27 April 2009

Advice for Organizers

While I was the event coordinator for the 2009 Washington State Elementary Chess Championship, my beloved served as the event's treasurer and volunteer coordinator. When the time for the event arrived, she joined the hospitality coordinators at the check-in and information tables. These tables might be dubbed problem central. There were and will always be problems large and small in a large event. These problems must be solved, often by people who must think on their feet after inadequate sleep.

From most reports, the event ran smoothly. But, when over 1000 participants compete, problems must be expected. My wife compiled a list of tidbits of advice based on her observations and experiences. Event organizers should have or be prepared for:

puke at pairings postings (in a large public facility, you cannot just grab a paper towel)
lost children--hold them by the hand until you find mom or dad
lost parents
medical attention--a child playing outside became injured, his parent withdrew him from the tournament and took him to the hospital for stitches. He returned from the hospital and wanted back in the tournament to play round five.
indoor soccer
walkie-talkies--check-in table, tournament director, head judge, medical, clean-up, hospitality staff all need to be able to contact each other easily

scrapes, scratches, headaches
award snafus--300 trophies, someone might get the wrong one, or none when one was expected
angry parents
drunk parents--2000+ adults, there will be one
shelter--tournament director, head judge, event organizer

empower decision makers for specific aspects of the event to spend money--when late registrations for Friday Bughouse crowd the facility and a microphone is needed from the hotel, someone other than the event coordinator must decide that we can spend $85 more; when the judges hospitality room needs more potato chips, the hospitality coordinator must know that she has the authority to order them, that the added cost is okay

outsource registration, check-in, and web management--I spent too much time on these tasks. The positive benefit was that I had personal contact with many parents and coaches. There are alternatives to our system that have been tried and tested. Our webmaster created a nice site, and both he and I made many small modifications along the way. We might have hired someone else to maintain the site, and post periodic announcements.

lost and found
validate and understand hurt feelings and anger--I am convinced that a team that was hurt twice--once by an error in the program, and once by an error in pairings--did feel listened to and validated even though I could not fully repair the errors. That's just the biggest one, there were many other complaints.
complaint process--there should be a clear process for formal complaints; there should be a clear appeals process. The current WSECC Policy has much to say about team membership and team competition, but it does not address team pairing restrictions with clear rules.

K-1 escorts--having assured that parents are not in the playing room, where they would interfere with the competition, we cannot just set a five or six year old loose in the building to find her Dad. The parents need a waiting area; the event staff must assure that children get connected with their parents as they finish each round. We had a pediatrician step up as safety director and supervise this process on-site.

you will not collect all money due
double check everything
stolen items
receipt book for commemorative board purchases
gifts--lunches, boards, t-shirts
color code playing room by section
create "do not cross" line on the boundary between playing room and waiting area; post security--some of the high school students working as floor judges stepped up to this task and did a great job.

Have a physician on the volunteer staff willing to attend to injuries
Have enough space--we had 102,000 square feet, and the success of the event was largely due to an exceptional facility, and well planned traffic flow. Pairing were posted in three locations, and in a manner designed to channel players and parents efficiently. Standings were posted in the team room, NOT in the playing room.

Thank people often--competitors, parents, coaches, and volunteer staff all gave of themselves. They deserve praise and thanks. Make certain they get it.


  1. That is a long list. First time i hear of the need to get ready to clean puke. Not something i saw happening in a youth tournament i visited.

  2. I did not see the puke on Saturday, but I've seen children get ill at other events. It might been caused by too much or the wrong kind of breakfast. Some children and adults become ill from the pressure of competition.

  3. Excellent post! Those are a lot of very good tips for the organization of any large tournaments. Certainly some things are unique to scholastic events such as lost children, escorting K-1 players, responding to team complaints, etc.

    I can relate to puking players. I had a student who before the first round would go puke in the boys room. After doing that he was fine for the rest of the tournament. He just had to get it out of his system. Unfortunately not all players are able to wait until they get to the bathroom to take care of that sort of business.

    Am I correct in assuming that this tournament is not USCF rated? Otherwise I would expect to see another suggestion of "resolve USCF membership issues by end of 3rd round".

  4. Polly, you are correct that the event is not USCF rated. It was rated by the NWSRS (Northwest Scholastic Rating System), which uses the same Elo rating formula as the USCF. As an independent system, it does not require USCF membership of its thousands of young chess players. I believe the Northwest system encourages and stimulates youth participation. Few states have a scholastic championship as large as that of Washington.

    Many youth players that enter the world of chess competition through our vibrant scholastic community do become USCF members. Many participate in adult tournaments. Those players that scored 4.0 or more of 5.0 possible in Saturday's event will have their entry fee paid to the Washington Open if they enter, and that event is USCF rated. The Washington Open Scholastic also requires USCF membership, except in a small section of under 800 players that are competing for medals only.