Mentoring. Mentor. Mentee. If you had to choose only one concept to pair with the judge program, most people would nod their head towards this one. From day one as a judge candidate to judges at highest levels of leadership in the program, it is everywhere.
I came to judging from an educational background, so I didn’t really think twice about mentoring since it was already a large part of what I did with my time. But as I started prepping for writing an overview of what mentoring is, I came to the realization that no one had actually explained to me what mentoring meant. It could very well have been because I was a teacher at the time, but even a lot of the resources I consulted on my journey to Level Two never really spelled things out.
I decided to lay out some of the skillsets and techniques for mentoring that have translated well from the teaching into judging. These particular tips are for helping a candidate prepare for a test on a mostly one-on-one basis, but can be tweaked as needed for other situations.
Establish a Baseline
Every judge candidate will come to you with a different amount of knowledge. Treating each person the same way will not grant you similar results; an approach like this will more often have an adverse effect of turning them off to your mentoring. It can be a lot of initial work, but the payoff translates to less work overall.
There are a lot of ways you can formulate a jumping-off point. What I have found to be most enlightening has been to play a game of Magic with a candidate. You can tell a lot about a person’s skill set by how they play the game. Once they are more comfortable, you should have a deck that contains some complicated or semi-complicated interactions through triggers or combat and have your mentee explain the rules behind the interactions. You’re not only testing them in ‘live’ situations, but you can tweak the decks to included different things based on what level test they’re prepping for. You can even turn it up a notch and have them announce every transition into steps and phases, as well as all the actions they’re taking in the game.
Another great tool that my mentor used with me takes a lot of what was mentioned above and condenses it down. He had a deck box containing cards that were targeting towards the different kinds of rules interactions and scenarios that would be tested for anyone going for their Level One certification. He brought this box during our very first mentoring session and I remember feeling like I had been forced through the wringer – but once we were done he had a good idea of where I stood. Just like playing a game with your mentee, this method can also be tweaked to suit his or her needs.
Don’t Jump Straight into Jargon
A large number of the candidates who come to you will have some knowledge of the game, but a lot of the technical terminology may go right over their head. Being introduced to something new when you already have preconceived notions of how something works can be overwhelming. If you are blabbering in language they don’t understand, you may lose them entirely. This is not to say that they shouldn’t learn the ins and outs, but be prepared to ease them into things based on their personal comfort levels. Also, be prepared to use terminology again and again, until it really sticks. Repetition leads to familiarity.
You can spout off rules and policy until you’re blue in the face, but a lot of mentees are going to need actual, quantifiable examples in order for the lessons to sink in. This can range from actual games of Magic to stories of judging events to discussions on why policy exists for certain situations or why it has changed to better suit the needs of the players and the game. This may seem like a ‘duh’ moment, but those examples will be integral for your mentee to actually take away knowledge from your sessions. Having those items and experiences and discussions set in place means that they can refer back to them when they’re placed in a situation that needs the knowledge you’ve discussed.
Discussions of ‘why’ are my personal favorite and go-to for concrete examples. Why State Based Actions? Because without them, they game would be clogged with all this extra stuff that needs to be dealt with in order to move on. Why did we change Deck Problem to being a Warning instead of a Game Loss? Incentivizing players to call us when they’ve done something wrong is much easier without a Game Loss waiting on the other end.
Check for Understanding
My fellow teachers will recognize this phrase, and it may again feel like I’m telling you something you already know, but you need to make sure things have really stuck before moving on. No one wants to feel like the student who is lost in class because everyone else has moved on.
Most mentees will have one or two (or several, depending) aspects of rules and policy that will take a lot longer to click than others. For me, it was replacement effects, and most of the judges I’ve spoken with all have or had a personal Achilles Heel that they worked to overcome. You can combat this by setting stopping points in the mentoring process to really make sure they’ve absorbed the information. Don’t be satisfied with a “Yeah, no, I’ve got it,” but actually test them to make sure the understanding is there.
This may not be something that every mentor thinks about, but it is just as important as any rule or policy discussion you will have. Being a good mentor takes a lot out of you. You’re not just talking to someone, you’re imparting your personal words and experiences onto them and that process can be draining. That gets even worse when you let yourself be available all of the time.
It’s okay to say, “Hey, I can’t today” or “I’m sorry, but I’ve had a really taxing day and I need to recharge.” Judging is a hobby for a large number of us, albeit one that we’re passionate about, but at the end of the day that’s what it is. Don’t let ‘raising’ the next generation of judges lead to you burning out yourself. We need all kinds of judges if we’re going to keep improving the Program.
I hope you’ve found some or all of these strategies helpful and I look forward to working with the judges you foster into the program!