When I graduated to L1, I received my first review from Dave Rappaport. I was immediately impressed by his ability to communicate so much in so few words. Dave’s matter of fact tone in describing my strengths filled me with pride. Rather than tearing me down, his description of my areas for improvement gave me goals to strive for. As a whole, the review gave me a clear picture of myself and my contributions to the judge program. As a result, I felt joy every time I re-read that review for months.
However, I also felt dread. Even as a new judge, I recognized that writing reviews is an essential part of judging. But I didn’t know when a review was ‘good enough’ to publish. With my certification review as my only reference, I assumed that every review had to be amazing. I didn’t think I could write that kind of review.
By chance, I encountered my regional coordinator, Steven Briggs, at an event. Knowing I had passed my L2 practice exam, he asked if I was interested in taking the real exam. Now I could have explained to Briggs that I lacked the study, food, and/or sleep needed to pass. But I didn’t, for that would have been the smart thing to do. Instead, I blamed my missing first review for my inability to test. Briggs, with a twinkle in his eye, said, “We can fix that.” And fix it he did. He took me off the floor of the event, gave me his laptop and WiFi router, recommended that I review D-Raps, and walked away. Truth be told, if it weren’t for Steven Briggs literally putting the laptop in front of me, I’m not sure I would have written that first review.
As Briggs left, I quickly became anxious. I thought there was no way I was going to create a good review for Dave. I just hadn’t seen him in action enough to articulate his strengths. I also worried that my criticism would be wrong. Plus, it had been ages since we worked together. Unlike John Kmiecik, who was sitting right next to me and who was my head judge just last week. With that one wayward thought, I could feel the lightbulb in my head switch on. I had a plan.
John’s strengths were easy to identify. The day of the tournament, I walked into the room where we normally set up shop to see a Legend of the Five Rings tournament. Apparently this L5R tournament had lost their venue at the last minute and convinced the TO to use our event space. Our tournament was scheduled to begin in an hour, so I did what any ambitious L1 judge would do. I panicked. A lot. Moments away from losing my mind, John strolled through the door. He quickly triaged the situation, calmed me down, and set up a new play space with time to spare.
I knew “areas of improvement” for John would be tricky; I still wasn’t sure my critiques would be valid. So instead of critiquing him, I simply challenged him to add to all sweet stuff he was already doing. I had already known that he could scorekeep a large PTQ with no problem. He had clearly done an excellent job mentoring me. However, I’d never seen him mentor a scorekeeper, a seemingly natural progression for his skills. I finished the review and promptly passed the L2 exam.
The very next Monday, John recommended that I submit that review to the original My First Review, a project I’d never heard of. When I read some of the reviews, I realized that the vague and lofty ideas of reviews that had prevented me from writing feedback were asking far too much of myself. Feedback is always valuable, no matter how much or how little we have to offer. Feedback gives judges a perspective different from their own. I wanted My First Review to be more accessible to new judges so they could avoid my hesitance to write reviews.
Now, two years later, we are ready to relaunch My First Review as The Feedback Loop’s newest monthly column. By highlighting “first reviews,” we will encourage judges to overcome the challenges and anxieties of review writing. Each post will include a brief backstory that offers a window into the minds of experienced judges and regional coordinators just as they were beginning to write feedback. We hope to inspire you to write reviews of your own.
Reviews don’t have to be perfect. They just have to be written.
Interested in seeing your first review featured here? Email us. Be sure to include
1. the review itself, including the headers.*
2. a brief backstory on the how and why the review was written.
3. your reflections on the review and lessons you’ve learned since.
*You must get permission from the subject of your first review before submitting it for publication. If your subject does not give you permission to use the review, please submit only the story and your personal reflection on the review.