Month: July 2019

Setting Your Team’s Goals for the Upcoming Quizbowl Season

One of the best–and somewhat daunting–things about quizbowl is that there’s always more learning to be done. There will always be a new clue to look up, a new subject to try to master, a new name to add to your study lists. Finding ways to motivate yourself and your team to keep learning these new things–particularly at times like now in the middle of summer–can be crucial to determining how the next quizbowl season will go.

A good way to get your team on the same page for the upcoming year is to decide on what your goals will be as a team. Individual improvement is great, but quizbowl is a team competition. Working as a group to encourage each other will be a much more enjoyable, if not more effective, experience than solitary studying. 

What sorts of goals might a team set going into a new year? Here are a few ideas (and a few things to steer away from):

Beating a Rival Team
There is no better feeling in quizbowl than triumphing over a rival team. Such a rival could be a local geographic rival, a sports conference rival, or a team from further away that your team found annoying at a previous tournament. Either way, identifying a rival and using them as a friendly source of motivation and yardstick for improvement is a time-tested and effective way of motivating quizbowl players to improve.

Reaching Specific Points-Per-Bonus (PPB) levels
This is an easy-to-measure metric that you can track in practice and at tournaments. It’s also somewhat independent of the strength of the other teams in your area, so it can be a good way to chart your progress even if it isn’t necessarily leading to more wins immediately. Keep in mind, of course, that the target PPB will likely vary by question set, so set a reasonable goal and work to increase it over the course of the year. 

Being the Best Team in your City/County/Region of the State
This is fairly self-explanatory, but is always an effective way to market your team to your administration and/or potential outside sponsors. If you don’t already have a tournament in your area to crown the best county/city/part of the state, then consider starting one. Even if it’s just a few teams competing, it can be a great way to get one’s community involved and a goal that you can set.

One goal that a lot of teams set–but which also might be tricky to translate into improvement–is making the playoffs or finishing at a certain rank at the national championships. The problem with this approach is that nationals finishes are fickle; there’s a lot of randomness depending on who you get matched up against. The last thing you want to do is finish the season not having achieved your goal due to, say, a top team getting upset in the first round of they playoffs and showing up to ruin your playoff run or getting subject to the few unbalanced matchups in the card or seeding system. Another potential goal of reaching a certain winning percentage for your team’s record for the year can lead to less-than-ideal incentives; you don’t want to make a habit of, say, attending tournaments with lots of less experienced teams simply to claim more wins. 

There are also plenty of ways that your team can contribute to quizbowl and the general quest for competitive academic knowledge outside of competing. Running a tournament well, getting your neighboring schools involved in quizbowl, and simply representing your school well with notable good sportsmanship and friendliness can all be excellent goals by which to measure a successful quizbowl season. 

-Chris 

A Defense of Regionalism in High School Quizbowl

Recently, on the hsqb forums, in a post titled “Does Every Quizbowl Organization Need its Own Blog?,” the topic of integrating all of the various places where quizbowl is written about online, from press and blog posts from major national organizations at the college and high school level, to regional sites such as our own, into one place or one feed, was proposed. I weighed in as a skeptic of this in regard to regional organizations/websites such as GPQB. This got me thinking about trying to articulate exactly why high school quizbowl needs regionalism. I can think of four major reasons, and I think each speaks to some aspect of the challenges high school quizbowl faces with outreach and expansion, both here in Pennsylvania and in other places like it.

The Need for Localized Coverage 

To expand quizbowl, teams need to know what is out there in terms of the vast resources, which centralization of writing and activity might, theoretically, make easier. However, on that large a scale, inevitably there would be an emphasis on things with maximum appeal to a uniform, nationalized quizbowl audience. That means lots of studying tips and lots of “how do I adjust to X situation,” written on terms for insiders already familiar with the game. In such a market, there is little to no room for coverage of local stories and local concerns. You may or may not have noticed, but our company line at GPQB is to mention every team appearing at every tournament in Pennsylvania, even if just as a shout out, throughout the year as we do our wrap ups. Teams like to be noticed, and like to feel welcome. This takes time and energy, and trying to add these local touches would be washed out in a situation like a unified site. Only top teams nationally would get any sort of individual coverage. Having correspondents and articles attached to local circuits will allow teams to know where to go to see how they’re doing, and to view the compliments that come with that. It serves no purpose for teams that are more casual to wade through muddles of coverage irrelevant to them to check on their own accomplishments.

Making Meaningful Rankings

There’s been an epidemic of rankings and statistical ranking formulas in the world of quizbowl recently- best player at X, best players in Y, etc. This originates, in part, from 20 years of the internet and increased social media activity by people in and around quizbowl, leading to elite high school programs all knowing each other and interacting with another regularly. That has lots of positives; but one area it doesn’t is catching local circuits accurately when teams, particularly new or rising teams, are not integrated into those channels. Teams players are unfamiliar with will inevitably reduced to statistics, and to put it simply, quizbowl statistics are highly meaningless at a macro scale and undeveloped. Trying to compare teams from drastically different circuits with different field strengths, opportunities to play, and in a few cases even rules have led to considerably inaccurate placements of teams’ abilities, like this pre-national statistical ranking placing Henderson, the #2 team in Pennsylvania by year’s end, at 147th nationally (before they finished t12th).

This is where local sites come in. Our Pennsylvania panelists look closely at our teams and are able to do more than simply compare points per bonus and arbitrary power adjustments. Most of us actively staff PA events and can eye test the teams: how do they handle pressure? Do they communicate on bonuses? Even those of us that have moved away follow the tournaments regularly and can consider things like head to head record. This allows for much better polls, and gives a lot of teams recognition they otherwise would not. We should acknowledge that there is still a large east-west divide in Pennsylvania, as both teams and staffers don’t always get the chance to cross the Susquehanna regularly. The advent of Penn State’s Keystone State Invitational this season went a long way towards fixing that, and hopefully as more teams in central PA join the circuit, there will be ever-more common links.

Appropriate Attention to Audience

Simply put, the average quizbowl team in America doesn’t care about theory or your latest quizbowl cause célèbre. Should there be more world literature? Should there be less pop culture? Is asking about something too easy or to hard? Most teams don’t care. I’m as guilty of worrying about this minutia as anyone. To quote PA quizbowl veteran Andrew Nadig, “most people here [at quizbowl nationals] would play quizbowl in a box, with a fox, in a boat, with a goat.” The majority of quizbowlers don’t necessarily commit that much. Most teams don’t need a big feed to see pontifications coming from collegiate quizbowlers, or what’s happening halfway across America. What they need and want is simple tips to help them improve, perhaps a basic primer or two on the rules, and coverage of their stories and matters of local relevance. Simply put, for your average quizbowl player, one doesn’t *need* the reams of writing going on about quizbowl, and simpler is better. As they become more integrated, they inevitably seek out the more advanced stuff on their own, without prompting. They’re sharp kids. I’ve seen it time and again.

Local vs. National Community Building

Lastly, branding individual circuits as communities is crucial to building camaraderie and common goals. GPQB’s biggest accomplishment, in my opinion, has not been providing resources (though that’s also a proud point for us), but in forging a sense of “Pennsylvania Quizbowl” as a distinct group of people where no sense of it existed before. We support one another, fight together to reform unfair local formats, and have built strong local support to help new teams join the community as well. Part of the reason our tournaments now run on time and our teams are playing more and better quizbowl is because they enjoy being part of “Pennsylvania Quizbowl” and upholding the standards and practices that go along with it. This would inevitably be lost if people’s go-to place was a nationwide catch-all. It should be noted there certainly is a community of top high school players nationally as well, and the barriers to breaking into it are much more opaque to newcomers. Getting noticed at that level also usually means elite play- and elite play should never be a prerequisite for having a major voice at the table.

In sum, Pennsylvania quizbowl as a thriving community is in large part because of its autonomy from wider quizbowl, and the ability to serve local needs, mention and reach out to local teams, make better local rankings, and build a localized sense of solidarity. When I look at other circuits that have a great deal of engagement from a wide variety of schools instead of an elite upper crust, such as Missouri, Ohio, and Alabama, one can see similar websites or organizations at play; in regions where this is not the case, a few elite teams dominate. In this opinion, regionalism and de-centralization are healthy for the high school game.

-Ben