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:
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.
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.
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?