Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Tournament Tuesdays: The Sport of Sportsmanship

In general, the purpose for having a sportsmanship score in a tournament is to moderate the behavior of the participants. It is a good concept that I have seen implemented in a number of different ways. When it comes to each of these methods, there are advantages and disadvantages to it. Below are the methods that I have seen and my general thoughts on each of them.

The Single Statement

I believe this to be the original method used by GW and is based upon the idea of scoring a player by picking which statement best describes an opponent. Each statement reflects a score that a player receives if that statement is picked for them by their opponent. The nice thing about this method is that it allows a player to score each of his opponents independent of the others. If the first opponent was great, they can be scored as such. If the second one is also great, they can also be scored as such. The flaw with this system is that it can diminish the value of a sportsmanship score as a player can award all of his opponents the same. Another flaw is that the statements tend to be vague and players have difficulty with choosing which one best fits an opponent.

The Checkbox Method

The Checkbox Method takes the approach of trying to make the scoring method as objective as possible. The normal format for this method is to provide a list of statements and have a player check each statement that applies to an opponent. This was the method I used originally with K’Wars.

The advantage of this method is that a player can score each opponent more precisely if one assumes that each statement is clear and concise. It also means that a player should have a better idea of what they need to do to maximize their sportsmanship score. The disadvantages of this system are that a player’s scoring of opponents will be independent of each opponent and that this system tends to result in scores being high for most players.

Player Ranking

I have seen the player ranking method used in two ways. The first method is to use it solely on its own to determine each players sportsmanship score. The other method is to use it with the checkbox method to break ties that are common with that method. When used alone, the player ranking method is very simple, but can easily result in the biggest spread of sportsmanship scores among participants.

Of the available methods, I find this method to be the worst choice for determining sportsmanship if used by its self. What I have observed with this format is that it typically results in sportsmanship being reduced to a popularity contest. Another issue is that some players find it difficult to rank their opponents, often citing that they were all good and none of them should be marked poorly. If there is any real advantage to this approach, it is the time factor. This is by far the easiest method for a judge to manage.

Multiple Statement Ranking

This method is one I started using with Invasion Kenosha. Of the methods I have used or observed, I have found this method to be the most appealing as a judge and player. The method involves each player receiving a sportsmanship sheet at the end of the tournament with five statements. For each statement, the player will rank their three opponents in the order of how well they fit the statement when compared against each other.

I have a number of reasons for adopting this method. Just to get it out of the way, I do find this method easier to manage than either the single statement or checkbox methods. This is not the core reason for me using it, but I have to admit only collecting one sheet from each player makes bookkeeping a snap.

Another reason I like this format is that I feel it gives a more accurate reflection of each player’s total sportsmanship score. Each player is getting judged against five questions by three different opponents. It has been my experience that players are going to be a little less harsh on a player when they need to answer multiple questions about that person. I don’t mean that a player cannot bomb another’s score, it just happens less often. Along the same lines, a player can also score all of their opponents the same if they do some simple math.

A final reason for preferring this method is that I feel that it makes winning an award that factors in sportsmanship more meaningful. When compared to the single and checkbox method, it means that a player’s opponents truly felt they were the best that they played that day. While when compared with the player ranking approach, it means that the player’s opponents had to really weigh how the player did against the others they played.

When it comes to this format, I have found the biggest flaw with it to be players being confused on how to complete the scorecard. This method is by far the most complex of the ones listed, and requires a little bit of thought about each game and player. With this, I have found it easier if I provide the scorecard with the names of a player’s three opponents already printed on the sheet. People remember the army they fought each round, but don’t always recall the player’s name.

In the end, sportsmanship scoring is about creating a positive atmosphere. There are a number of methods being used, each with its own pros and cons. The end results of any system should be to ensure that the participants in a tournament have a good time. Anything other than that is just an exercise in mathematics.


  1. Would you be willing to post the categories you used in the Invasion Kenosha scoring? This sounds interesting and I would like to share it with local tourney judges.

  2. Nice discussion. Personally I like sportsmanship scoring even though it can be used to bomb an opponent's overall rank. Only the grade "A" idiots show complete disregard for their score in favor of rude, argumentative gaming.