The Scarfhunter Challenge: I Wish I Had This When I Was New

I recently unveiled an idea that I, and several others, had bounced around for a few weeks: The Scarfhunter Challenge. Right now this is a uniquely Atlantian thing, but could easily be adapted to fit any other kingdom. The short version is that we’ve made a website to track performance. When you sign up, you’ll be able to enter your tournament results for each event into a spreadsheet that will track the data as follows:

1) Score for individual event.

2) High score for any event.

3) Total score.

4) Average score.

This will be done for the full year, and each year will archive so you’ll be able to see how you’re doing from one year to the next. Scoring works thusly: you earn between 1 and 3 points for each tournament round win, depending on your Academie rank and that of your opponent, in the following manner:

Scholar defeats scholar: 1 point.

Scholar defeats free scholar: 2 points.

Scholar defeats provost: 3 points.

Free scholar defeats scholar: 1 point.

Free scholar defeats free scholar: 1 point.

Free scholar defeats provost: 2 points.

Provost defeats scholar: 1 point.

Provost defeats free scholar: 1 point.

Provost defeats provost: 1 point.

At the end of the season, there will be a tournament seeded by total score, so the people who do better at more events will have the advantage.

As the idea came to completion, all I could think, over and over, was: “Where was this when I was starting out?”

One of the things that used to really gnaw at me was a relative inability to gauge my performance against the field as a whole. Sure, I was winning a reasonable number of tournaments, but there were still a whole bunch of guys who make it look effortless to beat me. In fact, since I happened to have a HUGE fish in the small pond of my first practice, I barely went to any events at all for almost two years because I thought I was bad. It wasn’t until I started going out more that I realized I might actually be OK at this whole thing, but it took a local event and pushy friends to drag me out.

Here, with this challenge, we have an opportunity to ameliorate some of those kinds of issues. The very competitive amongst us will have an opportunity to be competitive on a full year scale, and importantly, without necessarily having to win or place in tournaments in the process. A person can compete with their own past self, their practice partners, or people of similar rank– it might even help a few friendly rivalries develop. It is entirely possible for a well-performing scholar to be the number one seed without actually winning any tournaments because of the weighting of scores, and rightfully so: someone who is outperforming expectations and is exceptionally active deserves to hold an advantage over those who make it to only a few events a year even if they do well at them. It doesn’t reward skill alone; individual tournaments do that well enough. It rewards effort and determination in conjunction with skill.

If competition isn’t your main objective, you can also use this database as a learning tool. First, it makes you pay attention to your performance, which a surprisingly few of us really do: I’ve had too many conversations with people who had no idea who they’d fenced or how they’d done. It also gives you a means to reflect back on your best (or worst) days and think to yourself, “What happened here? How can I repeat (or avoid!) that again?” Because we’re archiving the data each year, you’ll also be able to go back and look at how you did from one year to the next at the same event: a 9 one year might be a 15 the next, which can be a good indicator of growth.

Is this perfect? Nope. You might go 0-2 in a double elimination  despite fencing the best you ever have, or you might rack up 30 points in a triple elim against a bunch of provosts who all ate the same bad fish the night before. However, at the end of the day, if you want to get better you have to become focused on your performance, and this is a way to enhance that, both in yourself and in your practice. When someone starts to pull ahead, everyone else can be drawn along after them, even leapfrogging each other from week to week. When that happens, as it happened to me, the result is a group able to fulfill their potentials.

13 comments to The Scarfhunter Challenge: I Wish I Had This When I Was New

  • Website and relevant announcement forthcoming. Brian is a busy guy these days.

  • Ruairc

    My first impression is that the people who are excited and engaged by this (and thus likely to participate) are precisely the people who don’t need additional motivation, challenges, or a neat performance tracker to continue improving.

    But perhaps it will catch on and become part of the culture.

    • Dante di Pietro

      Public enthusiasm > private.

      Besides, motivated people need reinforcement too. You had a couple years of “taking it seriously” where you sort of spun your tires a lot. This could have helped you recognize that and adjust sooner.

    • Tibbie Croser

      Ruairc, this proposal seems very close to what you were urging in your post on University and New Folks. It’s a ranking system. It allows fighters to track their progress in tournament fighting from year to year. It allows the White Scarves to track the progress of Free Scholars and Scholars quantitatively. Better yet, it puts no extra burden on the MoLs; the work is done by the fighters who want to participate. Why do you seem to be skeptical?

      • Ruairc

        I am (initially) skeptical not because I don’t like it, but because participation is voluntary. Of course, it has to be. But it means that the people who most need the feedback may not participate because they don’t want to risk their egos. If you’re a six-month-old Blue Scarf, not particularly skilled, there is a very real chance of doing “poorly”. And then you, and everyone else, will be presented with incontrovertible evidence of your failures. Taking that jump – humbling yourself, saying “judge me, so that I may be better” – is perhaps the most difficult but most important step that a newer fighter can take.

        The proper approach, of course, is teaching fighters that this is data, not judgement (thus the scare quotes around “poorly” above); and teaching them how to correctly interpret this data. But we’re fighting human nature here.

        I’d love to see this become part of the culture of Atlantian rapier fighting, wherein any Scholar with his own sword is strongly encouraged to log in and track his progress. It may take a few years to get there, but I’ll promote it as best as I can.

        • Tibbie Croser

          Ruairc: If you want to truly help novice fighters, I urge you to speak with and learn from those instructors who are very good with novice fighters, such as Connor, Gil, and Ilaria. There’s a whole dimension of qualitative feedback and mental confidence training that a quantitative tool like Dante’s can’t address.

          I’d also urge you to listen to as many Blue Scarves as you can to find out what they actually want and need, what they believe would help them to do better and keep them motivated. As a longtime Scholar, I’ve most appreciated higher-level fighters who are willing to listen to me when they train me.

          • Ruairc

            This tool is obviously not designed to replace qualitative feedback. But Scholars can become understandably incredulous when an instructor says “you’re improving!” and they have no external measure of progress to confirm. This will help.

            I’m skeptical of a lot of our pedagogy in the SCA, but I try to learn what I can from everyone.

            It is the ignorant teacher who does not listen to the student. But the student is, by definition, ignorant; sometimes they do not know what they want or need. A good teacher must be able to diagnose errors in form which may be invisible to the student; likewise, a good teacher must be able to figure out what will motivate a student, even if the student is not able to verbalize it.

            This second part is, I think, the true art of teaching, because it does not differ from one specific kind of instruction to another. I am still learning and experimenting.

  • Tassin

    This looks pretty cool. Out of curiosity did you consider any other scoring systems? In theory a free scholar beating a free scholar seems like it should have more value than a provost beating a scholar. I could see the system becoming too complicated with a more graded scoring system.

    I’m not sure how beneficial this would be to me. I tend to be happier and perform better when the Spike part of my brain is subservient to the Johnny part (borrowing from MTG terminology). The things I want to track are more along the lines of “I lost to ‘fighter’ with ‘measurables’ who used ‘strategy’ at ‘previous event’ in the rematch at ‘current event’ was ‘strategy’ equally effective? To what degree is ‘counter strategy’ successful?

    • Dante di Pietro

      It isn’t for every person. However, it’s not a Spike thing, though it can be. It’s as much a Timmy thing or a Johnny thing. At the core of it, it is all about celebrating successes: you don’t track your losses, only your victories. If you went 4-7 you might end up with a better end score than someone who went 11-0 if your 4 wins are of sufficient quality. This is all about being able to say, “Wow, I had a good day; let’s do that again!” and, “Hey, I really *am* getting better.”

      I’m sure some people will get competitive with it, and good for them if they are so inclined. I like that aspect as well. I’m also sure that some people have no interest in it at all, and that’s OK for them, too. It’s optional, but *not* having this kind of thing leaves out the people who *do* want it.

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