This is a guest post by tournament director Fran Kelley
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From a tournament director’s point of view, a hat tournament is unique in that players will rely on the T.D. to provide the amenities and experience that they are used to getting from their team. Without a captain or teammates that they have played with or even met before, players will look to the organizer for leadership and direction. Because of this fact, the T.D. must be prepared to provide an event that meets the expectations and needs of the players on an individual basis.
One of the first questions a hat tournament T.D. must answer is what the goal of the tournament is. Is it meant to be a fundraiser for a local team or event or is it meant to raise money for charity? As a player in college I competed in multiple hat tournaments that were fundraisers for other college teams. It was a great way for the local team to raise some funds but also establish ties with the greater Ultimate community. Other options for tournaments might be a “hey its finally nice out, lets play some frisbee again” or possibly a tryout for your club team. Each of these different options requires you to offer different things to the players.
A fundraising or charity tournament requires an entry fee that will result in some profit after the fields and amenities are paid for. Raffles, prizes, and other non-Ultimate frisbee games can be welcome additions as you try to make some cash for a worthy cause. Players will usually not mind a higher than normal entry fee if they know it is going toward a worthy cause. In my experience I have always tried to charge up to $5 per game provided. A one day charity tournament with 4 games for a total of $20 is well within reason. Any more than that and players start to think about saving their money and going to the local pick up game instead.
Attendees at a “let’s just play” or a tryout style tournament usually do not want to pay more than they have to. As a T.D. you must make sure to charge just enough to cover the field costs and any amenities you provide. Less is more here. Both these groups of people tend to care a lot more about the actual playing than the fact that you provided strawberry cream cheese, spirit awards, or raffle prizes.
Once you know what type of hat tournament you are providing, an equally important question to ask yourself is who your most likely participants are. Knowing the answer to this question allows you to specialize the event in a way that will allow you to meet the expectations of the players. You want to focus on the experience level of the players. High level club players will most likely not mind a lack of flair but will definitely expect their fields to be flat, close to regulation size, and lined. At the same time, lesser-experienced players may not mind those 15 yard end-zones with the man-hole cover at one corner as long as you have provided other amenities (spirit prizes, raffles, give-aways) that still allow them to have a good time.
There are a lot of different routes you can go if you lean towards the more fun/spirited type of tournament. One of the things I really enjoyed at my first hat tournament was that the organizers had gone to Goodwill and gotten each participant cool retro shirts in their team colors. I will say that I tried this the first time I ran a hat tournament and it didn’t go over as well because I hadn’t thought enough about who my participants were. At that particular tournament, I ended up with a majority of club players who were unimpressed by Goodwill shirts. Still, there are lots of options when trying to make a hat tournament fun or unique. Often it is easier to do because you are usually dealing with less teams and people. I have heard of hat tournaments that have themes for their teams like Power Rangers, Legends of the Hidden Temple, Holidays, or Wedding Party. Unique twists like this make the tournaments fun for players and organizers alike and keep people coming back for more in years to come.
No matter the type of tournament or skill level of participants, one of the most important aspects of any hat tournament is making sure you have fair teams. There are plenty of players who will not care if they win or lose, but most will care that they have a fair shot. Losing is one thing; getting rolled by a stacked team is another. There are plenty of ranking systems used throughout the country by various leagues that a T.D. can use. For a one or two day tournament your ranking system does not necessarily need to be as specific as some of the league based ones that are meant to make season-long teams even. The bare minimum you want to ask: years of experience (never, 1-3, 4+), type of experience (pick-up, league, college, club), athleticism (slow, medium, fast), and disc skills (shaky at best, steady forehand and backhand, can break the mark at will). If you have a local league with a rating system in place, use that for reference or follow it exactly if you think a lot of players at the tournament will be familiar with it.
After the type of tournament and participants are set you will want to think about the size of the tournament. At a regular tournament the T.D. does not pay much mind to how many players each team brings but with the hat format you must pre-determine how many players are on a team (consider playing time for each player). While having more players = more $$ you do not want players to feel that they have paid to stand on a sideline. Two full lines of players on each team should be sufficient for a one day tournament whereas two to three lines would be better for a two day tournament. To provide players with as much game time as possible, the ideal hat tournament would have a minimum of four teams. Four teams of fourteen players means you will need to have at least fifty-six people register for the tournament. You can make it work with less or more, but it is your job to make sure your players are prepared for as much or as little playing time as they will get. This is also the time to consider the formatting of your tournament. In my experience, players more often prefer a strict round-robin style where they get to play as many teams as possible, instead of bracket play where there are possibilities for rematches of pool play. The feedback I have gotten from players is that they would rather play more games (to a lower point total like 11) if it meant they got to play every team in attendance.
You’ll also want to consider whether you’ll allow baggaging or not. Baggaging means multiple players signing up together and being put on the same team. This can be a great way to encourage more people to sign up as everyone is more likely to do something if they have a friend with them. In my opinion, you should limit baggages to two people. A great aspect of a hat tournament is the ability to meet and play with new people. I met a current club teammate of mine while playing in a hat tournament in Georgia over spring break back in grad school. This is one of the great benefits of having the opportunity to play with new people. It is hard to accomplish this if people baggage with half their summer league team.
At this point you have gotten everything set and you are ready to think about day-of logistics. Communication is key here. If you have been using an online system for sign-ups you should have collected email contacts for your players. Make sure they are well aware of what team they are on, what color to wear if you are not providing them with jerseys, and anything else they should bring or expect. Try to have a schedule for them before they arrive. Day-of have at least 5-6 schedules with game info and field locations for each team. Designate a captain (through volunteer or appointment) but make sure multiple teammates have copies as well. A good rule of thumb: the first people to show up to the tournament are often the most responsible; give them schedules for their team. Communicate expectations to the whole group, and let them get to playing the game we all love.
Fran Kelley is a tournament director for Midwest Ultimate, a high school coach, and a co-captain of the mixed team NOISE. He has organized multiple hat tournaments for Midwest Ultimate and has T.D.ed Wisconsin Swiss, Mad-Disc-On and the upcoming 2012 Chicago Sandblast.