Posted in NEWS on March 10, 2008

By Wizards of the Coast

One of more effective tools that has been created in recent years to help train judges is the concept of shadowing. If you have been to a major event any time in the last few years, you are probably aware of the idea. In a nutshell, when a judge goes to make a ruling or deal with a player, another nearby judge should follow, watch, learn, and critique. I first learned of the practice when it was explained to the staff at the start of a Grand Prix several years ago. Since then, the process has become much more standardized and widespread. Now before major events, staff members receive a briefing document that covers what shadowing is and how to do it. However there is a lot more to shadowing than what is covered in the description in that briefing. The goal of this article is to provide a more in-depth explanation of what shadowing is, how to do it, and provide some tips and tricks for all judges, even those who have been doing it for awhile.


In a nutshell, shadowing is where one judge watches another give a ruling or otherwise interact with players and takes metal notes on the process. The primary goal is that both the judge doing the shadowing and the "shadowee" can learn from each other. The shadowing judge should watch to see how the judge being shadowed performs this task, see if he can learn from it and/or offer a critique to the shadowed judge. Then after the ruling is given, the two judges should talk about what happened. This mini-discussion usually takes place immediately after the ruling, but can happen anytime later. Sometimes this feedback can be as simple as, "good job." Other times, the shadowing judge may offer a few pointers or have a few questions about how the issue was handled.

Not this...

The general concept of shadowing is easy to understand; however, there are several things to keep in mind when doing it. The shadowing judge should be very mindful of the fact that he or she is not the responding judge. The players and spectators involved should direct all comments and statements to the responding judge. If a player starts to talk to or address the shadowing judge, the shadow should point to the responding judge and say something like, "he's the one you need to talk to, I'm just here to watch." When making rulings, it is best for all information to go to one judge only. This lessens the potential for miscommunication or confusion. Having said that, there are exceptions. If a situation becomes complex or heated, the shadowing judge can take a more active role in if needed. For example, if the players or spectators involved need to be separated and talked to. But for your average judge call, the shadowing judge should not play an active role with the players.

When Shadowing

The shadowing judge should focus most of their attention on the judge and not the players. In order to provide feedback to this judge you need to know what the judge is and is not doing. Keep in mind that you do not need to provide a complete and total overview of a judge's performance by shadowing just one time. It may be useful to try and focus on one or two specific areas, like the judge's communication skills, command of the situation, and attention to detail or rules knowledge.

While it is very important that the shadowing judge not interfere with the ruling, if the shadowing judge feels that a mistake is being made, he or she should step in to prevent it. The easiest and best way to do that is ask the responding judge if you can talk to them for a second. These two judges should then step aside to discuss the issue. This can also happen if the responding judge is unsure of what to do. He or she can talk to the shadowing judge away from the table to confirm or verify what the ruling should be before giving it. As always, any appeals should be directed towards the head judge and not the shadow. If a player questions the ruling given by the shadowee, it should be pointed out that any appeal needs to go to the head judge.

Just because the shadowing judge should not interact with the players, that does not mean that they should be 100% passive; a shadow can be useful to the presiding judge beyond just watching and learning. One thing that all judges should do when responding to a judge call is look at the clock in case that extra time needs to be given due to a lengthy ruling. However, this is something that all judges neglect at times. Often when I shadow, I check at the clock in case the presiding judge did not. The shadowing judge can also be used in instances in which there is an appeal. The shadow can either stay at the match when the head judge is being found, or the shadow can get the head judge while the presiding judge stays and continues to watch the match.


After a ruling has been handled and the players continue their match, the judges involved should then discuss what happened. As mentioned above, sometimes the feedback for situation like this is minimal. But any feedback at all can be useful. Even pointing out minor differences in the way you may have dealt with the situation can be helpful. Also, if a situation was complex or just interesting, these two judges can bring it up for further discussion with others judges.

Special circumstances



The above pretty much covers the basics on what shadowing is and how to do it in most cases. However, there are other issues involved to keep in mind in some circumstances. If you are a higher level judge with more experience, you will want to take special care not to step on the toes of a less experienced shadowee. As mentioned before, you want to let the shadowee handle the call. This can be especially hard if it is known to the players involved that you are a "senior" judge. I find that it can be helpful to not make eye contact with the players and keep my focus on the judge answering the call. This can become especially hard if you are the head judge at an event. The important thing to keep in mind in these circumstances is that the presiding judge does need to give the initial ruling.

If you are working at an event where you are there to shadow the head judge, either to learn from or offer criticism, it may be beneficial to not wear standard judge clothing. This is something that has been done at GPs and PTs for some time, and I have used it at local events as well. The TO I primarily work for has different stripped shirts for the head judge, floor judges and administrative staff. In instances where I've shadowed the head judge, I've worn my administrative shirt so players know that I am not there to answer their judge calls.

Just as there are things to keep in mind when shadowing a lesser-experienced judge, there are things that a newer judge should be aware of when shadowing. First of all, make sure that you do shadow. While your primary goal may be to learn when shadowing in these situations, that does not mean that any insight you have is not wanted or needed. All judges need constructive criticism and anyone can provide it. It is also very important that you make sure to step in if necessary. If you think that this more experienced judge is about to make a mistake, please step in and point this out. As mentioned above, do so by taking this judge aside and point out the error. Don't automatically discount your own knowledge and assume that this other judge must be correct. Finally, if you do not have any specific comment for the presiding judge you are shadowing you can always ask questions about the judge call and why the judge did what he or she did.

One important fact is that the effort involved in shadowing is not just put forth by the shadowing judge. It is important that the shadowee keep their composure and not get rattled because they are being watched. Simply put, don't be nervous. The goal of shadowing is not to nitpick and point out the negative; it is to learn, teach, and improve. When being shadowed, try not to do anything different from how you normally would.

While shadowing seems like a spur of the moment activity, it can help to plan ahead. You can go into an event hoping to look for certain things or with a goal to watch certain judges. One such way to do this is to team up with other judges before an event and be "shadow buddies." (If this is at an event where a team system is used, it is a good idea to team up with others on the same team.) The two (or more) of you can take turns answering judge calls and watching the other. This can be a great way to get to know other judges that you may not have before the event. It can also help give you more information with which to put into a post-event review. If you are working on improving a certain skill you can point this out to your "shadow buddies" and ask them to help analyze your ability in that area.

One final thing to point out is that you do not need to be a judge on staff in order to shadow. You can watch a judge deliver a ruling and talk to him or her afterwards if you are a player in the event or a spectator that just stopped by. However in these instances, it is very important that you not step in and interfere. Additionally, if you not on staff and planning on shadowing a judge for any extended length of time, it will work out better if you get let the judge know beforehand.


The potential benefits from shadowing are numerous. Before becoming a certified judge, you must pass a written test, and there are additional written tests as you advance in the program. But there are so many other skills that judges need that you cannot measure with a written test. Shadowing can be used to learn or hone your communication skills, gauge how you interact with players and test your ability to solve problems. Additionally, shadowing can help immediately. Feedback you provide for someone in round one of an event can be applied right away and for the rest of the event. It is also a great way to gather information for long-term use; for a longer, more substantive review in the judge center. And if you are the one being shadowed, it can be a way for you to show off your skills and what you've learned. While shadowing is not something that can be used at every event, it can be done anytime there is more than one staff member. So anything you are working with another judge, make sure that shadowing is something that discussed and used.

Chris Richter, L3