Academy Blog: Adequate


Three stars.

Met baseline expectations. Average.

Getting an evaluation like that can sting. I find that a lot of judges strive for constant improvement or perfection. The community has sometimes carried the label of a “cult of self-improvement.” Outside of judging, a three-star rating is practically an absolute condemnation. 

But here’s the thing – adequate means exactly that. It means good enough.

Getting a review that says you’re adequate in all traits doesn’t feel like a win, but it’s an incredibly solid foundation from which to develop further.

It’s strange that a critical evaluation like “area of improvement” can be more motivating and positive than “adequate”. That rating of “fine” can set up doldrums, whereas area of improvement creates a distinct goal – improve this.

A candidate who is “adequate” in all categories should be celebrated – not having weaknesses is a great boon, as it makes you reliable. A kinder word than adequate or average would be reliable, but may not line up with the sense of progression from deficient to exceptional.

This is just a short something to say that being adequate isn’t a bad thing, but a stepping stone. If you’ve plateaued at adequate and aren’t able to progress further, that’s also okay! The judge community has often pushed for folks to advance and continue advancing, with the ideology of “if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse,” and that philosophy isn’t true.

There comes a point where an individual isn’t interested in devoting the time and energy required to advance any more, and if the job is getting done, that’s okay.

Part of this comes from the fact that judging most frequently starts off as a small side hobby – something to do for fun. It’s a delight to excel at something you enjoy. That’s why we play games. That sense of improvement and accomplishment is wonderful. However, for some folks, judging becomes more of a job that is about completing the task. Some of that occurs because of frequency: If you do something every week, twice a week, it can lose some of its luster. Some of that occurs because of scale: A massive event with thousands of people doesn’t have the same personal connection.

When new challenges are infrequent and the tasks become rote, or when the sense of excitement and passion is pulled away, it can be hard to push yourself to improve. This is connected to burning out, and it can be better to step away or reduce involvement for a few months to reignite the passion than to lose interest entirely. But if you stick around, accept that you might be average.

Reading evaluations of myself from years gone by, in areas that I have since drastically improved at, it still frustrates me to read “adequate.”

With an area of improvement, I’m told “this is what you need to be doing better, this is where you failed. Focus your efforts here.” With strengths, I’m told the opposite: “This is what’s working, keep on focusing on this.” In both cases, I’m left with direction and some agency over my actions.

With an evaluation of “You did fine. You have no notable areas of improvement, nor strengths to rely on.” I have nothing to work with. 

If you accept that being adequate isn’t a condemnation or a critique, the lack of direction is the next hurdle to overcome. As always, asking for more specific feedback can result in more actionable information. If you get that adequate evaluation, come back with “Is there anything that I did well within the task as a whole? Is there anything that I did poorly?”

If you’re not able to extract anything more actionable than that, look to your role models and other judges who you believe excel at the task. Pick an aspect and guide yourself in that direction. While comparison is the thief of joy, following a path already walked is easier than forging new ground yourself.

I know that I personally am not happy being “merely” adequate and that I hold other judges to a higher standard than is expected, but that’s a personal evaluation. If you’re happy with where you are and what you’re doing, adequate is okay. You don’t need to change what you’re doing.

Even if you want to progress and find new challenges and opportunities, adequate is a perfectly viable starting point, so long as you retain the drive to grow and improve.

However you’re feeling about your judge performance, you have a community who understands what you’re going through. Connect with other judges on our Judge Academy Discord server!


  1. Lu Cordeiro

    That vision of “if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse” is very true and aligned with corporate jobs and capitalism in general. But that’s not how the judge program works in many (I’d say most) places: most judges are not – and will never be – professional judges and that’s OK. We don’t have to compare and make competition to each other all the time, our bar is not raising at unfair rates: we can deliver a good (not exceptional, not miraculous) work in most situations.

    But I also see how ‘average’ is usually a bad word. When we think average, we probably don’t think ‘no highlights, no big flaws’. We think ‘anyone could have done that so why bother with hiring you?’. And that

    1. Lu Cordeiro

      great- it got cut.
      aaanyway where was I?

      And that’s not adequate. The average store has not someone prepared to adequatedly explain rules on weekly tournaments. The average player may know lots of rules but not how to deliver a ruling or check a deck for marked cards. But we are not compating judges to the average person nor using euphemisms, right? (I hope not!) So when we say a judge is adequate it actually means ‘you may not be a genius who’s starting a revolution on judging but you’re good!’.