ASSA - striving for a national competition

ASSA - the Australian Sleddog Sports Association - has recently published the results of the National Point Score for the year. Congratulations to everyone who competed in an amazing year's racing and massive kudos to those people who produced such excellent results!!!! 

The Point Score is a ranking system that ties all of our clubs and races together. Its a way to compete with teams across the country, an accumulation of all our achievements for the year, and a recognition of those people who have achieved great things. This year, neither J or I were listed, as we were almost entirely spectators and assistants... and parents! So my interest is purely academic. ASSA have striven to make the Point Score as fair and representative of our national competition as possible. The committee members have worked with clubs across the country to register races, collect data on all the competitors and calculate the points for each person - a massive task!

There were a couple of things I hadn't realised were important in the Point Score this year - 

1. The State Rule

The State Rule states that each competitor must compete in a minimum of two states, to promote a national approach to the sport. This is a big challenge for those of us here in Victoria. We have multiple clubs, we have dryland and snow races, we have a jam-packed calendar of events. Why would we pack up and drive ten hours interstate to race our dogs? Its an attitude that many of us may need to adjust, as the State Rule disqualified over two thirds of competitors in some classes. Because many competitors from other states drive to Victoria for the snow races, even all the way from Western Australia, its really just the Victorians that have to step up and start travelling to make this a true national competition.

2. The efforts to make appropriate comparisons between races (sorry, I don't know what to call this)

In most point scores, the person in a given race who comes last gets a single point, second last gets two points, and so on, up the ranking to first. But, is it fair to give someone ten points for first place and someone else twenty points for first place in another race, just because there are more competitors in one race than another? One solution to this is to set a maximum numbers of points that will be allocated in any given race. 

There's also the challenge of treating races as comparable. There are certain races that are more likely to be highly competitive, while other races are more social. This might be related to the terrain, the weather, the breeds of dogs competing, or any number of factors. 

ASSA's solution to this is to create a factor based on the rankings from the previous year. The number of top competitors in each class from 2014 racing in the same class in 2015 are used to try and level the playing field - its pretty complicated, but it goes some way to address the problem. Of course, if a top competitor changes classes, or changes teams as their dogs retire and they train up a puppy team, or switch teams amongst family members, there's still going to be challenges in trying to create a fair comparison between races.

Overall, the ASSA Point Score is a great way to get people thinking about their sled racing. It gives us a moment of reflection at the end of the season, to think about how competitive we want to be next year, to think about whether we want to expand our horizons interstate, to think about which races we choose to attend. As we get more accustomed to the Point Score rules, we can decide how important they are to each of us - if we're having a good year, maybe its worth making that trip to a big competitive race interstate, to see if we can adjust our rankings.