Being A Better Coach

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Many top teams succeed without coaches, but a great coach can grow a club, organize effective practice sessions, and contribute during matches. The roles of a coach can be divided into the three distinct aspects of a school quiz bowl club: recruitment, practices, and games.

Recruitment

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Having a larger team increases its reputation in the school, which can result in an administration more friendly toward requests for funding. Meanwhile, students are more likely to join clubs that their friends are already in, that win competitions, and most importantly, that are enjoyable. The result of these facts is that recruitment is an important task in and of itself since it creates a positive feedback loop of further recruitment and institutional clout.

The most common way to recruit new players is to encourage current club members to reach out to students they know to be intellectually curious. This type of outreach is the most direct, targeted, and persuasive. Frequent announcements over the school PA system and fliers in the hallways are other methods to increase awareness of a club.

Creating a reputation or “brand” is often neglected but can also increase recruitment indirectly. Announcing wins in local league matches or strong performances at tournaments over the PA system and acquiring a reputation for having a fun atmosphere at practices will increase turnout among interested students.

Setting up posters throughout the school can help build awareness of the club. One possible way to advertise the club is to write an easy one-sentence question (e.g. “Who was the third president of the United States?” or “Which molecule contains our genetic information?”) and place it on a poster, while also mentioning the club and explaining where and how it meets. This will draw in intellectually curious students who are interested in testing or otherwise showing off their knowledge.

Practices

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Read our article on developing as a team for details on strategies and resources.

Provide as consistent a practice schedule as possible, once or twice a week at a specific time and place. If your school holds in-person activities, students can socially distance and buzz using the Buzzin.Live website on their cell phones. Students can also sit at a safe distance from each other and say “buzz” or slap a table when they hear the answer. If in-person sessions are impossible, a communication platform such as Zoom or Discord can provide an experience that mimic tournament play. Read questions on the voice channel and instruct players to type “buzz” in the chat channel to buzz in on tossups.

“Practicing the way you play” is the best strategy to convert practice time into success at tournaments. Players should be hearing tossups and bonuses from past tournament sets, buzzer in hand, as much as possible. Select difficulty-appropriate question packets based on team skill. If your team has many players and a wide range of skill levels, consider splitting up practice into two groups, possibly with sessions held at different times. This will prevent less experienced players from feeling intimidated by the skill of more experienced players or overwhelmed by question difficulty while also allowing more experienced players to practice challenging questions.

For best results, track progress by keeping score. Count the number of tossup points each player scores in each category and the team’s average points-per-bonus in each category. Although many sets do not explicitly state the category at the end of a question, categories can usually be inferred from the content of the question. That way, you can determine which areas the team is strongest and weakest in, focusing on weaker areas by viewing resources on those topics (see our resource list in this article).

If your players are particularly dedicated and will not be scared off by the prospect of more laborious studying methods, here are some more advanced techniques you can encourage:

  • Category Specialization: Divide the quiz bowl category distribution into topics and subtopics and divide them evenly between the players. This saves an enormous quantity of time since it reduces redundancy, with every player improving in a unique direction. However, don’t put undue pressure on your students to specialize too early: many students take a while to figure out what they really enjoy learning about in quiz bowl, and having them learn about something they don’t care about will cause them to lose interest in quiz bowl. Some players find that they have totally different interests in quiz bowl than outside of it, like a passionate science student finding out that she enjoys learning literature questions or a violinist finding that he loves learning about ancient battles.
  • Writing questions: Encourage players to write their own tossup and bonus questions on their areas of focus. This requires thinking critically about the topics they choose to write about and improves memory retention. A good guide on how to write good quiz bowl questions, by experienced writer and editor Jerry Vinokurov, is available here. Our own guide is also available on this page.
  • Keeping a notebook: Many players find it useful to keep a notebook of topics they see coming up often in packet readings. A rule of thumb is that if you see something twice, it is something worth knowing for the future.
  • Discussing questions and answerlines: During practice, if an answer or clue is common or important (for example, “this man concluded the first recorded peace treaty in history, with the Hittites” for Ramesses the Great), you may want to discuss the context behind the clue and the answerline, its importance, and any other related fun facts (in keeping with the previous example, you could talk about the Battle of Kadesh between those two empires, Ramesses’ monument of Abu Simbel, the poem “Ozymandias” being based off of Ramesses, or any other interesting facts you know about him). Doing so will encourage players to think more about the content being asked about in the question and help them remember it more easily going forward.

Remember, the most important thing is that players feel that studying for quiz bowl is a pleasure, not a chore. Quiz bowl should be a fun, enjoyable activity for all intellectually curious students who enjoy learning about cool things that interest them. Engage your students! Ask them what they’re reading/watching/listening to, what they’d recommend, what new things they’ve learned, etc. You’ll find that it goes a long way in making students feel more involved.

Games

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During games, a quiz bowl coach has a limited role compared to an athletic coach calling plays. Most of the time is spent silently spectating, but there are a few key areas where a coach can support the team:

  • Timeouts: Call a timeout to encourage players to play more aggressively (when behind in score to a stronger team and in need of daring buzzes), less aggressively (when ahead and at risk of losing the lead due to negs), or just to interrupt the momentum of an opposing team that powers several tossups in a row.
  • Substitutions: A complicated strategy could be to count which categories have appeared and carefully make substitutions of players whose strongest areas have not appeared yet in the packet, but this is uncommon. A team can have two substitutions at most—at halftime and during each team’s timeout—and well-timed substitution techniques rarely have any effect. More common is to use substitutions to give players a break and allow everyone a chance to participate.
  • Protests: Know the rules thoroughly. If you believe a moderator applied the rules incorrectly, lodge a procedural protest. If you think a response was evaluated incorrectly or a question contained incorrect clues, lodge a factual protest. Protests regularly decide the outcome of games. However, they are usually only adjudicated if the outcome of the protest might change the outcome of the game—for example, if a team is losing 300-310, but has a protest pending on a tossup, then the protest will be adjudicated either for or against the protesting team; however, if the protesting team is winning 310-300, or losing 100-410, the protest will not be adjudicated, as its resolution in either direction would not affect the outcome of the game. You should note errors in questions even if you don’t think they’ll affect the outcome of the game, since such comments are used by set editors to correct inaccuracies and can help moderators understand mistakes they’ve made.

As coach, you will usually be responsible for signing up for tournaments, paying registration fees, and setting up tournament logistics. Signing up for tournaments is very simple: all you need to do is fill out this form.

Logistics will depend heavily on the tournament and the school administration, but most in-person tournaments will be reachable by car the day of the tournament. Setting up a logistical plan is imperative, as is arriving on time, especially if you are bringing buzzers and/or staffers, since tournament directors are often reliant on outside buzzers and staffers to run the tournament. Arriving late at a tournament will result in the tournament running either understaffed/without enough buzzers or late. In general, tournaments do not wait for late teams to arrive, and games in which a team is not present will result in a forfeit.

You may find that school administrators are reluctant to fund registration fees and transportation, or that they don’t let the team compete under the school’s name. However, quiz bowl tournaments (including all AQBL tournaments) allow teams to compete without official school approval, as long as you can prove that all of the members of your team are currently enrolled at the same school and follow these guidelines. This is known in quiz bowl lingo as attending pseudonymously. Assuming, again, that all of the members of the team are currently at the same school, pseudonymous performances are eligible for qualification at the ONCT.

As a coach, you should also try and foster a healthy environment for the members of the club. Quizbowl, like any competitive activity, can foster competition and tension among the members of the club. It’s vital to manage the students so that any tensions are resolved in a safe and controlled manner. The coach should, ideally, attend most or all practices, and keep a close eye on interpersonal relations on the team. Imperceptible slights can turn into festering wounds if not taken care of quickly. If someone is being rude during practice (e.g. being loud during the other team’s bonuses, insulting their teammates’ quiz bowl ability or intelligence, etc.), talk to them early and tell them that continued misbehavior on their part will result in their demotion from whatever team they’re on (if there are, say, A, B, and C teams), prohibition from attending the next regional tournament, or, in extreme cases, expulsion from the team. Don’t be afraid to lay down the law; the team is ultimately more important than any one individual. Many tournaments adopt codes of conduct for their teams, meaning that if this behavior is repeated at a tournament, the player could face expulsion from the tournament or other disciplinary consequences. You can also apply a code of conduct for your own team.

Coaching a quiz bowl team is, at its best, a rewarding, exciting experience, especially with a new team whose players develop in front of you. Quiz bowl has low barriers to entry and is open to teams, schools, and players of all backgrounds. Here at the AQBL, we want to make sure that every team has the chance to experience high-quality, well-run quiz bowl, and we’re committed to our mission. We hope to see you soon at one of our tournaments. Until then, good luck! If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact us.