Jul 20, 2011

How to run a competition

I recently took a student to a newish competition (in its 3rd year) at a nearby rink, and I have to tell you, they are doing it right. When I first got the schedule I was somewhat annoyed because my skater had her first event at noon and then the next one at 5, and I thought "what the heck am I going to do for the intervening time?

Well, I was there most of the day, and the time flew. The staff was welcoming, the judges hospitality (also known as food) was fantastic, the volunteers were friendly and the judging was firm but kind. Here's what they got right:

Welcome skaters!
From the moment you turned into the parking lot, until you were walking out the door, there were big, prominently placed signs saying "Welcome," "Congratulations", "Have fun!" as well as well-placed signs for registration, trophies, photos, and all the other things you need. I go to so many competitions where the signage is stingy or missing entirely. It's nerve-wracking enough to compete; having the layout absolutely clear is very reassuring. Furthermore, there was a giant clock graphic in the shape of the competition logo right at the registration table showing whether the competition was running on time. I have never seen this at another competition; it was great.

Program buy-in
Every coach on the rink's staff had multiple skaters in multiple events. The competitors apparently were invited the day before to put up decorations--the place was brimming with colorful balloons. The moms were also invited to help--they were at the registration table, the photo table, the trophy table and the hospitality (i.e. the food). Since all the kids were skating in multiple events, they stayed all day, meaning the place looked...

At a lot of events like this, a family will come, skate one event, and leave, so the audience never reaches a critical mass. This event was brimming with people--in the lobby, in the stands, in the snack bar. It made you feel like you were part of something from the minute you walked in. Further, a friend told me they had all agreed to encourage their skaters to skate, then join the audience and applaud--not just other events, but the skaters that they were competing against. With so many people in the stands, everyone got lots of applause. Further, didn't these kids learn a great lesson about sportsmanship.

Not only did everyone get a medal, no matter their placement (de rigueur at ISI competitions), but every competitor got a really nice tote bag with the competition logo, a competition t-shirt IN THEIR SIZE, lip balm, and gloves. In flights of six, 6th place got a medal too. (ISI flights are generally limited to 5, with medals for all. At some competitions if you end up in a flight of 6, they don't give a medal to sixth place. In a system where "everyone gets a medal" then everyone should get a medal.) Further, they had a podium for 1st, 2nd, 3rd just for families to do photos, but of course everyone stood on Number One. This meant you didn't have to explain to your six-year-old that she "lost."

At ISI competitions, rink coaches provide most of the judging, but guest coaches are asked to volunteer to do this, and rinks are strongly encouraged to have guest coaches on the panel. This competition had a schedule posted where you could fill in your name. I've never been to a competition so welcoming of guest judges--at most they look at you cross eyed and tell you tersely "we're fine." (Go away.) They took the referee position seriously, and gave all the Tots first place. When there were problems, or things they didn't like, they asked the panel for suggestions, and clearly were planning to have a staff meeting to talk about how to make it better next year. (Good heavens, it's going to be better next year? Sign me, and all my kids, up.)

They also gave out raffle tickets for each event you judged, and will do drawings for gift certificates that they got donated by local restaurants and shops.

ISI events are age-segregated, i.e. 13 year olds at level X compete with other 13-year olds at level X. But this means that in smaller competitions, you end up with skater after skater competing in a flight by herself, or "against the book." It's not as much fun, and it's not really "competition." Furthermore, it makes your competition look really lame in the program book, as though you can't attract enough skaters to fill out an event. This competition grouped the skaters in near-age groups, 4-6, 7-9, et cetera. While it puts the younger children at a slight disadvantage, it made for a more dynamic event.

In addition to action photos and competition video, they also had a couple of random vendors-- a jeweler and another one, which I've forgotten. Strangely, their snack bar was closed. During breaks in the competition, they announced the presence of the vendors and encouraged people to buy. So the vendors were probably happy too.

And finally,

This is my number one test of how much a rink really wants to have a competitions. Some rinks have bottled water and an open bag of chips. This rink had HOT LUNCHES. This is a rink that likes its staff and volunteers, and wants to share the love with its guests. Plus they had smarties at the judges table.

What would I change?
While it probably worked out for their coaches, who had multiple skaters throughout the day, for me to have wait 5 hours between events for a single skater was a potential drag. Scheduling similar-level events a little closer together would be nice.

I also wish that ALL competitions of this nature had registration packets for the coaches, with a copy of the schedule. I did not want to have to pay for a booklet, although it now occurs to me that it's possible that this friendly rink wasn't actually charging for these. But you feel so stingy saying "what does this cost" and then not buying it. So I didn't even ask.

I also think they could have done a better job of selling their own program. There are a couple of rinks nearby this one where I know that parents and coaches are not that satisfied; this seemed like a missed opportunity to pass out 10% off coupons or public skate passes; there was also no prominent signage about their program; you had to hunt it down.

What has impressed you at recent competitions in your area?


  1. TOAM - When dd skated her first comp she got a goodie bag with a skirt, granola bar, and luggage tag. There were other things in there as well - brochures...it was a long time ago! But it did impress me (and dd). After that experience, we were mostly got luggage tags, but the last few didn't have them. It sounds like a little thing, but the kids like to tie them to their skate bags. My pet peeve is when no one knows where the changing rooms are located. Registration, employees milling about. So then you ended up in a crowded bathroom standing on a toilet seat cover! With ISI we never have had more than 6 in an event and dd was envious of the 6th place trophy because it was "cuter". As a parent, my highlight is seeing racks of used skating dresses for sale. It seems to happen rarely now, but I always hope! Also, I'd love for a volunteer to rope off the stands when kids are performing their programs. When ds was in marching band they did it - as soon as there is applause drop the rope, raise the rope when the next skater is announced. People are really rude walking around the stands when skaters are on the ice. No one remembers to be a good audience and wait a couple minutes before getting up.

  2. I hope the boys didn't get skirts! The stands thing is a problem. If your 3 year old has to go, she had to go, not sure what the solution is. Also, what does TOAM mean?

  3. There must be a very strong competition committee and strong volunteer base, wonder how they achieved it. Making it feel like everyone's party sounds brilliant. And HOT lunch for judges after freezing hours on the ice!! (Xan you did not make it up, did you?)

    In ISI competitions, can organizers just combine ages to their discretion? A friend got tired of competing against the book and recently switched to USFS.

  4. This..."I hope the boys didn't get skirts!"

    DS gets all sorts of hair bands, lavender skate guard key chains and lip gloss. I guess it's better than candy which is cheap (so I sort of understand), but really...um, these are supposed to be healthy skaters... ;)

    He has made lots of friends giving the stuff away though LOL>>

  5. The recent USFS competition I went to was well run. Lots of locker room space (that didn't smell awful- I wonder if they did something), they brought in a boot fitter, something we don't have in the area, photographer was reasonably priced and did an excellent job, ice was nicely maintained. I was happy.

    My only complaint was that it was very difficult to tell how far behind they were running, which made off ice warm up/skates on difficult to judge. Even the coaches seemed out of the loop. When I finally asked a woman with a walky talkie, she was a rink employee not someone from the club, so she had no idea either... People with walkie talkies should know things.

    I didn't get an ideal schedule, but it isn't really something to complain about, because someone has to get the crappy times. My events were at 8:00 pm on Fri and Sat. That was kind of sad because there were only 2 people left in the stands watching, and by the time the events were done (since they ran quite late) I had a really long drive home at night. YAWN!

    As for leaving while people are doing their programs- it happened so much I didn't even think about it, people were walking all over the place. I guess my thought is, from a skater's persepctive, it's a sporting event, not a performance. Getting up during an ice show performance would be really rude. Leaving during my program is analagous to leaving in the middle of a play of a football game- most people wait for a break in the action, but no big deal. (At something like Nationals were people pay hundreds of dollars for their tickets, my perspective might change. But at a local or even regional competition, no biggie.)

    -Skittl1321 (sorry, having commenting problems again.)

  6. "(ISI flights are generally limited to 5, with medals for all. At some competitions if you end up in a flight of 6, they don't give a medal to sixth place. In a system where "everyone gets a medal" then everyone should get a medal.)"
    I was just talking about this with a coach this week. DD is skating at ISI Worlds. Her event/flight has 9 teams (Couples Spotlight). I thought that was a lot. Coach seemed surprised by the number but resigned to the fact that we can't do anything about it now. My feeling is that they should have split the event into 2 flights of 4 and 5. What do you think?

  7. Anonymous, off the top of my head, I believe that comps are encouraged to split flights but not required. Splitting a flight means adding 5-6 minutes to the schedule and these things are so tightly packed sometimes this is just not possible. However, it affects not only the the individual, but the team because the team gets points for places one through 5, and at big events rinks will encourage people to do as many events as possible to maximize these points. For the comp to then take away these points seems unfair. Such is life.

    Skittl, you have a really good attitude about these things. (Also hold tight; hoping to switch to Word Press within the next year.)

  8. You know, I was thinking about your final comment about not advertising their own program. I think they likely did that so as to not upset people from other rinks. If a coach knows that a rink uses their competition to advertise (ie "steal students") I think that coach may make the decision to not take students to the competition.

    This competition is clearly amazing and just wants as many kids as possible to compete and have fun, without worrying about the politics that would come from advertising their program.


  9. Skittl I agree about not shoving it in people's faces (like don't put program books in the goody bags), but it should be easier to find. I could not find ANY brochures or schedules and I looked.

  10. If it is hard for a rink to advertise to skaters at competitions because visiting coaches might feel their students are being lured away, maybe rinks should advertise to the coaches. "Come teach your lessons on our ice." The rink's existing coaches might feel threatened, but if recruited coaches bring their own students and do not teach group lessons, they shouldn't. Obviously you wouldn't advertise if your ice is sold out.

  11. TOAM - The Original Anony Mom

    I agree it's not a show, but even during a tennis match you don't stand up while the ball is being hit. You wait for an out, then get up and move quietly out.

    A comp skate towel is a nice "gift" too. And non-gender.

  12. Trainingfor2018: posting your own links on someone else's blog to drive traffic to your site is very bad etiquette. Posts of this nature will be removed. If you have a specific issue you need addressed, feel free to send me an email.

  13. I must say, they are doing a great job at ISI Worlds! The competition was fun and well-run. Program was part of the goodie bag, so no need to buy the large program...I appreciated that. No complaints from our end. Hope everyone is enjoying the experience!
    P.S. Mid afternoon on Tuesday and the PSA booth was unattended.