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Paul Herbert 5th Dan
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The New Rules of Tournament Management


There are few things about sports karate that annoys me more than poor tournament management.  So many competition promoters are so eager for large turnouts that they tend to overlook the most important aspects of the tournament - the management of the competition and maintenance of time standards.  Recently, I attended a tournament which, while only a local event, has really taken off and has begun to include many competitors from overseas.  The gentleman that organizes this annual event is heavily involved with the WKF (World Karate Federation) and the PKF (Pan-American Karate Federation), and has become very involved with the karate programs in several Central American countries. Due to these contacts, he has begun to host competitors from all over the Pan-American region for his annual tournament, which is fantastic. This year alone he had well over 400 competitors for the entire event, which is nearly double from last year's number.


This event is, without a doubt, the largest such event in the area short of any national championships that might occur in this part of the country. The men's black belt division had well over 30 competitors, a number you will only really ever see in the national championships, and each kumite division ran 3 rounds of eliminations, at the very least. The numbers were fantastic for this level of tournament, and I couldn't have been more excited for the organizer as he is a great guy that put in a ton of time and effort into providing such an outstanding event.


The problem is that he was incapable of managing the time and the people for his event. Sadly, this is an issue most tournament organizers face. There are many factors that you can associate with poor time management. Some things are within the power of the organizers to control, and others are within their power to at the very least mitigate.


Primary issues with poorly run tournaments:


·        Poor time management

·        No adherence to any established timeline

·        All rules subject to changes and exceptions

·        No controls put in place to ensure referees, volunteers and competitors arrive on time

·        Zero accountability

·        No effective control of spectators



Poor time management


Time management is paramount with events like tournaments, seminars and training camps.  When you have a large group of people, and many events to go through, time is, as the saying goes, of the essence. Start an event late, there’s really no hope of catching up, delay an event and you’re in the same boat, but that can generally be mitigated. So how do we utilize proper management of time?  The first step, as it is with any business venture, is to have a plan. For a tournament, this typically means a budget and a schedule.  The budget is only useful in the preparatory stages of the tournament, but come tournament day, the schedule is of utmost importance. Having a schedule isn’t enough, though, the organizers need to plan for all eventualities and emergencies. The organizer needs to know what he will do should anything force a change, and all top officials (i.e. chief referee, president of tournament, arbiter, etc.) must also be involved and aware of all contingency plans.


New Rule: Make a plan!  There’s nothing more unprofessional than a tournament that doesn’t have a schedule of events.



No adherence to any established timeline


Let’s assume that the tournament organizer went so far to actually establish a timeline.  There are some issues that can still come from this. Having a schedule isn’t enough; the schedule, first off, does need to be specific enough with sufficient detail for the schedule to be effective.  Furthermore, a large issue is organizers being too ready and willing to make exceptions to the established schedule too often.  Naturally, emergencies do arise that force the organizers to push events around, or even delay the tournament. Frankly, anything short of a power outage really shouldn’t delay the tournament much as long as steps have been put into place to account for any issues that can be mitigated (i.e. late competitors, late judges, lack of sufficient volunteers, etc.). 


New Rule: Once you make a schedule, stick to the schedule! It’s unfair to the competitors, and everybody else involved to delay events.



All rules subject to changes and exceptions


This ties directly into the previous point, but goes even further. Tournaments in this locale typically fall in the NKF/WKF style of competition, with the 8 point system and, what feels like, 20 lbs. of safety equipment. That’s fine, rules are rules, but those rules need to be adhered to. Certain tournament organizers choose to make specific changes to the rules once the tournament has begun…that’s not fair to those competitors that come prepared to operate within a rule-set.  If exceptions are to be made, those exceptions need to be outlined in the registration packet so all competitors, coaches and officials are aware of the changes. It delays events when the ring judges need to consult with the organizer and the chief referee to determine what changes have been made on a case by case basis. 


New Rule: Make rules and stick to the rules!  Exceptions can be made, but please, keep it to a minimum.



No controls put in place to ensure referees, volunteers and competitors arrive on time


I find this to be the most incredible part about tournaments. From the day I started competing, my dojo has always made it a point to leave as a team and arrive at the tournament venue at least 30 minutes prior to the scheduled start time. Why we still do that is beyond me; tournaments that are meant to start at 9am “sharp” typically don’t begin until 10:30am at the earliest!  Regardless, we are unfortunately one of the rarities; most schools with large groups of children will show up only tiny bit late.  The biggest culprits, strangely, are the black belt competitors and the judges. These two groups train day in day out like clockwork for an hour or more at the same time every day, and yet, they are incapable of arriving on time for a tournament. Remember, the tournament is a business, the referees and volunteers are employees, and the competitors are the customers.  If employees come to work late, they are penalized, if a customer misses a sale, he’s out of luck. And don’t treat the volunteers any differently, volunteers at not-for-profit organizations are still expected to be at work on time regardless of whether or not they are compensated for their time.


New Rule: Make sure your employees come to work on time! This goes back to the idea of have a set schedule. If you want your volunteers, referees and competitors to be there at a set time, make sure they will be at a loss for missing.This brings me to my next point.



Zero accountability


So, why do judges, volunteers and competitors show up late? Well that’s very simple really; they have no reason to be there on time. There is no fear that they may miss out on the competition because the precedent has been set in the past. Competitions are regularly pushed back due to lack of judges and missing competitors.  The lack of judges is a far greater issues, in my opinion; you don’t need many competitors to have a division compete, but there is a specific number of judges that are required. Give the judges and volunteers some incentive to arrive on time might mean paying them, or providing them with some service. Your payroll for the day doesn’t need to be high, pay them based on the number of hours they are active that day. This, of course, is not always a viable option, but knowing that in the future their competitors might be denied entry would most likely change their minds. Competitors on the other hand, if they’re late they should be up the creek without a paddle. They paid the money to compete, if they miss their event, that’s their problem. Do not make exceptions to this.


New Rule: Stick your guns, if you want your referees and competitors to be at the event on time then require them to be there!  Make them aware that they will be accountable for their lateness.



No effective control of spectators


This point is my personal pet peeve at tournaments. I understand that parents want to be nearby when their children are competing, to take pictures and support their kids. Well here’s the problem, this creates a safety hazard if the lanes are blocked up by hundreds of parents and siblings standing around hoping to catch a glimpse of their kid. Furthermore, this blocks volunteers, competitors and referees from getting to their assigned rings in a timely fashion. Even if the delay is only 5 minutes, do that enough time and the whole tournament will be derailed.The gentleman I mentioned earlier handled this issue the best he could, and I believe in the best way.  The tournament was stopped, all activity in all the rings was stopped. He would not allow the competition to proceed until the parents went back to the stands and sat down. While this is a delay of the tournament, this is a calculated delay – nobody wants to stay at these tournaments longer than they need to.


New Rule: Control your spectators! Make sure that they know that they are delaying the competition; this goes back to assigning accountability. The spectators getting in the way delays the competitors from competing; this delays the tournament. Beyond that, they need to be made aware of safety concerns, and the fact that the tournament director will stop the event if safety does become a concern.


These, in my opinion, are the biggest issues facing tournament organizers everywhere.There are other issues as well, such as organizers desiring to put on a show for the spectators. This is fine, but remember who your customers are – the competitors.Don’t deny them the service promised, i.e. the tournament, just so the parents will not get bored. The competitors rarely, if ever, care about the opening ceremonies.Cater to your clientele, without them you don’t have a tournament.


Too often, karate organizations and tournaments are often run in a seat-of-the-pants, lackadaisical manner.  This is wrong, let me repeat that: this is WRONG! Tournaments are businesses as much as karate organizations are, and the customers are the karate-ka that participate. Officials, referees and judges are employees, if you need officials to arrive on time, then make sure you're paying them for the time they put in, or compensate them in some other way. Even volunteers at not-for-profit organizations are expected to work the hours they promise, and expected to arrive to work on time, not on their own schedules. If they don't arrive on time, they are penalized (same as any late employee). Businesses cater to the customers, but they don't make huge exceptions for them. Generally if a customer misses out on a sale at a department store, they are out of luck. Why shouldn't this apply to a tournament?


Running a business is a simple matter as long as you have plan. The complexities arise in the execution, but even those can be mitigated. You just need to stick to the plan. Tournaments are much the same matter, but the trick is sticking to your plan. Remember the first rule of business: have a plan. Without proper planning then all we are is a bunch of weirdos dancing around in white pajamas.


Kiran Kelkar