Tournament Director's Toolkit

Although I no longer actively coach, I am still very much involved in the running of tournaments. In fact, one might say I am about as expert as one can be in this pursuit, having run tournaments of every shape and form for many years, both as director and in the tab room. In this toolkit I share my experience as best I can, providing a collection of documents offered as help for other folks running or thinking about running tournaments. Consider them as suggestions, aids for managing your tournament from start to finish. And please note that they are not intended to reflect the official procedures/rules of the NDCA, where I originally posted most of them: They are simply my thoughts, arranged as well as I could.
-- Jim Menick

Latest update 9/17/17



  • Announcing Your Tournament
    You need to get the word out to people that your tournament is going to happen. Here's how.

  • Setting Tournament Deadlines
    There are realistic ways of organizing the time between deciding to run a tournament and greeting people at the door on tournament day. Following these best practices assures the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people, including both you and your guests.
    Part 1: Registration Opens
    Part 2: Deleting TBAs
    Part 3: Shutting Down

  • Managing the Waitlist
    If you're running a tournament that isn't open to all comers, no restrictions, then you need a waitlist. Here's the whys, the wherefores, and the how-to. It's not as easy as it looks, and there are best practices in place.
    Addendum: a short note on Listing Entries.

Running the Tournament

  • Setting up registration tables at a tournament
    The difference between a smooth registration process and a traffic jam is knowing how works, and how to use it to move people quickly out of the world and into your events. This pdf works regardless of whether you're actually doing your tabbing on tabroom. And consider this a strong recommendation: have an adult (maybe even the tournament director) run registration and, especially, collect the money and enter the amounts collected into the system.

    Judge Management

  • 5 Rules of Thumb for Judge Management
    This is the basic strategy, however much you adhere to the tactics that follow.

  • Judge expectations We ask a lot of judges at tournaments, and more than anything, we expect them to act as the educators in the room. But what does that mean? What, exactly, are the reasonable expectations for a judge at a high school forensics tournament? This is a general guide to the job that judges should be doing, including knowing the rules of their events, running their rounds professionally, and maintaining educational accountability and propriety. It's provided as a doc file that you can edit as you see fit. I recommend sending this out or posting it early in the week before the tournament.

  • How many judges do you really need to run a tournament?
    Short answer: more than you'll ever get.

  • Judge obligations/commitments
    When to use by-the-round commitments, and when to have judges on board for all the prelims.

  • Why MJP? Where MJP came from, and why it's your best choice for judge assignments, with the possible exception of totally random judging. Random does have its supporters, but we're unlikely to see it any time soon at high stakes LD and Policy events. This document can also be useful as a handout for your attendees who might be resistant to the idea, if any still exist. A version of this was originally published in Rostrum.

  • MJP in Practice If you're going to use MJP at your tournament, do it right. Including information on handling judges who never get to judge, and use of strikes.
    Addendum: A little wrinkle There are times when MJP overrides other concerns. This is one of them.

  • One approach to tournament conflicts, for teams and for judges. A conflict is a situation of too much love, not too little. The primary goal here is to disallow endless strikes under the guise of conflicts, but it also prevents preferential treatment in the other direction. Distribute these before every tournament.

  • Handling PF Judges Treat them right, and they're yours for life. Also, how to train them.

  • An introduction to PF for parent/new judges. This is primarily a template for a handout (it's a doc file you can edit), plus there's some thoughts on what to say at a short opening assembly. You might use this in conjunction with the NSDA's original handout, which is still one of the best guides to the activity.

  • How to handle the assignment of speaker points in debate. This will especially help get new judges, e.g. PF parents, on the same page.

  • And let us not forget the speech side of the universe. Here are some materials for speech judges:
    A general guide to speech events and how to judge them from the New York CFL organization;
    How to assign points in speech events, also from the NYCFL;
    An easy series of videos to help newcomers judge speech events.


  • Complete Guide to Running an E-Tournament Whether it's a one-building one-fielder, or a mega-tournament over a dozen buildings in twenty time zones, this is the process that has proven effective.

  • E-Ballot instructions. Using e-ballots and want to make sure your judges are plugged into First, here are the instructions from one tournament, in a docx file. Edit it with your own wifi specs, and claim it as your own. Or, take this general PDF and distribute it without your own specific site instructions. It is probably a good idea to have a station set up somewhere for your judges to get connected throughout the tournament: often even the most constant of judges find they're no longer plugged into tabroom for some reason or other.

    Tournament Miscellany

  • Best Practices In business, a best practice is something proven over time. The same is true of debate tournaments.

  • Scheduling How much time is realistic? Make a good schedule that you can adhere to.

  • Tab Sure, makes it look easy. It isn't. Here's the rules of thumb for staffing your tab room.

  • Comfort See to the comfort of your guests. Good hospitality is good manners, and good business.

  • The Concierge Table The ballot table is dead. Long live the Concierge Table!!! This is either the hub of the tournament, or it's where your students with nothing better to do make it impossible for your guests to get information. Which sounds better to you?

  • Round Robins There's a couple of things you need to think about, and a tip or two, if you go the RR route.

  • Pyramid: These are plenty of ways to figure out how many teams are going to break at what level. For those who want a good old-fashioned, albeit barebones Excel version, voila!

  • Novice Divisions What, exactly, is a novice? Definitions vary, but if your tournament isn't rigidly specific, you're asking for trouble.

  • Academy Debate A summary of a new level of debate for sophomores and juniors. You might want to consider this approach to events, especially if there's a need for rounds for younger students in your region.

    Notes for tab staff

  • Diaster Preparedness What if you're tootling along at a tournament, running, and suddenly the system goes down? Here's a way to keep your tournament moving; if nothing else, it will keep you busy while you're waiting for tabroom to come back up. Includes both the official backup instructions from tabroom, plus an alternate reality procedure.

  • Guide to A fairly exhaustive guide to how tabroom's debate tabbing software works, beyond the helps available in the program. Available both as a pdf of the entire guide, and a webpage breaking it down into smaller bite-sized pieces. Since this was written, tabroom has vastly improved its help screens, and this has not been updated lately, but you can print it out and most of it is still accurate. It's certainly still a handy guide for noobs.