“Après chaque tournoi.”
At my first judge conference in late 2017, we were attending a presentation about roles available to L2 judges and, of course, the steps toward L3 were a topic of discussion. My neighbour asked if I’d ever written a self-review to which I replied, “after every tournament.” The aforementioned conversation–and my neighbour’s surprise–prompted me to reflect on my habits as judge. After all, I just told my neighbour that I write a self-review after every event. At this point it would be natural to assume two things: first, that I wish to work towards L3; and second, I must work humongous events to have the material for the self-reviews.
The short answer to both is “no”. I am absolutely convinced that self-reviews are essential to any judge regardless of level, aspirations, or typical event attendance. To this effect, I have implemented a system of flash and detailed auto-feedback to support my self-improvement.
All by myself
Self-reviews are not only a tool for aspiring L3s. Or, at least, they shouldn’t be. You need ask yourself only one question: “Do I want to get better at this?” If the answer is yes then self-reviews will help you.
I can’t pinpoint exactly when I started writing self-reviews; it just happened organically. I live in a fairly spread out region of France where on the fly, in-event mentorship and feedback are not possible. However, just like all other judges, I want to improve. The natural way to do this for me is to provide my own feedback.
The aspects detailed in the L3 self-review are a great starting place for anyone who wishes to try their hand at it. It’s like a sweet stand at the boulangerie: pick only what you want. There are 9 areas to choose from, so you can tailor your review to your situation. If you are a newly certified L1 and you mostly judge your local FNM alone, then teamwork and development of other judges may not be immediately relevant. But if your FNM draws in 50 people across multiple formats then teamwork and logistics could become prominent parts of your experience.
The main advantage of a self-review is that you have access to all the information related to your experiences. You know exactly how things unfolded, what the thought process was, what external elements may have impacted your decisions or your handling of situations. This allows you to analyze the facts with no room for conjecture–as long as you are willing to be honest with yourself. Self-reviews are the place to own up to your mistakes and think of ways to not repeat them. You do not have to offer solutions right away though. It could be that all you can do at the time of writing the review is make a note to ask for help about a specific area. Still, thanks to the time you took reflecting on your event, your questions will be more precise. You might even figure out the answer before you ask for help and just need a little push to realize it!
Isn’t this just a tournament report?
So how are my self-reviews different from writing a report? When you write a report you need to keep in mind that you are writing for other judges. Reports are at their best when they provide the community with information and tools to help others grow. With self-reviews you get to be a little selfish. Your goal here is to draw up your own roadmap. Maybe an event was smooth and you do not feel that this one thing that happened in round 3 is enough to write a report. But guess what? It could be just what you need to evaluate your progress (or lack thereof) in one of the areas you previously outlined. It could even be the starting point of a whole new chapter in your story.
So, you have that thing that happened in round 3. Are you going to write a whole review about that? Depending on the complexity of the situation or the impact on the event, you might, but if it was a somewhat trivial situation you may find yourself a tad short. If your judging area is anything like mine you might find yourself judging more than your fair share of 8 to 10-person events, so a full-fledged self-review could be a distant dream. It is quite easy to remedy this, though: you just need to set yourself a different timeline. Following the seasons of organized play is quite handy. PPTQ seasons give you a deadline that isn’t too pressing, so you should have ample opportunities to gather material. Your goal is now to write a detailed self-review at the end of the season instead of each 8-person tournament.
As is often the case, the hardest part is getting started. If you are lucky you will have a relatively recent review from another judge (or feedback from players or TOs) to help you. If you don’t, there are a couple of ways you could go about getting feedback:
First, you can ask your players and TOs for feedback. Don’t be afraid to do it; you might be uncomfortable to start with, but I have yet to meet people who did not appreciate the fact that they were asked for their opinion when trying to make upcoming events better for everyone.
If you are really self-conscious you can follow this piece of advice: write everything down (I unfortunately do not know who to credit with this invaluable quote; if you recognise yourself then please accept my heartfelt, everlasting gratitude). Choose an event as your starting date for your self-review and on that day do not put your notebook away–at all! Write down every call, every penalty, every interaction. Then classify your notes using any system you like. Typing them up on the computer and colour coding them is quite easy. I’m old-school so I do it all on paper with lots of arrows and again colour codes. Use a mindmap if that works better for you.
En Route to your Self-Review
The goal with extensive note-taking is to find two skills or qualities that are relevant to your actions as a judge. These areas will be the focus of your first flash review and they will serve as a basis for the next. Do not feel bad if you do not have two things that really stand out from the first event in the series. Give yourself sometime. Maybe use two or three events and you will start seeing recurring patterns.
Once you’ve completed a couple of events, stop and reflect not only on areas in which you want to improve, but also areas in which you’ve been successful so far. The main advantage of self-reviews is also their biggest drawback. You have access to all the information, but that information is not impartial. This might very easily lead you to focus only on things at which you feel you are not so good. Please, don’t. You wouldn’t write a peer review consisting of only negative feedback with no encouragement whatsoever. Treat yourself with the same care. Choose an area in which you want to improve and another in which you want to keep up your good work.
Once you have your focus points, you can spend a few events fleshing out your observations. Keep detailed notes on your events, but unless something really important happens try to stay on course and document your evolution. As you go. you will be adding a little bit after each event and it will help you monitor your progress.
As the end of the season arrives, it will now be time to write your complete review. It is important to set some time aside for this. I recommend not doing it just after an event. Choose a quiet weekend, sit back, and read your flash reviews again. Write down your impressions then go back to your reviews to check that you can back them up with examples of situations. Since you chose your focus points rather than having them imposed on you, you should be able to describe how you have changed, which tools you used and what new goals you have set for yourself in that area.
If you feel that you have made little progress in the area in which you wanted to improve, you can look for outside help and provide your future mentor with a structured evaluation of your performance, which will be a big help to them in guiding you towards success. If you feel that you have made significant progress in your chosen areas you can use them as secondary points for the following season while you get to start the process all over again–except you have a head start this time thanks to your exhaustive note-taking! You can choose to change only one of your focus points or change both. You might have made sufficient progress to promote your area of improvement to a strength. You might even want to add more points with each new season. The sky’s the limit!
I hope you will consider writing self-reviews if you haven’t already. They are an awesome and versatile tool for growth and improvement for judges of all levels!