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Hosting a Tournament

Hosting a tournament is an incredibly rewarding experience for all who are involved.  Students see dozens, often hundreds, of students cheering for engineering resulting in positive stereotypes about math and science.  Volunteers feel they are contributing to a bright future for the world after working with and experiencing the enthusiasm of the students.  Parents glow with pride as their children compete and know they have a bright future.

There are many elements to conducting a tournament.  We strongly encourage Neighborhood EARLY Tournaments which are small tournaments held at a school with teams that do not have to incur a large expense to attend.  Below is a list of items that you might consider when planning your tournament.

Just remember with any decision that you have to make, if you make it in the best interest of the students then you've made the right decision.  It's all about the students!

Teams:  Determine what EARLY teams to invite to your tournament.  Very often you will have a core group of teams that you wish to invite but as the word spreads about your tournament, many other teams will wish to participate.  This desire of other teams to participate is great and should be embraced but managed.  Before inviting other teams that you had not planned to attend, make sure that the quality of your event will not suffer.  Don't be shy about requesting help from these additional teams.

Having an accurate team roster is critical to proper scheduling and thus having the tournament run smoothly.  We recommend contacting teams about 5 to 7 days before the tournament to confirm that they are attending and then produce the match schedule about 2 days before the tournament.

Date & Time:  Select when the tournament will occur.  Although there are several factors that govern the duration of a tournament such as the number of teams, the experience of the teams, and the number of playing fields.  The following table summarizes the duration of tournaments based on the number of teams.

Number of Teams

Length of Tournament

Up to 4

1 to 1.5 hours


2 to 3 hours


Half a day

More than 20

Full day

After determining the duration of your tournament, select an appropriate date and beginning time.  Smaller tournaments can be conducted during school hours or after school.  Large tournaments are often conducted on Saturday because they generally involve teams from various school districts and cities.

Location:  Select where the tournament will occur.  The following table provides a guideline of floor space required based on the number of teams.

Number of Teams

Space Required

Up to 4



Large common area such as a cafeteria

More than 15


Having your tournament at the elementary school of a team is a great way to expose the school and administration to the excitement of EARLY.  Middle schools and junior highs often like to host EARLY tournaments to attract potential future students to their campus.  Often a tournament is hosted outside of a school environment because the tournament director is affiliated with the event location.

Tournament Format:  Determine the format for the tournament.  You have several options but teams should have a minimum of three opportunities to compete.  Below are some of your options.

             Team with high score of matches wins

             Highest average wins

             Teams qualify for elimination rounds through seeding matches and the team that wins the elimination rounds wins

 EARLY recommends having each team participate in three seeding rounds with the sum of the teamís highest two scores determining if they qualify for the elimination rounds.  Then the qualifying teams participate in single-elimination rounds until a champion is crowned.  Typically as many teams as time allows qualify for the elimination rounds.

Directions:  Directions to the tournament venue is commonly provided to the teams when other details are provided a few weeks before the tournament.  A map that can be emailed is a nice item.

Parking:  Provide teams with special parking instructions if it is not obvious to someone who has never visited the tournament venue.  Many elementary and middle schools have limited parking so alternative parking arrangements may be required.

Web site:  Providing tournament information on-line is a great way to disseminate information to the teams.  EARLY is happy to post your tournament information to if you provide information at least four weeks before the tournament.  Email the following information to

             Tournament name


             Location (name of facility & address)

             Time (beginning and approximate end times)

             Contact name

             Contact email address

You may also provide other information if you wish.  Your tournament information will typically be posted within a week.

Pre-tournament Actions:  You should advise the teams of all pre-tournament actions that are required.  Some typical pre-tournament actions are

             Media release forms

             Team banners

             Tournament fee

Planning Schedule:  Teams should be provided with a rough schedule several weeks before the tournament in case they need to secure permission or schedule transportation.  This rough schedule may only include beginning and ending times.  Approximately a week before the tournament, a more detailed planning schedule should be provided to the teams so they can start planning for the tournament.  Below is a planning schedule that was provided for a tournament.

8:00 Pits open & Registration begins

8:20 Coaches meeting

8:40 Opening ceremonies (please have your complete team in the auditorium)

9:00 Matches begin

11:00 Lunch Break

11:30 Seeding rounds continue

1:30 Elimination rounds begin

2:30 Closing ceremonies

We should conclude the day by 3:30.

Trophies and Medallions:  Awarding trophies and medals is the decision of the tournament director.  Trophies are relatively inexpensive but medallions can be quite costly.  At larger tournaments, trophies based on the current mission playing pieces are awarded along with medallions are given to each participant.  At smaller tournaments, often no trophies or medallions are awarded while others award ribbons.  The number of trophies to award often becomes a philosophical discussion with the general arguments being:

1) Awarding just a couple trophies makes them more coveted and almost all of the teams are in the same group of not receiving awards therefore they have a lot of company to share their disappointment, and

2) Providing awards to more than half of the teams makes a lot of teams leave happy but the teams that did not receive a trophy feels very disappointed and often like they deserved an award that another team received. 

If you are finding it difficult to decide, we would recommend awarding three awards with medals or ribbons to all participants.  The three awards are

Performance Award to the winner of the robot mission

Design Award to the team with the best designed robot (innovative, robust, etc.)

Sportsmanship Award to the team that exhibits the best sportsmanship and spirit  

Team Banners:  Tournaments have begun requesting teams to bring a poster-board-size banner to identify their team.  Although it can be used for a variety of things, it is primarily used at the closing ceremonies during the parade of teams.  Immediately following the final match, the teams line up in any order that they desire and parade in front of the spectators to receive their participation medallions or ribbons; the teams are announced from the team banner. 

Competition Area:  The competition area is where all of the action happens therefore you should make it as spectator friendly as possible.  There are basically two ways for a spectator to watch an EARLY match:  up-close or via video. 

For up-close viewing, the field needs to be in an area where traffic can flow freely such as in the middle of a gymnasium or cafeteria floor.  Typically about 20 spectators can comfortably view a match from a field-side position.  This configuration works well for when the two teams competing are the only ones watching the match but does not work well when others that are interested try to watch the match.

If you are expecting many spectators and you have access to a camcorder & digital projector, you can easily display the action on a wall or screen.  The camcorder can then be used to record the World Championship match. 

Pits:  Pits are a place for teams to gather and work on their robot.  Typically this is just a space on a floor that is out of the way.  Ideally, all of the teams are grouped together in a location such as a cafeteria or gymnasium.  Often tournaments have the playing field in the middle of a large area such as a gymnasium with the pits along the walls.

During the tournament, it is important to provide the current match at the competition area to be relayed to those in the pit.  This can be done in various ways such as with a chalk board or a sound system.  For tournaments where the pits are in the same room as the competition area, this is easily accomplished.

If an extra playing field is available, setting it up in the pit is a great resource for the teams.  For practice fields, it is not recommended to supply game pieces unless a volunteer will monitor them; this is primarily because teams often unintentionally take them when they remove their robot and stuff from the practice field.

Tournament Day:  You may wish to incorporate some of the following elements into your tournament.

Coaches Meeting:

             Brief the coaches about the tournament flow.

             Teams need to be ready to go immediately after opening ceremonies with the beginning match teams taking the field before the opening ceremonies.

             Discuss any rules that need clarification.

Opening Ceremonies:

             Safety briefing

             Words from your sponsors (corporate sponsors, principal, etc.)

             Inspirational and some rah-rah words from a guest speaker (teacher, engineer, etc.)  It is more important that a speaker can "connect" with the students more so than the speaker be "famous."

             Overview of day by you (tournament director)

             National Anthem

             Start the matches.  The first teams to compete need to be in place before the beginning of the opening ceremonies so you can get right into the matches.


             Seeding rounds

             Elimination rounds


             Robot design



             Have food on-site or supply teams with directions to local restaurants

Matches (continued from before lunch):

             Seeding rounds

             Elimination rounds (attempt to include as many teams as possible)


Closing Ceremonies:

             Words from sponsors

             Thank the volunteers

             Thanks those that provided the facilities

             Presentation of participation medallions or ribbons (team banners can be used to expedite the presentation of the medallions or ribbons)

             Presentation of the awards

World Championship Round:

             The winner of the tournament runs one round that is videotaped and sent to EARLY

             EARLY will include this round in the World Championship at

Media Release Forms:  If you might use ANY of the pictures or videos that are recorded at the tournament, it is a good idea to collect media release forms from the teams.  Often, the schools have these on file for all of their students.  Some tournaments even accept a letter from the school administration, in lieu of individual forms, stating that all of the students participating from their school have media release forms on file at the school.

Sponsors:  Thank your sponsors a zillion times!

Setup:  If possible, setup should be done the day before the tournament.  This will allow you to address any issues the evening before the tournament.  The following is a general checklist of things that need to be done.

             Registration table

             Playing tables including playing pieces

             Practice tables



             Audio system (microphone, speakers, etc.)

             Video system (cameras, screens, projectors, etc.)

             Signs (playing area, pits, registration, bathrooms, etc.)

Cleanup:  We recommend doing the cleanup immediately after the tournament while volunteers are still available.  Donít underestimate how much the venue administration appreciates if you pick up trash and do a little sweeping.  Leaving the venue cleaner than you found it should be your motto.  During the cleanup is a great time visit with the volunteers and personally thank them for all of their effort and assistance.  Also, many conversations typically arise amongst the volunteers about how to make the next tournament better.


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