Highlander Hat Tournament Format


  • recruit new players
  • retain players during off season months
  • offer a platform for hobby players to enjoy the sport
  • have people of different level play together, setting individual goals


Hat Tournaments are events, where players are semi-randomly put together into a team.

Generally these teams stay together during the whole tournament series, like a summer or winter league.

While it can be a great opportunity to socialize and have fun, this setup with teams randomly thrown together that stay stable over the should length of the tournament (one weekend or more days in a month) presents many challenges.

The most obvious are the organisational ones. If the tournament is played over more days, not every player will have time. In order to compensate this, it is necessary to place many more players than actually necessary into the teams. This amplifies the effects of the main challenge: the social-emotional one.

Normally at the beginning all players are highly motivated and show up. Being the teams very large, the effective playing time of the single player is very short, which often leads to frustration.

There are also we different goals in joining the league. Some want to move a bit and have fun, other what to have good competition and win. This leads to unsatisfation of some players.
"Big egos" also tends to monopolize the game, often ignoring rookies and patronizing women.

All these players, because of frustration or personal incompatibility with the people, that took the leadership of the team, decide not to come for the next rounds and potentially will not join the next edition.

The "highlander" hat tournament format is a solution to these problems.

Case Study

What everybody wants when playing in a hat tournament is

  • to have a good competition at everyone's own level
  • to meet new people
  • not to need to commit for a longer period of time, actually ideally just for some hours
  • In the end, there can be only one

Like in all hat tournaments, players are grouped in different categories like , intermediate and advance. In my club we rather have beginners categories by age like U15, U17+U20, Over20, Masters. Players are initially assigned semi-randomly to a team.

Teams should be kept small. We rather play games of 10 minutes 3v3 on small fields. It is advisable to have have a sub per team, if you have people not good in shape.

You need an even number of teams, since everyone players at the same time. Ideally you should at least have 8 teams, but it works also with less. You don't need the same number of players in all teams, so, Team A and B can have 4, while C and D 3. You should take care though that in each team, that plays each other, there is a balanced number of players in a category, e.g. in Team A and B there is 1 U15, 1 U20, 1 Over20 and 1 Master player in each.

All players start with an initial player-score. Each player category has its own ranking and a player virtually compete only against players of the same category to become the "highlander".
Players gain ranking points after every game: 3 when they are in the winner team, 2 when there is a draw (draw is possible because the games are time-boxed) and 1 if they lose (the algorithm we use requires this).

Like in a Swiss-draw system, after each round the ranking of each category is updated and new teams are drawn, taking care that players in the same category with comparable ranking points are assigned to teams that play against each other. We have developed a small program for this.

With 8 teams we normally play 5 or 6 rounds, so, considering the warm up and the breaks we are done in 2 hours.

We often ask players to bring a friend to these "highlander" tournaments, which works quite well because everyone can invest 2 hours to try it out. The core player normally takes the role of the buddy of the newbie and they are drawn always to the same team. In this way the new player is immediately integrated in the club, gets to know various other players and still has a fix reference point, so he or she doesn't feel lost. The role of buddy can also be taken by experienced players that are aware that their role during the tournament is to involve the newbie and coach her /him.

We also invite our retired players to these tournaments and offer them a easy way to stay in the community without too much time commitment.

Playing 3v3 or 4v4 on a small field everyone gets a lot of disc contact. With larger numbers it might be meaningful to introduce special rules, so that everyone gets involved. Depending on the athletics of the participants it is possible to introduce, eventually in single games, a shorter stall count or to play continuous (after a score, you restart the play immediately).

The system works also well with "big egos" since a player just needs to tolerate them for 10' and then she/he is (hopefully for good) in other teams. Being the setup very compact, as an organisers it is normally easier to sees if there are issues of players harassing or patronizing others and you can take immediate action.

At the end each category should have a winner that gets a special price, like a new disc or a cap.

Participation goodies and flyers for people, that came for the first time, are always a good idea to bind them to the club and inform them about training possibilities.

Normally we have also an after tournament party, where we also invite the parents of the kids of our club and the retired players and have an other good opportunity to socialize and making them participate into the club's live.

Written by Andrea Furlan.

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