong. That's on you, friends...fix it :)
3. As coaches, we can try to do more to have our judges trained in the basic nuances of debate judging. Finding and training judges is hard. I get it completely. 24 hours in a day aren't nearly enough, and I have definitely had Saturday morning judge trainings to make sure we are all on board with how things work. But, I've seen two issues in regards to some of the judges that have come to work recently Saturday mornings. (1) Basic Knowledge. There have been quite a few judges that arrive at tournaments that don't have any idea what to do - they are told to "show up" but aren't told what a round is, what speech times are, how to judge, who you need to check in with, etc. As a result, I've seen many ballots this year that are filled out incorrectly - i.e., where the decision should be, I read "I vote for the NEGATIVE team on the AFFIRMATIVE side". RFDs that don't really give an RFD, as much as they say "great speaking" and "good job both of you". Points don't really follow community norms (there are so many novice ballots, in particular, that say "great job" and give 21s and 22s). And three times this year, I've had to insist that a judge give a decision after a bit of resistance because "there was no winner, it was a complete tie". Judges are a hot commodity and I totally understand using anybody and everybody we can find...but I think that doing a little more to train our judges can help us get better efficiency in the tournament management process and much more importantly, better feedback for our students. (2) Judge Professionalism. Fortunately, I haven't myself experienced a lot of this, but I'm hearing lots of stories of judges being aggressive and downright mean to kids. Like, telling a PF team that "your case is total sh!t". Yelling at students because they didn't adapt well enough (I'm all for punishing lack of adaptation with points or decision, but yelling/screaming/swearing for lack of it is a bit much). Being downright mean. I say this all cautiously with the understanding that I can tend to come off a bit gruffly myself...but, whenever I judge my 10-12 rounds in the season, I do try to remind myself that I am working with high school students that have high school insecurities. I think reinforcing to all of our judges that before debate is a competitive activity it is an EDUCATIONAL activity would help in creating a healthier dynamic in our community.
That was long. If you're still reading, I'm impressed and thankful. I can't say enough, Minnesota is a great place for a kid to do speech and debate. You all make that true. The more we can do as a community to reflect on issues like this, the better experience our kids will have.