Hello readers, this week we take a little deviation from our normal programming. Early this summer I got to work with and talk to extraordinary judges across the program to get their thoughts on what makes a “standout” judge. I traveled from the Midwest heartlands east to Virginia and back west to the deserts of Nevada. Join me as I take a look at what makes that rockstar, that Exemplar, that Judge of the Week. I interviewed a series of judges to get their opinions, as I firmly believe it is in each of us to obtain that recognition.
Would you agree that there is a spectrum in the levels?
By and large this was unanimous but there were different opinions on what that spectrum actually looked like. Most said that L2 had the widest range, and it was a mix on whether L1 or L3 has the next biggest range gap. While many felt that L1 was easy to achieve, they also felt that there were plenty of stars in that grouping. With the range gap of L2 it was best to assume an unknown judge was at the lower end of the range and possibly be pleasantly surprised. L3 seemed to homogenize the varied skills of the L2 range, so by nature it had a smaller gap but difficult to obtain. L3 was seen as stressful, and the range was more difficult to conquer as it dealt with more soft skills such as leadership and vision rather than hard skills such as rules knowledge and policy as this was a high bar set as the standard for each judge at this level.
What makes a “standout” L1 in your opinion?
What makes a “standout” L2 in your opinion?
Here I saw a great diversity in responses. Many didn’t differentiate between the levels, as the things that they valued were not level dependent. What were those things? Hans Wang, Eric Levine, and Eric Dustin Brown (EDB) felt that a judges attitude, energy, and engagement really made them special. To bring that zeal to the floor and support players and judges alike. Riki Hayashi and Paul Baranay spoke towards accountability and self-reflection. Did the judge recognize shortcomings and work to improve themselves? Did they understand that there were things they didn’t know and take steps to fill in that gap? Charles Featherer and Steven Zwanger echo’d each other by saying that this sort of judge needed expertise in rules knowledge and policy. Customer service was a common thread across the responses, and as a personal aside let me put on my TO hat and nod in agreement.
What hurdles do you see in advancing in levels?
Hans, and others, spoke towards the confidence level of L1’s and a common response was that there were not many opportunities for them to gain the CREL experience needed for L2. This seems timely given recent announcements towards the structure of 2019 OP. Eric L. felt that it was difficult for L1s to find mentors and to get tested. This common sentiment was followed by an interesting observation from Paul, that L1’s also have issues “finding a home” and “being seen” within the program.
Moving from L2 to L3 had a different set of issues. EDB felt these judges needed to be able to take a cold hard look at themselves and be honest with what they see, whereas Hans felt that they needed to work together at GP’s to support each other.
Riki had a lot to say about the L2 hurdles. He felt that they had similar issues to L1 and a need to get into larger OP and to also build a personal network. He felt that there were a lot of skilled L2’s out there but remain unknown as they aren’t connected with the overall program. A solution he proposed was to find someone that believes in you and will invest in you. To find someone that sees you in the same light. From many of the judges I spoke with, the ability to network and build a healthy peer group as well develop ties with senior judges was very important.
Charles also felt strongly towards mentorship for all levels. Steven, the most veteran judge at 20 years of experience, said that the biggest hurdle was internal and to the challenge of the self-review.
Jonah Kellman felt that the hurdles were the same for all levels, and mastering those difficulties was part of the level system. He agreed that networking was very important, to seek out and establish relationships with people that can help you grow and were generally invested in you. Perhaps the most challenging things he pointed out were the ability to be self-driven but also the judges own personality. Our attitude and approach brings different difficulties and different severities to bear. He also noted that geography plays a role which shared a similar sentiment expressed by others.
Meg Baum had the most interesting take on things, in my opinion. She felt that the steps between *all* levels were milestones and that a judge was a Figure of Destiny. You invest so much in yourself and you gain an ability. Such as cutting slips, or posting pairings, etc. And that these milestones are unique to each judge as we all have different innate capabilities. And these investments were the “level ups” like on the Figure. We work towards gaining the abilities we lack, and we can all reach that next plateau. She also stressed it was ok to take a scenic route, there is no right path though some are faster than others. Regardless of which approach you take, ensure you enjoy it. She noted that the path to L3 was more of a hiking trail, and it demanded more from you in terms of endurance and stamina.
What things standout to you in other judges that you don’t know?
Steven immediately said that he noticed judges with good hustle and active engagement with players, and the ability to establish a rapport with them. Paul said he noticed judges who were able to clearly “own” a ruling by making it quick, effective, and delivered with confidence. EDB notices a judge with swagger and confidence, and duly notes how appropriate that is. Charles notices judges who embody professionalism which speaks towards their language, dress, and mannerisms. Jonah sees judges who are “successfully wrong”, those that get right up on their feet and goes back in for more with better understandings.
Eric Levine suggested that many judges suffer from impostor syndrome OR that they are overconfident. That both of these are a detriment to achieving the next height in the program. As the goal for L3 is being reached for, these traits will create potential fails and generate social strains for the judge.
Riki said that a judges path in the program is unique. He also noted that the end point was up to them and not defined by levels. It was up to each of us to identify our passions and to pursue them. In that process we can help others in their own quests, and collectively we are in positions to succeed.
What do you think? What difficulties do you see? What resources do you give to others to help them on their path? Do you agree that rockstar judges are built from internal traits that we can shape and mold in ourselves? Please leave your thoughts in the comments!