Sunday, 16 September 2018

Festival League

Competitive sport kite flying, whether individually, as pair, or as team, is a pretty small sport in the UK. Numbers of competitors at the National Championships since we started competing have been in the single figures (though this year saw a clear increase again). In order to grow the sport and get more people interesting in flying sport kites at a competitive level, it's important to bring competitive sport kite flying more to the attention of the general public. And where do you get the highest number of people who are generally interested in kites together? Right, at kite festivals!

As you may be aware, competition flying in the UK involves compulsory figures, a technical routine, and a ballet to music. Of these three elements, compulsory figures certainly don't fit at kite festivals; they're not very public-friendly. On the other hand, the ballet to music is by far the most appealing to the general public. And that is basically what is already happening at kite festivals ...

Clearly, for any competition to occur in a festival arena, it's crucial to have festival organisers on board. Keeping that in mind, STACK has been thinking about a way to integrate competition flying into kite festivals in such a way that those kite festivals run basically the same and festival organiser would not have to change anything to be part of this (i.e. no time or arena space required for compulsory figures and/or the technical routine). And from that thinking emerged ..... the STACK Festival League.

Here's how it is envisaged to work. At participating festivals, all sport kite flyers (individuals, pairs, teams, dual-liners and quad-liners) will be asked if they are interested in their scheduled ballets being scored for the Festival League. The PA will briefly explain competition flying, and the existence of a Festival League, so the public is made aware there is such a thing as 'competitive sport kite flying'. One or more easily visible and identifiable STACK judges will then come into arena and score the ballets of all those interested in being part of the Festival League.

The winner at that festival is then simply the competitor who has the highest score, with individuals, pairs, teams, dual-liners and quad-liners all competing against each other (so not in separate disciplines as happens at the Nationals). Scores are announced by the PA, so the public gets a sense of a competition happening. At the end of the festival winner receives a 'Festival Winner' trophy. Again, this shows the public that there is something to be won.

Festival winners are only half of this; we're talking about a League, right? The idea is that results from individual festivals are collated to arrive at an overall Festival League Champion at the end of the year. How to 'translate' results from different festivals, under different wind conditions, and with different judges, into a common and fair scoring system needed a bit of thought. First of all, to allow for differences in wind condition and different judges, all scores should normalised by taking the highest score as 100% and recalculating the other scores against that. If then only the best score is counted, this will result in all festival winners sharing first place at 100%. Also, just taking the highest score doesn't fit with the idea of a 'league', which typically involves gathering points over a period of time, with the winner being the competitor with the highest number of points at the end of the year or season. Turning normalised scores into league points is straightforward: the winner gets a certain number of points, the runner-up fewer than that, the third place again fewer, etc. All points are then added up at the end of the season, and, presto, you have the Festival League Champion! That also has the advantage of having a developing G(eneral) C(lassification) table throughout the season, which the PA can allude to ("Next in the arena are the Spitfire team. They are currently in second place in the GC, but a good performance here could see them top the table!"). Again, this will create the impression of a dynamic competition taking place, not just at that particular festival, but across the entire season.

Two ways of allocating points to placings: top-down and bottom-up. Top-down means that first, second, third, etc place always get a fixed number of points. The downside of that is that if there happens to be only a single competitor at a festival, they would get maximum points without having to do anything for it. This does not happen in a bottom-up format. Under this format, the number of points the winner, second, third, etc place gets depends on the 'size' of the festival, where size is determined by the number of competitors. In other words, winning a festival with two competitors will get you fewer points than winning a festival with half a dozen competitors. And 'winning' a festival where you're the only competitor will just get you a single point. Under this format, the likely winner is one who regularly scores high, and just winning a single festival is unlikely to be enough to become overall champion. Equally, just attending lots of festivals will not make you the Festival League Champion. So the decision was made to use a bottom-up format, and some playing around with numbers of points resulted in the following: 1 - 3 - 6 - 9 - 12 - 16 - 20 - 25. So that means, for instance, that if you win a festival with three competitors, you get 6 points; if you come second in a festival with six competitors, you get 12 points, etc. Another way of looking at this bottom-up format is that you get more points the more competitors you leave behind you.

STACK used 2018 as an experimental year, just trying out some things, with ballets being scored at three festivals: at Basingstoke scoring was done from outside the arena, just to see how scoring during a festival would work (so nothing was said on the PA). Following on from that, Exmouth and Portsmouth had judges present and scoring inside the arena, and results were announced on the PA. Flying Fish won Basingstoke, Ex-grads won Exmouth (with Flying Fish coming second), and Viento Sur won Portsmouth (with Flying Fish again coming second).

Putting all scores across the three festivals together results in the GC table:

Flying Fish, being the most consistent high scorers, top the Festival League table at the end of the season and are the winners of the inaugural STACK Festival League!

Thanks to the organisers of Exmouth and Portsmouth for allowing STACK to try things out during their respective festival. For next year, we obviously want to expand the number of participating festivals. Besides availability of STACK judges, key is to get festival organisers on board with this!

Picture credit: of Flying Fish at Basingstoke: Carl Wright.

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