One thing many of my teens enjoy is competition. Whether they play for bragging rights or a gift card, they enjoy being the master or best in their favorite games. Over the years I’ve learned that hosting tournaments is an easy program that can gets my teens really excited and involved in the planning.


The first few tournaments I hosted were single elimination. Much like the Final Four once someone loses a match they were out for the rest of the program. This wasn’t always fair to the teens who didn’t have as much experience as their peers and often meant that the skills players would be the only ones playing each round.


Even though I didn’t like tournaments, my teens continued to ask for them. I learned that there are several ways to hold a tournament and that really it can be broken into two parts. First is the format used to pair for a match. Single elimination would pair winners vs winners when you have an even number of competitors. Sometimes there can be a qualifying round to ensure the matches are fair, or you can randomize the initial match. The second part is agreeing to the rules of what will happen in a match. For basketball and the Final Four a match consists of one game between two teams, whoever has the most points wins and moves to the next round. For Magic the Gathering a match can between two players. Often when doing Magic the Gathering a match is best two out of three within 20 minutes.

I’ve learned different ways to format matches over the years. My teens have brought games they want to play and challenge their friends. These programs have been my most successful and versatile. Since I’ve learned how to run a tournament, it doesn’t matter what the teens want to play, now the teens work to set rules and agreement for what happens in a match and I just tell them who to play next.

SwissSince I’m not fond of single elimination, I’ve started to use a points system instead. Similar to Swiss style Tournaments I use notecards to track each participant with one name on a card and then record who they played against and how many points they’ve earned. I give 3 points for winning a match, 2 points for being the odd in a pair (buy) and sitting out, and 1 point to each if they tie. After each round I can move the cards and create new pairs matching the points they’ve earned. It is a simple system and easily scales. When doing this I spend just a little bit of time watching the clock to tell them how much time is left in a round, and the program runs itself mostly.

We hosted a Pokemon tournament using a new format, round robin. I created a chart that listed all participants both horizontally and vertically. I told teens to find their own matches and whoever lost would report it to me. I would mark who won and who lost on the chart. For example if Player A lost against Player C, I would add an L to the 3rd column for Player A and a W to the first column in Player C. The rules were simple: You can only play each person once, and whoever had the most wins at the end got the prize. While it would seem this would be chaos, the Teens loved it, and request the format for other games.

Round Robin Tournament

Lastly I tried a tournament style that created two brackets. After the initial round the group was split in half. We had all of the winners competing against each other in single elimination style, and the ones that lost competed to see who could be the player in last place. This added a lot of humor to the tournament as many good players had to switch their strategies for the favorite game to find ways not to win. Since both were happening simultaneously everyone in the room was involved and rooting for both winners and losers.

There are likely other ways to run tournaments but these four ways have been versatile in serving my teens no matter what they are interested in doing.

About Jami Schwarzwalder

Currently a teen librarian with the Pierce County Library System in Tacoma, WA.She is passionate about technology, making, and learning. See what I'm up to at

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