A list of things to never do when running tournaments

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A list of things to never do when running tournaments

Post by theattachment »

As some have noted, I took on a conspicuous absence after my first tournament, the Rob Pilatus Memorial Tournament for Booze Education and Stuff, was a trainwreck. I skipped out on the forums basically for two reasons. First, I needed a break from quiz bowl in general. Second, I wanted to write this. While I doubt that I'll ever direct another tournament (as nice as the payoff of money and the relief of the finish is, it does not match in the very least the sheer torment of the week before), I do think that the lessons I learned are worth teaching to people that are in the position I was about three months ago: a first time editor planning to be a first time tournament director.

Here, then, are the following things that a first-time tournament writer/director should never do:

1. DO NOT BOTH WRITE AND DIRECT FOR THE SAME TOURNAMENT YOUR FIRST TIME OUT!: I feel my biggest downfall was in taking on the editing, writing, and direction of the tournament, all things I have never done on a full set's scale. The gap in difference between heading up a distro in a trash tournament which you only read for and doing editing over a full set and overseeing the tournament itself is vast, much more than a first timer would ever imagine. If you get the chance in high school, direct your team's tournament or oversee the editing (heck, if you're a junior, try to be a TD, then do the editing as a senior); otherwise, during your college team's tournaments, shadow the TD by doing stats and looking at every facet of what they do.

2. Before taking a tournament on, have a cushion of questions already written: It's very helpful to have an extensive amount of questions that you've already written that you can either directly mine or use as a basis for other questions when working on your first set. Taking a set on with little experience and little time to finish it causes a writer to be very crammed near the end; having a good amount of video games or classic sports in the can gives you a much better cushion than you would ever imagine and will decrease your amount of work at the wire.

3. Consider packet submission: Packet sub tournaments are a much better way to develop as an editor than from scratch writing a tournament. They let you see both what good and terrible questions are like. They teach you how to cross-reference packets for repeats. They greatly decrease the amount of writing you have to undertake (two to three editor's packets versus ten to twelve minus what gets freelanced). They give you experience with what is really the norm in how quiz bowl tournaments get written. The major drawback is that with a huge backlog of stuff to write for, it's difficult to convince teams to write for a tournament, especially if it's a trash one. I have seen it done (Chris McCray, which I still think to be the finest trash tournament ever written), but it would be important to first check interest as to whether or not it's feasible.

4. Quit your job for a few weeks: Having a job causes you to have very little time for anything in a normal circumstance; having a job with a tournament taking up time you'd otherwise devote to sleep, homework, and normal life functions that allow you to not be on a razor's edge is even worse. In the month before the tournament, I worked an average of 34.25 hours per week, in addition to taking a sixteen-credit load (only six of which give me question writing time). This was absolutely absurd to do. It gave me no time to write questions, nor did it give me ample time to eat, enjoy my first month of college, or anything resembling a social life. If I were to take a two-week sabbatical instead of the two-day one that I ended up taking, I would have been able to budget five full working days to write packets (which I would guess would net about four packets at above-average speed), along with about 15-20 hours to go see a movie, go out to dinner, or play guitar. If your life involves work, re-evaluate that portion before you take on tournament writing.

5. Do not budget the night before to write: I understand that some tournaments see final editing, writing, compiling, etc. finished the night before with packets sent out immediately before play. Whatever you do, do not allow yourself to do this.
5.a. Writing: Writing should always be done as soon as possible. Make your deadline to finish the set within two weeks of play and cause the "fight or flight" stress response night that you write 45/45 be that two weeks before the tournament night.
5.b. Compiling: Compiling, particularly when you're worried about keeping a set (or a semblance of a set) distribution takes time -- at least a full day of work. If at all possible, compiling while writing is a brilliant idea.
5.c. Editing: Editing takes, at the very least, more than a week. Actually use your time to edit.

6. Hold people accountable for their submissions: If you're getting people to freelance questions for you, they are doing you a huge favor. They're making your life a lot easier, making it so you can focus on tweaking their questions to be the best they can be. However, if you're paying them, they still are doing a job for you. You can't allow submissions to trickle in at a snail's pace, nor can you really allow your writers to push their submissions to the last moment. I don't really know how to make writers accountable to get their questions in on time, as it's hard to withhold the only incentive for people to get questions in, and I'm interested to hear your ideas.

7. Be as upfront as possible: If something is bad, it's imperative that you tell the person that did it that it was bad, why it was bad, and whether or not it would be used. If questions are bad, tell them how to improve. If a reader reads the wrong packet, admonish them and try to find a replacement. Don't play passive-aggressive. Doing that will perpetuate the problem.

8. Overcommunicate: In both question writing and in tournament directing it is imperative to talk to the people doing work for you beyond what is reasonable and tolerable. In question writing, you have to talk to your readers about what your answer space already includes, what your needs list looks like, what your difficulty level should be, what you want for style, etc. This will decrease the amount of time doing style editing, adding/subtracting bonus parts, and all of the tedious things that editing requires. In the tournament itself, you have to have more than a moment's conversation with your readers and stat people about how to run the tournament. Doing all of these will avoid screw-ups that are inevitable in running a tournament of any size.

9. Have enough staff so you don't have to: A general rule is this -- any tournament director should have enough staff to run all of the rooms (whether or not this includes a scorekeeper), to run stats, and at least two extra people who can sub in for readers that are failing. This allows you, the tournament director, to actually direct traffic.

10. Password protection: One of the biggest issues in Rob Pilatus at the U of M was the fact that two rounds saw a reader read all the way through the incorrect round. This should be inexcusable, but the reality is that with the rise in paperless tournaments comes a rise in that being a possibility. To combat this, editors should, as a standard, password protect their packets and only give out the password to whomever is running stats. Doing so allows for greater control of question security, but it more importantly dictates what round is being read where.

11. Come up with every single theoretical contingency: Spend an hour or two coming up with everything you can foresee going wrong and spend an additional hour making plans to make all of those a non-issue. For example, suppose that the network you hook into the internet and the printer all of a sudden disappears. To combat this, make sure SQBS is loaded on your computer and that you have the drivers for the printer so you can direct plug it into your USB. Suppose also that a reader does the wrong round. To combat this, designate packets to be the "incorrect round" packet. Designate also the "last resort packet" in case you have to burn a final one when that happens again. Suppose next that a bunch of teams don't show day of. Construct schedules for plus or minus three of whatever you expect to show up; on those, don't assign team names and instead just assign numbers day of. Whenever you have those contingency plans it will help things run more smoothly.

12. Sleep: If at all possible, don't stay up until four the night before your tournament. This should be self-explanatory.

13. Own up to what happened: Even if it's not your fault, negative experiences at a tournament are your responsibility if the tournament is under your direction. Apologize for them; admit where you went wrong and let people release all of the venom they have.

Anyone with further ideas is implored to post in this thread. Hopefully this'll be a good compilation of ideas to keep tournaments from turning into ones that inspire jumps off the Washington Avenue Bridge.
Colin O'Donnell -- ex-Eden Prairie High School (man, that feels nice to say), eventually University of Minnesota
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Re: A list of things to never do when running tournaments

Post by BuzzerZen »

theattachment wrote:Hopefully this'll be a good compilation of ideas to keep tournaments from turning into ones that inspire jumps off the Washington Avenue Bridge.

Otherwise, this is a brilliant list and I endorse just about everything in it. I hope you're not too wrecked, Colin. Stay healthy.
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Re: A list of things to never do when running tournaments

Post by David Riley »

I would add: pay attention to the logistics of running the tournament. It's not as much fun as writing the questions and directing the tournament, but it makes things go a lot easier.
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Re: A list of things to never do when running tournaments

Post by Cheynem »

I could be wrong, but I think Colin's reference to Washington Ave Bridge is to the one in Minneapolis, not the Spider-Man/Gwen Stacy one. Then again, I could be misunderestimating Colin's fanboyness.
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Re: A list of things to never do when running tournaments

Post by Gautam »

Cheynem wrote:I could be wrong, but I think Colin's reference to Washington Ave Bridge is to the one in Minneapolis, not the Spider-Man/Gwen Stacy one. Then again, I could be misunderestimating Colin's fanboyness.
I thought it was all clear that John Berryman was the subject of that reference.

Anyway, the list of things said in the first post is good, and I would particularly like to emphasize the overcommunicate part of it. I don't think there could be too much communication ever, especially when it comes to coordinating writing/editing and directing tournaments. Make yourself available at all times to people who email you/IM you/try to get in touch with you on the phone/etc.


EDIT: link added.
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Re: A list of things to never do when running tournaments

Post by cvdwightw »

Yeah, this was a good reflection on everything, and I hope that new tournament directors take it to heart. I think Paul and Juliana from Berkeley wrote a tournament directing guide too and I wrote a tournament announcement template; those are somewhere on the web if teams want to use them as resources.

I think there are two things that Colin didn't emphasize, or didn't emphasize enough.

#1: DO NOT ASSUME YOU CAN HANDLE EVERYTHING ON YOUR OWN. You will need at least one assistant writer/editor, likely more, or you will start going insane from the amount of dreck that gets flooded your way. You will need at least one person to help you with logistics like reserving rooms, getting breakfast and/or prizes, and collecting money from teams. You will need at least one person to help you with any potential protests. Tournament direction should not mean having to do everything on your own. If possible, grab a co-tournament director, multiple assistant editors, and at least one guy you can depend on when it's 72 hours before the tournament and you need something done.

#2, which goes with #1: IF YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT'S GOING ON, ASK FOR HELP. This goes for everyone: moderators, players, coaches, but especially tournament directors. The absolute worst thing you can do is make random, frivolous decisions because a situation came up and you have no idea how to handle it. If something weird comes up, ask a more experienced staffer. Failing that, ask a coach or an older player that you trust not to make a decision solely because it positively affects his team.

Even Colin's "take an hour to plan for every possible scenario" plan doesn't work, because there are just some things you don't see happening. Common problems like teams not showing up, moderators reading the wrong round, it's 1 AM and you don't have enough packets/people who have promised you packets send them less than 12 hours before the event, those you should be able to plan for and work around.

Here is a top-ten list of problems I have encountered at tournaments I have either played at, staffed at, or TD'd. If you could honestly expect and plan for problems 7-1, then you're either incredibly prescient or incredibly paranoid:
10. School A wants to register an extra team the morning of the competition.
9. School B is leaving because they're not having fun, and the tournament staff is being "unprofessional".
8. School C brought eight players even though we specifically told them that a team has a maximum of six players, and now someone has to go tell them that they have to decide which two players are sitting out the rest of the tournament.
7. We're running the tournament on a campus other than our own, the tournament director is not here yet, one of the rooms is playing slapbowl, and we just had the fire alarm go off.
6. One of the doors was found propped open at the beginning of the day because it's still locked, and the moderator just closed the door by accident, leaving a buzzer inside (has happened at least twice).
5. We're locked out of the building and the Scheduling Office is telling us that they don't take care of that kind of problem.
4. The Scheduling Office gave us room keys that don't unlock the game rooms, and every phone number we call results in an answering machine saying "This office is not open".
3. There are people here that say that they have class in this room right now, and indeed the room is double-booked (yes, Maryland Scheduling Department, you only get to #3 on my list).
2. One of the players just had a seizure and may have jammed a pencil into his hand during the seizure.
1. A player lit a cigarette during tossup 3 of a pivotal prelim game, in violation of the building codes, is saying that a freshman moderator told him it was okay to do so, and the opposing team (who lost the game) may or may not have actually filed a protest (IIRC, they never actually approached me about it; either they or the moderator in question approached Charles Meigs about the situation, and that's how it got brought to my attention).

This does not include the "Zeus" incident, the "Nobody Held a Gun to Their Heads" incident, the Maryland Scheduling Department's decision to screw up ACF Nationals, whatever problems a literal interpretation of the Bring Your Own Dagger subtitle caused, whatever problems happened to Chris Ray in the "List the Ways Your Day is Sucking" thread, the theft of Trygve's laptop, or the Grand Junction incident, because I wasn't at those tournaments. Charles has also told me about the coach who pulled the fire alarm in the Austin airport at the 2002 HSNCT and the player who either urinated on a computer at a USC tournament or kicked/threw it out the window or both, though I don't remember the details and I'm sure he would love to regale you all with these stories at some point.

I guess the point is that at any given tournament, something screwy is bound to happen, and you can't plan for it. The absolute worst thing to do is go off making bold pronouncements, especially if you're not the TD and/or you don't know all the facts. Remember, as a tournament director, IT'S OKAY if something weird happens and you don't know how to handle it. Just don't go bumbling around and making it worse - discreetly ask another staff member or a competitor that you trust to help you out.
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Re: A list of things to never do when running tournaments

Post by Important Bird Area »

cvdwightw wrote:I think Paul and Juliana from Berkeley wrote a tournament directing guide ... somewhere on the web.
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Re: A list of things to never do when running tournaments

Post by Cheynem »

John Berryman...I did not know that. Thanks.
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Re: A list of things to never do when running tournaments

Post by howlin »

Keep it small your first year. (and maybe forever) Also, used store bought questions the first year from NAQT or some where else. You will make yourself crazy writing them. Or buy some questions and add a work sheet written by your players, if you want them to have the experience.

Google "round robin" and keep the list of different formats handy so that on the morning of the tournament when your 24 team field becomes a 20 team field you can cope more graciously.

After the tournament open a file on your computer immediately and list the things that worked well and things you want to change for next year. It makes it so much easier than trying to remember 10 months later.

Pray that the copy machines in your building will work.

And remember that when you want to strangle your previously brilliant players who are being decidedly unbrilliant at the point you need them to be, murder will only lead to more paperwork. Also, hiding bodies is always problematic.
Coach Howell