Gone Outdoors

How to Make a Competition Ladder System

by Michele M. Howard

Challenge ladder systems provide a friendly and competitive environment to help players improve their skills and meet others at about the same level. Best suited for individual sports, such as tennis, racquetball and squash, ladders use a leapfrog format -- players move up the ladder by challenging and beating higher-rung competitors. Designed to attract players who can’t commit to a regular match schedule, ladders typically run for several months, allowing players many challenge opportunities. To make a successful ladder, consider the participants’ skill levels, and your options in establishing procedures and format, and enforce the rules.

Ladder Setup Guidelines

Ladder competition administrators can use a number of methods to initially set up the ladder and seed the players -- to rank them strongest to weakest. A round-robin event with the participants who have signed up for the ladder can be played and depending on the results, players will be assigned a position or rung on the ladder. Seeding can also be based on the previous season's results, with new players added to the bottom rungs. Ladders can be set up according to the players' official rating. In tennis, for example, players may have an NTRP rating, and this can be used to position the players within a ladder or to organize different skill-level ladders. Other options include positioning players randomly, or according to the date and time of their registration.

Establish Ladder Procedures

Most ladders only allow players to challenge upwards no more than three positions. An alternate method is to set how high up the ladder a player can challenge based on his current position. For example, with a 20-player ladder, players in positions 15 to 20 might only be able to challenge upwards a maximum of four positions, players in positions five to 14 a maximum of three positions and the top four players, only two positions. If a challenge is issued and the challenger wins, he takes the spot of the losing player and the ladder is adjusted. The losing player and everyone below him move down one rung.

Enforce Challenge Rules

To keep the ladder moving, set up timing rules for challenging, accepting or denying challenges, playing the match and reporting the score. For example, give challenged players three days to accept or deny a challenge. If the challenge is denied, the challenger is awarded the win and takes over the challenged player's rung. If the challenge is accepted, give the players 10 days to complete the match. Have the winner report the score to the ladder administrator within 48 hours of playing the match. To avoid too many challenges against one player, no acceptance or denial of a challenge can be made within one week of playing a match.

Decide on Match Format

Depending on the sport for which the ladder is being made, decide on the format for match play. At the recreational level, most sports have alternate match formats to accommodate beginners and situations such as time restrictions or extreme heat conditions. For example, in most recreational settings, a tennis match typically consists of two out of three sets with a 12-point tiebreaker to determine the set winner in the event a set is tied as six games all. Alternate formats include playing a tiebreaker for the entire third set or playing a 10-game pro set for the match. While you may have options for the match format, the official playing rules of the sport must be followed.

Monitor the Ladder

Competition ladders require very little hands-on involvement and basically run themselves. Unlike tournaments where administrators face match scheduling headaches, tournament expenses and must be on site for the duration of the event, ladder participants contact each other, decide on a day, time and place to play their match, and report the score. Even so, administrators must monitor the ladder to make sure it stays on schedule. They also need to keep the ladder current with weekly updates, enforce the rules and settle any disputes.

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