How to Spread the Gospel of Good Quizbowl

We now have more coaches, parents, and players than ever who are playing good quizbowl in Pennsylvania and around the country. That said, there are still hundreds of schools within Pennsylvania and thousands across the US who unfortunately have never heard of quizbowl or who are forced to play on bad questions.

If you want to help change that, you’re a part of a growing outreach effort across the country to actively work to help get more schools and students involved in playing on good quizbowl questions. The decentralized nature of quizbowl means, however, that most outreach efforts are locally based–there are few national organizations actively working on getting new teams across the country since most have their hands full just producing good quality questions. That means that if you want to get more schools playing on better quizbowl questions, the best approach to outreach is to start in your own area.

There are three important principles to keep in mind when conducting outreach, besides the basics like being polite and professional in all communications:

1. Relationships are the key to effective outreach.

You need to get other people to trust you to take time out of their lives for quizbowl. You may know quite well that good quizbowl is awesome, but whoever you’re talking to might not. Others won’t be open to the idea–regardless of all the advantages of good quizbowl–unless they trust you. For instance, if you just bombard people with random emails that aren’t personalized, you’re just going to be some random emailer who annoys them. If you don’t bother to talk to people at tournaments you host other than to take money from them, don’t be surprised if they go back to their non-pyramidal tournaments with people who know them.

2. Doing outreach is better than talking about doing outreach.

If you keep posting on the HSQB forums lamenting how bad the state of quizbowl in your city/county/IU/section of the state/etc. is, you’re not doing much of anything productive for outreach. Rather than complain about the lack of quizbowl events in your area, try to change that by hosting more events. There are very real problems with the state of academic competition in Pennsylvania and it is important to document the problems, but the only way to change that is through action, not just talking about it. Of course, you don’t want to do too much–sending multiple emails in the same week to every coach in your area is probably not a good idea–but you want to be doing something rather than just saying how bad things are.

3. Get the facts right.

Good quizbowl is better than bad quizbowl on the merits and quizbowl is arguably better than most other academic competitions. But don’t stretch the facts or make assumptions. Make sure you understand the history of whatever local format you are trying to change. There are reasons bad quizbowl continues to exist and, though the facts are on the side of good quizbowl, you need to be accurate when discussing changes no matter how obviously bad the old format may seem. Make sure you know for instance where the bad questions are coming from, which can be useful in pointing out issues with plagiarism and question re-using. Polite inquiries and persistence are usually more effective than drama and hysterics.

Here are some more specific suggestions for how to go about outreach depending on your role in the game: a high school player, a parent, a coach, or a college player:

If you are a high school player:

Use your social networks. Get your friends at other schools interested in quizbowl through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, in-person (how old-fashioned!), whatever. If you’re at another type of academic competition (say, Science Olympiad or History Bowl), ask people from other schools about their quizbowl team and encourage them to start one if they don’t have one. Make quizbowl a fun, social experience–some of the most active and best circuits in the country have strong Facebook groups where like-minded quizbowlers can socialize and organize things more easily than if they just stuck to their individual schools.

Talk to new teams at tournaments. If you find yourself next to an unfamiliar team in the auditorium at the start of the tournament, strike up a conversation. If you’re playing a new team. Be sure to compliment them on good buzzes and in general be civil and polite (this should go without saying and apply to all teams). New teams often lack confidence on the buzzer and have no idea of where to start with quizbowl studying, so feel free to ask if they know about the quizbowl resources out there. Also, don’t snap at them if they don’t know all the rules–let the moderator gently remind them if they talk out of turn or something.

Help staff tournaments if you’re not playing. If there’s an easy novice tournament going on nearby, volunteer to help read if you’re good at reading or to keep score or run stats for it. It’ll help take the burden off the host more and give you the opportunity to talk to new teams. You may also be able to get more of your friends interested in staffing as well even if they’re not as interested in playing.

Work with your coach if you’re dealing with other adults. If you’re trying to invite new teams to your tournament, you may want to work with your coach so that you can jointly write emails and send them to other coaches. Unfortunately, many teachers and administrators might be more inclined to respond to a fellow adult than a student.

If your coach opposes good quizbowl, then things get complicated. After talking with him/her and finding no way to change his/her mind, it might be time to involve more people like another teacher or an administrator or parents. This is a more complicated situation though and it might be worth posting some details on the HSQB message board to help get feedback on it.

Feel free to reach out to college players as well. All the GPQB staff are happy to talk to interested high school students. Don’t worry if someone’s in college–we’re all on the side of better academic competition for everyone.

If you are a parent who wants to help promote good quizbowl either on the team your daughter/son is on or in general throughout the area:

–  Encourage your school’s coach to attend more tournaments. Offer to take over driving to tournaments if you can. Most tournaments are fine with having a parent rather than a teacher accompany the team.

Offer to help out at quizbowl tournaments. You can even do so at tournaments that you child’s school is attending not hosting. This often nets your child’s school a discount and if you’re a good reader, you can open up slots for more teams to attend tournaments by increasing the reader pool.

If your school’s team only does bad quizbowl competitions, you should speak up. First go to the coach and explain the merits of good quizbowl. If that doesn’t work definitely feel free to contact your school’s principal, the school board, and other administrators. Parents often have immense power here and a parent who’s determined to get his/her voice heard can have a powerful effect. Sometimes the coach may be trapped in bad quizbowl by the administration, so you should feel free to voice your concerns. Make sure, however, that you have the facts right–be sure to ask questions and take notes if need be to make sure that you communicate effective.

If you’re attending a tournament, follow some of the same guidelines as for the players above–be pleasant, don’t get involved in protests (leave that to the players and coaches), talk to other parents/coaches if you have the opportunity, and in general make sure the atmosphere is enjoyable for everyone.

If you are a coach (usually also a teacher):

Look to other coaches as potential friends and colleagues rather than enemies who must be plotted against. Some coaches take a very zero-sum approach to the game, but you’ll have a much better time and may gain a lot of useful advice–if not friendship–from simply treating the other coaches like colleagues instead of enemies. You never know if you might hear about a professional opportunity as well.

When hosting a tournament, take the time to write individual emails to contacts. It feels a lot better to get an email from an actual person addressed and personalized to you rather than as part of some mass BCC. Also, never be afraid to call up schools who may not have a listed quizbowl coach and ask them if you’re not sure or who might be the best person to talk to about sending a team.

Be welcoming to new schools at tournaments. One of the more alienating experiences I had was at my only pyramidal tournament in high school where a very well-known and experienced team from the Southeast had a coach who encouraged her team to go ballistic after we pulled ahead, claiming we were violating “recognition rules” (we were not, as a lengthy back-and-forth with the hapless moderator and TD eventually proved). Unfortunately, this left a sour taste in many of my teammates’ mouths and they didn’t want to go to tournaments after I graduated with that experience in mind. Understand that new teams might not know the rules as well as you do and, most importantly, if you’re going to bring up a rules issue make sure you accurately know the rules.

Do not tolerate misconduct or outrageous behavior from other teams or your team. If another team has players who are muttering slurs or doing something alienating to people, speak up. If they’re cursing loudly and slamming the tables against you, they’re probably doing it against other teams too. The moderator and/or TD should be prepared to do something about that. Also, if you have a hint that your team may have heard the same questions before at another tournament somehow or someone on your team is performing suspiciously well, immediately stop the game and figure out what’s going on. The fewer incidents of misconduct we have in quizbowl, the better for everyone and quizbowl’s image as well.

If you are forced to participate in a bad quizbowl league or tournament due to administrative pressure, make the best of the situation. Talk to other coaches in the league or at the bad quizbowl tournament to see if they understand the problems with bad quizbowl and the advantages of good quizbowl. Take charge in coaches’ meetings to push for improvements to the format and questions of the bad quizbowl event. Remember that bad quizbowl harms everyone it touches.

If you are a college student who wants to help spread good quizbowl around where you’re going to college:

Make sure your college team hosts tournaments. Even if it’s just a small local tournament, a well-run tournament that attracts just nearby schools is both good marketing for your college and a great opportunity to expand quizbowl to schools who might not normally attend far away tournaments. This is predicated, of course, on you having a reliable college team of at least enough moderators for your field size.

Help out at local high school tournaments. Most high school tournaments need experienced moderators and scorekeepers and statskeepers. You and your college friends, especially if they have experience from playing in high school, are perfect for this. Plus you get an opportunity to talk to more of the local teams and be a part of more quizbowl tournaments. Definitely worth doing if at all possible.

Feel free to work with high school students and coaches. Don’t be bound by being a college student; mentor local high schoolers, befriend local coaches, go talk to local leagues if there aren’t any good quizbowl advocates on those leagues. You may have less credibility than a high school coach or parent might have unfortunately, but you should never be afraid to undertake outreach.

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