A Ring Coordinator’s Perspective


I just got home from a very long intense day in Atlanta where I worked at the IBJJF Atlanta Open. Registration closed early without any warning, so instead of competing, I offered to work since I’d be there anyhow.

I arrived at 8:00 am and was assigned the job of ring coordinator for mat #4. I was expecting I’d be a scorekeeper since I’ve never worked at one of these tournaments before, but hey, duty calls!

After a short meeting with the basic run down of process, we were handed out first set of brackets and turned loose.

As a competitor myself, I understand how much can go wrong if the ring coordinator messes up – but I didn’t realize exactly how much they are responsible for. As a competitor, I would just see the ring coordinator as the person who checks my ID, weighs me in, and sends me to my mat. It’s actually more involved than that.

The Process

So first off, I made my way to my mat where I met my referee and scorekeeper. I figured communication would be key, and decided to make it my goal to keep things running as smoothly so that the ref wouldn’t feel like he had to do anything but focus on the match he had that very moment.

After checking in and making sure they were ready, I went to start calling for the people from my first bracket. I developed a system of calling two people who were matched up at a time. I would check their IDs, and if I had not found their competitor yet, I’d ask them to stay close while I continued calling. First pair I found, I would send them together to get their Gi’s checked while I waited by the scale for them. I would usher them to the mat and give their names to the score keeper. If I knew which side of the mat they would be on, I would point them to their corner.

I was also in charge of match order. I kept a piece of paper at the table where I wrote down the names of the next competitors so the matches could keep going while I went hunting for the rest of the brackets. When a match was over, my scorekeeper would circle who won. I would then record the results and determine who would be fighting who next as the brackets narrowed down.

At one point, I was keeping track of 4 separate brackets. Keeping the order flowing so we didn’t have a lot of dead time, but also allowing the competitors time to rest between their matches was a fun juggling game! Especially so when it came to working with multiple brackets at the same time.


I was so happy that everyone I weighed in made weight! I saw a few people DQ’ed for missing weight and it was horrible to witness.

There were two white belts that I called for about 20 minutes who I couldn’t find anywhere. I waited until it was stalling the brackets before I took my sheet to the officials table. They called them up on the microphone with a 5 minute warning and I still couldn’t find them – so the ref and officials declared them DQ’ed so we could move on with the matches.

When we got to the finals match for the division, I finally found one of them. He had been waiting in the bullpen and didn’t hear me calling, or the microphone calls. One of the officials had spoken with him previously, and remembered him being present before his final call on the microphone. I felt so badly because we were already in the finals and there wasn’t anything I could do. Dude, if by some chance you’re reading this, I’m really sorry that happened. I can’t think of anything else I could have done to get your attention in time. I’m a competitor myself and am absolutely paranoid of missing my call, and will be more so now!

Brackets of Three:

The most mind shrinking part was when I was handed two brackets of three competitors. This is the only time a division is not single elimination. Here’s the way it worked. Lets use the names “Ryan, Jerry, and Bob”.

Ryan and Jerry fight.
Jerry looses
Jerry fights Bob

This can go one of two ways now.

Scenario 1:
Jerry wins against Bob
Jerry then fights with Ryan again for first place, Bob gets 3rd

Scenario 2:
Jerry looses against Bob
Jerry gets 3rd
Bob fights Ryan for 1st place

So basically, whoever wins the first match, is guaranteed to be in the finals. However, whoever loses the first match still has a shot at 1st place because if they win the second match they earn another try at the pre-existing finalist.

This really confused me at first. This is how I though it would work:

Ryan and Jerry fight
Ryan beats Jerry and is secure in the finals
Jerry fights Bob

If Jerry beats Bob, he gets 2nd place and Bob gets 3rd.
If Bob beats Jerry, Bob fights Ryan for 1st place, and Jerry gets 3rd.

Made more sense to me that way, but oh well. I got their system figured out.

I gave myself a headache making sure the matches were organized to give appropriate break times between matches. At the same time, I was also juggling another nearly full bracket as well. It ran smoothly in operation however, so my near brain aneurysm was apparently worth the effort!

On Black Belt Matches:

Gotta say, black belts, you guys are awesome! After my near brain rupture you guys were a breeze to organize!

Since they have all been around the block enough, they all knew each other. So I would call one name, and he would motion the whole division up with him. I could get them all weighed in and at the mats in less time than it took to pair up two blue belts!

The event staff emphasized that I call the black belt matches right on time regardless of what else I had going on at the mat. Black belt privilege! Yea!

They gave me the light feather, and feather black belt divisions. It was the only down time I had all day! Once I had them all lined up, I organized the order, and got a few minutes to watch and wait. For the finals matches, there was a decent sized break for them to recoup and for us to hunt down another 2 refs (all black belt finals matches have 3 refs).

Then I was back to my whirlwind of activity!

Side note: it was so odd to have high level black belts responding to me with “yes/no ma’am”!

Tips For The Competitor:

So now that I see the organization side of things, here’s what I found helped/hindered me when interacting with competitors.

Not being in the bullpen when your division is scheduled
No brainier, but be in the bullpen at least 20 minutes before your division is scheduled. I would start calling names around 15 minutes before division start time. Imagine that start time is when your toes are actually hitting the mat. You want time to get your Gi checked, change your Gi if needed, weigh in, and get in the zone.

Disappearing after I check your ID in the bullpen
I had quite a few matches stalled because someone whose ID I had already checked disappeared while I called their opponent. Even when I made it a point to tell people “wait right here and don’t move while I find your opponent” they would vanish. One dude nodded to that request, turned around, and vanished into the crowd before I could open my mouth again. It took me 30 seconds to get his opponent, and another 5 minutes to track him down again. Then I had to hustle to get them through the line and weighed in since their match was on deck.

Asking me when ______ division is being called / What ring number you are at.
There is a schedule posted online with all the division start times. Ring coordinators are only given a few brackets at a time, and are not given knowledge of what brackets the other coordinators have. If you are worried that you have been overlooked in your division, your best bet is to flag down one of the officials at the bracketing table. They are pretty busy, so if it’s 30 minutes until your scheduled division starts, just sit tight and stay near the front of the bullpen area where you can hear names being called. If you are paranoid like me, and it’s your division start time, ask passing ring coordinators if they have your division. I can’t tell you who has what division, but I can tell you if I have yours!

Coming through the Gi check area before I direct you to do so
It seems like it would be helpful, but when I’m organizing who goes where and when, it really throws off the system I have in my head. Ideally there would be someone to stop you from coming through if I’m not there to give them the nod, but in the case of being short staffed (as we were) we had no such guard once we got past the first few blue belt divisions. I’d be calling for people frantically only to find out they were standing by the scale in a huge huddle. Please wait until I specifically direct you to go get your Gi checked. Then I’ll know to meet you at the scale and get you to your mat as quickly as possible!

Potty Breaks
This was one thing I appreciated. When I was calling purple belts for ID checks, several if them asked if they had time to use the restroom before they got weighed in. In all but one case, they had time. Makes me think that might have been part of the hold up in the blue/white divisions?

Face Blindness
After scanning several hundred faces, I completely lost all sense of facial awareness. So please keep your ID with you at all times. You may get an amazing ring coordinator with a photographic memory… Or you could get me. Toward the end of the day I was probably asking the same person their name at least 8 times between ID checks and their final match. I just started apologizing in advance. Moral of the story, if your ring coordinator seems to be having trouble keeping track of names, just have a chuckle and write it on your forehead with a sharpie.

Match Results
When you are done with your match, if you won, make sure the scorekeeper knows your name and circles it on her name list before you go recoup for your next match. I had to track down two competitors at one point because my (truly amazing!) scorekeeper forgot the name of the person who won the previous match. It was her only boo boo the entire day and she deserves a round of applause!

Hovering after you’re done competing
When you are all done competing (and safely able to stand and walk!) check in with your mat table to verify you have no more matches and then make your way out of the mat area back through the bullpen. If you placed, congratulations! Keep your Gi on, your ID handy, and wait to be called to the podium for your medal!

I may come up with more tips once I finish processing, but this seems like quite a bit for now!

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