Wednesday, September 20, 2017

In which we put the Toolkit to bed

Updating the Toolkit was a real task. A lot of it was predicated on a talk I gave way back when at the NDCA, and all I had from that was a PowerPoint. Usually I work in lots of written words, and I had to take all those spoken words and baffling slides and make essay-ish sense out of them. Some of the data I updated. Some I threw out completely and replaced with better stuff.

Then, of course, there was the challenge of organization, figuring out what went where. Honestly, the Toolkit webpage is the best resource, because you can find something useful right there easily enough, but I like to delude myself and think that some people might download the whole manual as a single document and browse through it.

Here’s the thing, and I see it all the time. Most people don’t seem to know how best to run a tournament, even if they’ve been running a tournament since Trump Tower was just a little Motel 6 down a ways from the interstate. (There’s a metaphor I hope to never use again.) First of all, they do it the same every time, which makes little sense given that any good crafter wants to improve the product with each attempt. Second, and more important, they really don’t compare notes with one another. Agree or disagree with what I suggest, at least it puts forth a potential best practice that you can compare to what you’re doing.

It’s interesting to work with the Rather Large Bronx team of TDs. I can’t imagine more competent, dedicated people, but at the same time, they’re sort of locked into the way things were back in the day. Debate, and tournaments, have changed a lot in the last decade. The good news is that they listen to us and agree with what we’re suggesting. But they’re smart enough to know that their tab staff isn’t just a bunch of puppets useful for three days only. We know how to run tournaments because we do it all the time. We’re learning and improving all the time. Why wouldn’t you listen to us? If you do as we suggest, you’ll improve your tournament. If you ignore us, at least you’ll give us the opportunity to say we told you so. The same applies to the Toolkit, now captured in amber for the ages.

Which raises the question, if tournament operations are always evolving, how do I handle that? I’m not quite sure. The Fb page should help. We’ll see. I certainly don’t expect what I have written to be the final word, or for that matter, all that often the first word. If only a handful of people use it to improve their tournaments, that’s at least something. And now that it’s done, aside from presumed updates, I can move on to other things.


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

In which we address the mixing and matching of judges

There’s an interesting conversation going on at the NDCA Fb page (and, I guess, their listserv). Someone said that a tournament (actually, she said a bid tournament) was categorizing all judges, regardless of their intended division, as debate judges, meaning they might do either LD or PF. She asked for opinions on this. Her main interest was that she had PF parent judges who she felt would not be happy in PF.

Needless to say, responses were all over the place, because it’s one of those questions that raise multiple issues. There’s a couple of important things here. First, the idea that a tournament is offering what is apparently random judge placement, and second, the idea that the randomness transcends a given debate format. Two very different things. Many of the opinions offered on the list addressed only one or the other of the issues.

I discuss random judging at great length on the Toolkit. There’s nothing wrong with it, and a lot of coaches love the idea. The support for it is based on the idea that good persuasive speaking means persuading any audience, versus a specialized audience. This is absolutely true, but it doesn’t necessarily apply to all debate as it exists today. We’ve created competitive levels of policy and LD that are, for all practical purposes, beyond the understanding of the generalist, if for no other reason than the speed of the presentation. Yeah, sure, you can tell them to slow down because you’re an inexperienced parent, but their entire repertoire of case and refutation skills are predicated on experienced adjudicators. The idea that this circuit level of debate can be judged by anyone in the auditorium means, simply, that it won’t be this level of debate. Plenty of people don’t like what has happened to LD at the circuit level, but if that horse hasn’t left the barn, then I don’t understand horses and barns.

Changing the nature of circuit LD is a solution without a problem. I hear very little from the major circuit contenders that there is something intrinsically wrong with what they are doing, and certainly, considering how often the tab room has been stormed over the years when a debater doesn’t get a 1 in MJP, there isn’t a great clamoring for random judging. The idea that a bid tournament is mixing and matching judges willy-nilly is almost incomprehensible to me, because I can’t imagine bid chasers embracing that sort of pool.

The real problem, though, is one I also address in the Toolkit, which is the care and feeding of PF judges. PF remains the bastion of the random judge assignment, and at the same time, the bastion of the lay judge. PF requires these things to survive, and thrive. The lay judge, i.e., the parent judge, is more than just a person in the back of the room. The parent judge is the support frame of the activity. The parent is a chaperone, and a benefactor. They are also part and parcel of a debate activity that was invented for lay adjudication (regardless of how it’s been evolving). Everything all the advocates of random judging want is front and center in PF. But there is no question that these PF parents are often concerned about their ability to judge. Train them as much as you will, they still worry about doing the right thing. As a general rule, they don’t judge all that often, and they don’t always become secure in their role as an adjudicator. So on the one hand, they are supporting our most popular debate activitiy in 2017, while on the other hand they are timorous when taking on the unaccustomed role of adjudicator. The idea that you can also throw them at random into LD rounds presupposes that they are faceless, thoughtless pawns in the Game of Tournaments. They’ve been trained for PF, they’re supporting the team because their kids are in PF, they can theoretically enjoy a PF round because the debaters understand how to play to a parent judge, and then you’re going to throw them into a different activity altogether? You want to train them to be Swiss Army Knife judges, capable of doing everything? You want to burden them with this difficult responsibility? You want to lose the support of the folks without whom PF would never have happened, and which certainly wouldn’t be continuing with such strength?

A tournament can do whatever it wants. But when it does what it wants, if it doesn’t take into consideration the wants and needs of its customers/guests, it’s probably not long for this world. It will either change, or disappear.


Tuesday, September 12, 2017

In which we ponder the Professors Backwardian

The reason things regularly distribute over a bell curve rather than a simple arrow pointing up is that some things like to average out. One of those things is judge preferences.
If you were able to chart preferences on an X-Y axis, you would certainly see the majority of the prefs in the middle, the high curve of the bell. But there are also prefs over at the edges. No matter who a judge is—with perhaps the exception of recently paroled axe murderers, but perhaps not—there are teams who want them in the back of the room. Go figure. Which inevitably leads to pairings where you can find little or no mutuality between two schools, not just with this judge, or this tournament, but with every judge and every tournament. There are schools that, when they hit each other, the judge assignment is a blot on the page of otherwise wonderful assignments, and when we in tab look at it, we say, “Oh, it’s them again,” and although we do try to fix it, we know that it’s a mug’s game. School X has never preffed the same as School Y in the history of preffing. Go figure.
Now, it could be (and should be) simply a matter of seeking out different paradigms. If you have a more traditional style, you want more traditional judges, and if you have a more edgy style, you want more edgy judges. But it’s probably not that simple. I’ll look at the schools and see that they’re both traditionists or both edgies, so why are they preffing so differently?
I have heard tell of people doing things like reverse preffing or otherwise attempting to game the system, but that doesn’t make sense to me. If tab is always going to be working toward giving you the best possible matchup, not preffing your favorites as your bests means simply that you’ll not be getting your best possible matchups. Is the goal to get a judge you like, one of your 1s, hidden among your 4s and 5s? Good luck with that, if the tab staff is paying even marginal attention. Clever preffing to outwit your opponents at the preffing level would require that you know who you’re going to hit, and when you’re going to hit them, and how they rated all the judges. 1s and 2s are thick on the ground in random presets because everybody’s clean. Then, it’s all eyes on the bubble, so that affects placement. Do you really want a 2-3 or a 4-4 rather than a 1-1? If one of your 4s is really a 1, what is the likelihood that it’s one of your opponent’s 4s?
I knew a guy who, when he drove at night around blind curves on back roads, would flip off his lights to see if a car was coming from the other direction. This would work really well, until the other car was doing the same thing. It made more sense to slow down on the curves. I realize that this analogy doesn’t in the least true up to doing odd prefs, but you get my point.

It is a puzzlement.

Monday, September 11, 2017

In which we discuss something fairly momentous in the region

Scarsdale, Ridge and Lexington will no longer be offering housing at their tournaments.

What took them so long?

Housing, on face, enables schools to attend more tournaments further away from home on the cheap. After all, if all you’re paying for is registration, there isn’t much difference between a tournament down the street and a tournament a four-hour bus ride away. Having a host tournament’s families throw open their doors for a night meant that folks got to go to a lot more events than they might have otherwise. It all seems very humanitarian and Kumbaya by the campfire.

Except that, depending on the size of your tournament, and the size of your team, it could be a bloody nightmare.

I used to offer housing at Bump to all comers. We ended up with 150 to 200 slots. That’s a lot of people to put up at approximately 2 or 3 or 4 at most per clip. That uses up a lot of resources. It’s really hard to do. I used to dump the job on whatever parent I could find who wasn’t fast enough to disappear when I was handing out the tournament assignments. If they could read a spreadsheet, they were in like Flynn. More often than not, while this did result in beds being distributed for all those people, it took upwards of an hour to sort out all the warm bodies. The fustercluck that is the average housing assembly boggles the mind. We did this in the Northeast for decades.

As my team shrank, I start limiting housing to those schools that housed us. It was still a nightmare. And I’ve watch everyone else do it. At the point where you’re sending out hundreds of students into the night, how can it be anything but an organizational nightmare?

That, of course, is when all is going well. For years, we talked among ourselves of housing hanging by the thinnest of threads. All it would take would be one incident, nature unspecified, to bring the whole thing tumbling down. Every year, tournaments were courting catastrophe. Over the years, some administrations, coming to the realization of what was happening at tournaments, banned their schools from taking housing (although on the dubious assumption that hotel accommodations were safer and more controlled).

Will this have an impact? Probably. If you have to pay the same amount of money for every tournament, with the only variable being transportation costs, and you are unlikely to get more money from your school to run your team, you have to start making different and difficult decisions. But, well, we live in the real world, and have to act accordingly. Doing housing was intrinsically a veritable nightmare, and potentially a horror story. It was going to go away sooner or later. And now sooner or later is here.

It was a good idea while it lasted, but it hasn’t been a good idea for a while. Whether smaller tournaments will still offer some slots remains to be seen. I guess it all depends.


Wednesday, September 06, 2017

In which we look to the weekend

I’m starting to feel a little on top of things more than I have been. As I’ve reported, things at the DJ have gotten fairly fierce, but I’ve adjusted. It helps being able to see that you’ve survived a bit of work you weren’t expecting. That demonstrates that you’ll continue to survive it, and a little of the pressure comes off.

Byram is Friday. Two days. There’s the RR first, and I’ll get that set up as soon as the pods are set. There’s only 8 LDers, so it’s easy enough, except that one of the judges is blocked a bit more than others. Of course, that means I’ll hand place him first, so that takes care of him! The rest look good to go. 3 rounds ought to mean that there won’t be too much problem running out of cleanliness.

Then there’s the invitational. I’ll tell people shortly how we’re doing prefs. I think I mentioned it before: 30% (or more), 30%, 30% and 10%, where the 10% is not a strike but a promised bloody unlikely. There is a point where MJP may not make sense, but even in a small event, for varsity folk it beats randomness. In terms of experience, the judges look fairly identical to me, but I'm sure the field looks at it differently. Then again, last year, in a similar situation, not all of them preffed. At least one coach was perfectly happy with them taking their chances. I like that. And it makes tabbing easier. Meanwhile, no strikes in PF. There are just not enough people in the pool.

I still haven’t heard the physical details of the Middle School, but I have a feeling that registration is going to be a marginal fustercluck. We may not be able to get in before 3:00. Not much time, and a great need to start things ASAP. We’ll see. It may make sense to have folks register online and pay later. I’ll meditate on that. (Even as I type it I’m meditating on it. It makes sense. The tournament is small enough. And there is a function in tabroom to make it so.)

While hurricanes and lightning seem to be bearing down everywhere else, the northeast promises to be nice for the weekend. We’ll get ours, soon enough, no doubt. Meanwhile, I’m starting to think about my WDW plans for the end of the month. As Apocalypse follows Apocalypse, I’m starting to get worried. But we’ll see. There’s still a couple of weeks for things to sort themselves out, and certainly my concerns are the proverbial hill of beans compared against the actual reality of what many people have been going through. Oh, well.  


Tuesday, September 05, 2017

In which we congratulate ourselves on our work over the Labor Day weekend

I did a lot of work on the Toolkit over the weekend. Articles on the meaning of Best Practices, selecting tab staff, physical comfort, and my favorite, the Concierge Table. That latter is important and, I think, overlooked. Most tournaments have a worthless table of smug upperclass students who think they are in charge of things, when their real job is acting as a help desk to the tournament’s guests. These tables are packed with takeout Chinese food containers, computers playing movies and TV shows, and homework, among other things, and surrounded by the host school’s team so thickly that only the most dedicated guest could ever make it through to—horrors!—get some information.

The ballot table is dead, folks. There aren’t any ballots anymore. It’s time to put your people to work somewhere meaningful and create a space at the tournament where your guests can find out what’s happening. Or, you can continue to have your upperclass students take up space and, occasionally, muck things up by taking the initiative when they should have taken the problem to you. Your call.

The Toolkit is getting pretty near completion. I’ve finished transcribing everything that I brought up in the presentation back in Dallas last year. Everything’s been updated if it was already there, and created if it wasn’t. A lot of work for, granted, a small number of people. So it goes. If even a handful of people heed half of it, I’ll be happy. So will the people attending their tournaments.

There is still a bit of work to do. Maybe it will all be done in about 2 weeks. Then I can put it aside and start actually doing the work it describes. Although, of course, Byram is only a few days away. I saw the Paginator over the weekend, but we didn’t discuss our upcoming work much. It was more interesting to debrief him on his recent trip to Europe. He did 37 countries in 9 days, or something like that, and slept on the trains between the cars, hoping that the conductors wouldn’t ask him for the tickets he never purchased. Ah, youth. He did briefly get to meet my granddaughter (at the chez, not in the 37 countries in Europe), and he claims he’s becoming baby savvy, having also met with Megan West’s baby over the summer. He did not offer to change any diapers, however, so it’s unclear how savvy he really is. It also came to light that he’s never been to WDW. We’ve got to do something about that.