Our region has 10+ (mini) conferences each year, and because we are quite small geographically, they have a higher purpose than education and practice alone. They are the social glue that keeps us together and united, despite the fact that we speak so many languages, and experience cultural differences from time to time.
My preparation for this conference was certainly not optimal, to say the least. I was not selected to present a topic which I found a bit sad but got to participate in a feedback triangle to help strengthen those of Anniek and Toby. I tried to set up a post-conference Judge Dinner that was not going all that smoothly and I was away for work that week, so I had to read up on all that happened and make travel plans during the night. Despite all this, I was very much looking forward to going.
Sint-Niklaas, the area where I live does not have that many Judges, but we always have a good representation at conferences. As I hold my certification the longest I always take responsibility in setting up good travel arrangements. Our destination was Tilburg so going by car seemed the most reasonable. Because it was a Sunday the roads were very relaxed.
I enjoy visiting Tilburg a lot, as it is a reasonable distance for almost all our regional Judges and we had some amazing times there in the past. The weather was excellent, perhaps even a bit too hot. We made a good pace during the trip, and when we arrived the venue was not yet open, but a lot of Judges were already meeting up at a local bar.
Before the start of the conference, there is a lot of camaraderie and friendship as we meet again. It’s a strange feeling because these are people I interact with digitally on a daily basis, but meeting in person is something else entirely. It’s always a boost to listen to people’s recent experiences. From the up and comers judging their first larger or competitive tournaments all the way to the seasoned MF grinder bragging about their applications, roles and plans for the remainder of the year.
I was pleasantly surprised by the venue, the bartender was super nice and had a great selection of drinks. As I was driving I did the responsible thing of drinking plenty of water and soft drinks and very much enjoyed snacking on the mix of warm snacks they offered. The thing that was the most fun and surprising was seeing so many new faces. Great to see that many newer Judges share my enthusiasm and love for conferences.
The first seminar of the day was presented by Niels, our current RC. He looked great in the blue shirt, and I caught myself mistakenly calling him Richard (our old RC) from time to time. He wanted to give a proper update on what is happening within our region and its leadership. This was not new to me, but I very much like that Niels has not wavered from his goals and plans for the region. Him announcing the next conference, which will be held during the last weekend of November, sparked a great deal of joy. As this conference set a new record for attendance, I can only hope and imagine that more records will be broken during the 9th annual Benelux weekend conference.
There is an unwritten rule in the Benelux that one does not miss one of Anniek’s seminars. As has historically been the case, she delivered. We were taken on a journey through the process of casting a spell, not just touching the surface but really getting into the nitty-gritty parts of the rules. I always feel both educated and entertained, so a huge shoutout to Anniek!
Afterwards came Jonas, on the topic of unsporting conduct. Jonas always has great visual aids for his seminars, and this time was no different. This part was very insightful for the great deal of L1 Judges that were attending. I especially liked Jonas doing deep dives in the penalty philosophy, and how to understand the different infractions and how to recognize them. It was also refreshing to see him draw on his international experience at the GP level.
Toby had the difficult task of summarizing the most important changes made to the documents. He made a list of the 10 most impactful things in the past year and made sure to have plenty of examples and background so we could understand what the changes were, and why they were important. It also made me realize what a crazy journey I have been on, looking back on the version of (especially) the IPG that existed when I started judging we have come a long way. Thanks, Toby for the infotainment.
Last but certainly not least, Dustin presented the results of his survey. Never before had I seen such a strong presentation from Dustin, who usually takes us all in through his charisma and words, but this time he also brought an impressive slide show. I was a bit surprised and even a little sad that no cat pictures were present on any slide.
I learned a lot on how players and judges look at tournament and tournament experience, but the lesson that hit the hardest is the following.
Players know and feel if their (head) Judge is motivated and having fun at tournaments. How we set the tone as judges, decides the atmosphere. It made me realize that I had not been as motivated or interested in running regular tournaments at the store level, as these no longer give me any challenge. For my players in that tournament, that tournament is a big deal and they expect me to also have fun, be invested and give my best. I will take that lesson to heart, and start applying it at my next local tournament(s).
After all this learning, hard work and clicking through a lot of slides it was time to wrap up. Richard showed up as he had been in contact with the venue for the Judge dinner. We were a whopping 16, which meant almost half the conference was staying around for dinner, many of us still had a long drive home afterwards. This also shows how connected we are, and how we enjoy each other’s company as people.
For me the conference was humbling, invigorating and a lot of fun. I hope to see you all in great numbers at the next one!