The Training Cycle

Posted in NEWS on December 10, 2007

By Wizards of the Coast

At all levels within the DCI Judge Program, there is great importance given to judges constantly improving. This ensures that judges are trained to the highest standard possible, resulting in events being well staffed and well managed and players receiving the best service possible. While high level judges are expected to mentor and train Level 1 and Level 2 judges to become better, all judges should be familiar with a variety of mentoring and training techniques and how to help each other improve to the benefit of the program and organized play. Judges of all levels can assess another judge's performance and provide feedback to the judge, which improves the program as a whole. Understanding how to apply mentoring and training techniques, and providing feedback in as helpful a manner possible ensures that the mentoring and training process achieves the best results possible. This article introduces the concept of the training cycle as one possible approach to mentor and train judges. This concept can also be applied to self assessments and formalizing your own goals and objectives. Additionally, I've included several strategies on how to mentor and train judges.

The Cycle Itself

There are three basic parts to the training cycle. Those are the analysis period, the feedback period, and the growth period. These periods build upon one another as follows:

Analysis Period: This is the period during which a judge's performance is reviewed and analyzed. During this period, it is important to pay attention to what he or she does, and apply it to the broader context of the judge's overall performance. Taking written notes is helpful, as this can be used to identify specific instances of where the judge's performance could be improved. This is especially important to ensure that the judge you are reviewing understands how he or she needs to grow as a judge. To this end, focus on those things that are the roots of problems or the areas of proficiency a judge can improve, and ensure that the feedback provided doesn't just address a symptom of a deeper issue. Identify how a judge could improve holistically. This analysis is critical to ensuring that feedback you are about to give is geared towards having the greatest impact for the judge's improvement in the future. While sometimes it may be the smallest things you analyze, noting how this relates to all the judge's skills and capabilities will ensure that improves his or her overall performance.

Feedback Period: This is the period during which you give the individual your assessment and provide guidance on how to ultimately improve. Most often this feedback will be encompassed by a single review, where you try to communicate as much information as possible to help the judge identify how he or she can improve. However, this period can also be longer, with continuous feedback provided to help shape the judge's growth as it occurs. In this sense, a single review may be the starting point, and conversations with the judge can provide more information and understanding as time progresses. This is especially important to prevent the judge from getting overwhelmed with the feedback you provide. Great care should also be given to how this assessment is given and the language used to communicate your analysis, that way the judge feels the importance of the need to improve, without any stinging criticism of his or her performance. Highlight the positives of the improvements being sought, and don't focus solely on the negatives. Point the judge to the future, not to the past. It is important to give specific feedback, identifying objectives for the judge to achieve and relate the objectives to the desired outcome for the judge's improvement. Objectives can either be very specific or a bit more open-ended, depending upon the judge in question. Stress the importance of the desired outcome and how these objective are necessary to achieve that outcome, so that the judge you've reviewed grasps the importance as well.

Growth Period: This is the period during which the judge grows and works on the objectives you've identified for them. Of the three periods, this may be where you focus most of your effort. Simply because you will need to monitor the judge over this period to make sure he or she is working on the objectives you've identified for the judge and is progressing towards the desired outcome. Likewise, you may have to help the judge redirect his or her efforts if he or she appears to have reached a barrier to achieving an objective. It is also important to remind the judge of the ultimate outcome in order to motivate him or her to continue working on the areas to be improved. Watching the judge while he or she grows and seeing how the judge meets the objectives you've given them also sets up the next training cycle, where you identify more things for the judge to work on. In effect how the judge responded to your feedback can identify new objectives to work on, or where he or she may have slipped in the performance of a certain skill. This leads back into the analysis period for the next training cycle.

There are also two very important elements to remember for the training cycle as a whole. The first is that each of these periods differ greatly based on what you are trying to help the judge accomplish. An analysis period could occur over the course of one tournament, or a year's worth of tournaments. The feedback period may simply be a single review, or could be a series of discussions with the judge. Being able to adjust the timing of each cycle is important both for the initial assessment and the judge's growth. Too short an analysis period, and you may not get a good picture of the judge's overall performance. Too long an analysis period, and you may miss giving the judge good short-term objectives to work on. Whatever feedback you give, ensure that you recognize the amount of time you had for your assessment and what you expect the judge to accomplish from that feedback and how long that may take.

The second is to balance both short-term and long-term training cycles. Some objectives for mentoring and training will ultimately require more time for the judge to reach the objectives you've help him or her set. Other objectives will require significantly less time for the judge to achieve. If you regularly work with the judge you are providing feedback, then this is somewhat easier to achieve. Because you can see the longer period of time over which the judge may develop, as well as the immediate improvements the judge makes. Within a single event, you can also assess a judge's performance and provide him or her feedback to help the judge improve before the end of that event. There is both a macro perspective and a micro perspective that needs to be considered with regards to the training cycle. Be sure to communicate that perspective with the judge you are assessing. That way the judge doesn't get frustrated in achieving an objective that may really take considerably longer to achieve.

The Importance of Clear Communication

While all of your feedback should be honest and your assessments objective, you should also be clear in how you communicate with the judge you are mentoring and training. This is the only way to truly achieve the best results of the training cycle. Your primary concern should be that the judge who receives your assessment has a clear understanding of what your assessment is, and how you arrived at your assessment. An unclear assessment could leave the judge confused as to how you drew your conclusions and what objectives you've identified for him or her to improve upon. Likewise, you need to be clear with the judge regarding the direction he or she needs to be moving in, and relate it to your assessment of his or her performance. As simple a thing as it may be, the more specific and detailed the direction in light of your assessment, the easier it is to help fine tune the objectives and outcome for the judge's development.

Assessing the judge's understanding of your feedback is important to accomplishing this end. Discuss your feedback with the judge to ensure he or she understands you. Likewise, make sure the judge grasps the desired objectives and outcome. This can also help to refine any objectives, as the judge may have thoughts on what he or she needs to work on, and how his or her future performance could be improved. This makes certain that the judge has a stake in determining how he or she wishes to grow and improve, and helps set appropriate objectives for the judge. Personalizing this feedback and any objectives gives the judge ownership of his or her past performance and future growth. Making it all the more pertinent for that judge, and ensuring he or she is ultimately responsible for achieving the objectives you've help identify and set for him or her. While you may assist the judge in any way possible, it is ultimately the judge who has to do the necessary work to improve his or her performance.

Training Strategies

The following section encompasses some different possible approaches to take in helping get the information needed to help your analysis, as well as to help the judge grow. Knowing which to apply is critical, as each has pros and cons, and needs to be appropriate for the judge you are mentoring and training:

Task Performance: The most straight forward tactic is to give the judge a specific task or series of tasks to accomplish, then assess how he or she actually performed the task. This is ideal for someone who has just begun judging and is still learning what to do as a judge and how best to do those tasks. The core improvement being sought is to educate the judge on all facets of what he or she needs to do as a judge. This tactic provides the most active level of guidance and opportunity for assessment. It is important to communicate the importance of the task the judge has been assigned, and how it may fit into the larger picture of his or her performance and responsibilities as a judge. This helps facilitate a quick training cycle, to get the judge up to speed and improving quickly. That way the judge can take on more responsibilities, and can operate more efficiently on his or her own. This can be used with more experienced judges as well, giving the judge more freedom in how he or she performs the task and assess how the judge handles the assignment.

Training by Example: This approach allows you to demonstrate the performance of skills and allows the judge to emulate those skills and gain an understanding of their relative importance. The best example of this is to have one judge shadow another, and the first judge observes and learns from how the second judge handles a situation. The first judge can gain an understanding of what skills are important to know, and where he or she may have weaknesses to be improved on. A judge who's never head judged a Pro Tour Qualifier™ can learn from a more experienced judge, to see how skills he or she developed and used as a floor judge applies to other situations. The shadow can then talk to the judge and identify skills to work on and set objectives to develop proficiency with those skills and how else to apply those skills. The core improvement being sought is the refinement of certain existing skills, as well as exposure to skills not currently possessed by the judge. It gives him or her an opportunity to identify important skills to develop, before actually needing to utilize those skills.

Shadowing: This is the inverse of the previous approach, where the judge doing the shadowing is watching and assessing the first judge's performance. The shadow has the opportunity to see how the judge actually performs in real situations and can provide him or her with support or feedback at the time of the situation. It also provides a safety net for a judge who may not otherwise be comfortable with handling things on his or her own, at the same time allowing the judge some freedom in handling situations. The core improvement being sought is refinement of existing technique, with an experienced judge to get feedback from as it is needed. It provides the judge with someone who he or she may be comfortable relating to, and that the judge can trust to get valuable feedback from.

Introspective Tasking: This approach allows a judge to work in his or her own way, and then guide the judge further by allowing him or her to analyze his or her own performance. The core improvement being sought here isn't just refinement of existing technique, but to train the judge how to be critical of his or her own performance to self identify things that he or she can work on, and can be used in the future when a mentor isn't present. Plus, it has the added advantage of helping the judge develop a skill that can be applied to mentoring and training other judges. Using this method, you should get away from identifying weaknesses and setting the objective for the judge, and let him or her identify his or her own weaknesses and set appropriate objectives based on his or her self assessment. It is important to stress to the judge that he or she should be honest about how he or she performed and recognize what skills can be improved. If it seems the judge missed something, step in to point out what he or she missed. But try to let the judge do these things, and provide feedback on the judge's self assessment as necessary.

Failure and Rebuilding: This is likely the most controversial approach in training and mentoring a judge, and one that few will agree is ever appropriate, as it requires you to put the judge in a position to fail and then let him or her fail. I do not recommend this for anything less than an experienced judge who has a serious and fundamental issue with his or her performance that needs to be very directly and bluntly addressed. Mostly because you need to let the judge grasp the magnitude of the issue and how it relates to his or her overall judging ability. This is a very dramatic approach that ultimately uses the judge's failure to help him or her rebuild. The core improvement being sought here is a complete restart to address the judge's weakness, in order to get rid of a technique or thinking that causes the judge to miss the big picture in judging. You need to be willing to see the judge fail and be very critical of the reason why he or she failed. More importantly you need to get the judge to see the magnitude of the problem with the technique or thinking that caused the judge to fail and what he or she has to do in order to completely change his or her perspective. Getting a judge to accept this is difficult, and requires both individuals to have utmost trust and respect in each other. There needs to be complete honesty in why the failure occurred and why it is necessary that it had to occur. Even then, there will be bad feelings that need to be worked through with the judge, and it is important to address those as well as what you identify for the judge to improve. If not, you could do more harm than good for the judge, and create a barrier to future assessments that will persist for a long time.

This is not an exhaustive list of strategies that can be used to help a judge be mentored and trained. There are many other approaches that exist out there, and it is good for the any judge who wishes to mentor and train another judge to conduct some research on possible approaches. Many book stores and online retailers sell books on education and training, and it's good to pick up one to help refine your own skills. Likewise, it is good to discuss with other experienced judges who mentor and train, to identify strategies that may have worked for them and to get a better understanding of how judges can be mentored and trained.


In summary, it is important to have an understanding of the training cycle and each period: from analysis, to feedback, to growth, and then back to analysis. Making sure that this is tailored for the judge you are working with or assessing is important as well, since it is ultimately the judge who needs to benefit from your feedback. Likewise, work with the judge to make sure he or she understands your feedback and devise an appropriate strategy for the judge to ensure that the desired outcome of the feedback is achieved. In doing this, you not only help the judge directly, but also the DCI as a whole.

Brian D. Schenck, L3