How to Efficiently Coach Quizbowl

We at GPQB salute all the teachers who sponsor quizbowl teams and want to help y’all coach more efficiently as well as effectively. This post is designed to help quizbowl sponsors ease the burdens of coaching while still giving their players plenty of opportunities to compete and the necessary guidance in improving. You might also be interested in our guide for how coaches can help improve their team; that post and this post are intended as complements.

While many coaches can and do go above and beyond out of a love of quizbowl itself or a desire to win a state/national championship, we envision that the typical quizbowl coach should aim to:

  • Hold practices at least twice a week
  • Take his or her team to at least four pyramidal tournaments a year
  • Introduce players to study resources online 
  • Take a team to quizbowl nationals should your team qualify

Here are some ways to make that process go more efficiently:

1. Take teams to tournaments, but take time for yourself at tournaments 

It’s totally fine not to be an active coach all the time. For your typical weekend tournament, feel free to sit in the back of a room and grade or prep lessons for the next week. Check in with your team or teams between rounds, but otherwise let the questions teach your students during the tournament. You can even have your players keep track of the questions they get on their own scoresheet and write down the answerlines that they missed so that you can go over them later.

2. Make practices student-run

This is one thing that many coaches already do to some extent, but it’s worth mentioning here in detail. Have the students come by after school, before school, or during lunch (whenever you do your practices) and do the work of setting up the buzzers, getting chairs moved around, etc. You might even time them each day to see how quickly they can get it done if they’re being a little lackadaisical.

Have a clear system of what packets have been read in the past (some teams write the date in which they last read a paper packet on the front of the packet or keep a Google Doc with what packets have been read so far) and which ones are coming up next. If a NAQT tournament is coming up for instance, then you might want to read NAQT questions that week; if a housewrite is coming up, then you might want to read questions from the previous year’s edition of that tournament. The students can take the lead in organizing this as well and in keeping score. Most of the time students ought to be able to handle rotating reading responsibilities on their own, but you should also feel free to assign a reader (perhaps a newcomer to practice or someone outside the club who wants to help read at a tournament) as well.

The main exception to this rule is in the first few practices of the year when you need to pay more attention to new students. This also holds if this is your school’s first year with a quizbowl team and you’re trying to explain concepts and strategies to students. After a year or two of having a team though, the students should be able to pass on this kind of practice-running knowledge fairly easily on their own.

3. Get an assistant coach

Many teachers who might not be ready to shoulder the responsibilities of being the head coach might still be happy to help out as an assistant. This means someone who’s willing to help run practices in their room part of the time and who can attend tournaments on occasion (or in shifts) to help reduce the burden on the main coach. Perhaps the main coach could also work with the assistant to ensure that the assistant is ready to take over, should the main coach need to leave or retire.

4. Get parents involved

Parents are often happy to help with driving and chaperoning for tournaments. Talk to them as early as possible and bring your potential schedule for tournaments to them early in the year so that they can plan around that. You’re also more likely to find that your students take quizbowl more seriously if their parents also take quizbowl seriously.

Parents can be especially helpful when running a tournament–they can man registration tables, sell concessions, help sort through scoresheets and packets, and do other helpful jobs for part of the tournament without needing much training. You may also want to start training a reading corps of parents who might be interested in coming back to read in future years, but this will take some time.

5. Have students keep track of and identify the tournaments that they can/want to attend. 

Planning the logistics for attending tournaments is a considerable chunk of time, but you can have your players help with that. All the information that you need to know about tournaments in your area is usually publicly available on, the hsquizbowl forums, or other local sites like GPQB’s regional schedule. Have your students keep track of what tournaments are upcoming in your area and which ones they would like to attend well in advance so that you can make the necessary preparations. This is also a good way for the students to practice figuring out a budget–how much funding do you have to work with, how much do you need to fundraise to attend these tournaments, etc. While of course the sponsor has the final say here and usually must work with the school administration to plan the trips, it definitely helps to have the students play a role in figuring out what tournaments they want to attend.

6. Check with your admin to make sure you’re on the same page with them

This is especially important if you’re a new team or if there’s major changes in your school’s policies. Make sure that you know how to properly fill out a travel request form (if you have one), a reimbursement form (if you’ll need one), or any other documentation that’s required in your capacity as a sponsor. Check with your principal early about reserving the school for tournaments and clearing up any potential conflicts before the year begins. Your goal here is to reduce uncertainty as much as possible since changing the date of a tournament or having to deal with unexpected paperwork during the year can be rather annoying. It’s also a good idea to stay in touch with them throughout the year to keep them posted about how your team does and ensure they know how much you’re working.

7. Ask for help if needed

If you have an unusual situation or just a question about things, ask! Email several local coaches or members of a local quizbowl organization and see if they can help. The quizbowl community is usually quite willing to offer advice and tournament hosts might be able to do things to help your team (for instance, if you’re taking a train that gets in a few minutes after the start of the tournament, the tournament director could make sure your team gets a bye in the first round if that works with the format).

Final Thoughts:

The best thing that a coach can do is to give their team as many opportunities to compete as possible and to shape the culture of the team to be one of learning, support, and friendly competition. This doesn’t require that much of a time commitment overall, but it does require some upfront investment. This approach also allows students to develop more leadership and logistical skills on their own–something very valuable for their own development and good opportunities for the kind of leadership desired in selective college applications.

How to Be a Good Teammate

Apart from studying and practicing, another important part of quizbowl is figuring out how to work together effectively with your team. Here are ten pieces of advice I try to follow on being a better teammate:

  1. Treat everyone with respect. It should go without saying, but simply being kind helps to create a more welcoming environment at team practices and events. Every player, regardless of experience level or any part of their identity, should feel comfortable being around you.
  2. Avoid constantly pulling rank. Especially if you hold a leadership position like team captain or club president, make sure you aren’t distancing yourself from your teammates. Being friendly and easy to talk to helps with team cohesion, which in turn results in stronger performances.
  3. Go into each match with an open mind. Even if you’re a small, inexperienced team up against a powerhouse, just try your best; upsets can happen! An overly pessimistic mindset won’t help your team’s overall attitude and performance.
  4. Pay attention while the bonus is being read. Don’t be that one person who zones out and wastes precious seconds of conferral time asking teammates to reconstruct the question. And if you’re paying attention and a teammate does happen to zone out, you can then nicely remind them what the question was asking.
  5. Listen to your teammates’ contributions on bonuses. As a first scorer, I’ve sometimes fallen into the trap of ignoring valid suggestions from my teammates. Even if you answer the most tossups on your team, there will always be some topic that your teammates know better than you.
  6. Let go of your own negs. No one wants to play on a team with someone who’s still moping about a neg from six rounds ago.
  7. Let go of your teammates’ negs, too. Berating them for an incorrect answer doesn’t change the result and, if anything, will only distract you (and them) from getting upcoming questions.
  8. Stop worrying so much about your individual stats. During a game, you should be focused on trying to beat the team you’re playing against, not on trying to one-up your teammates’ individual stats. Having that all-star points-per-game is nice, but reckless vulching to solely inflate your own PPG isn’t.
  9. Compliment others’ buzzes. Obviously, keep conversation between questions to a minimum, but quickly saying “nice buzz!” or some equivalent is a friendly way to support another player and to make your teammate (or even a player on the other team) feel good for an impressive answer.
  10. Losing a close game isn’t any one person’s fault. There are usually at least twenty tossup-bonus cycles in a game and multiple players on each team, so don’t put all the blame on the one player who unfortunately negged tossup 20 to lose a match by 10 points.

Clearly, this isn’t a complete list of every aspect that goes into being a good teammate; feel free to come up with your own and comment below or tweet at us!


GPQB Podcast Episode #15: Interview with Coach Bern McCauley

In the 15th episode of the GPQB podcast, Chris talks with Great Valley High School’s quizbowl coach and 2015-2016 GPQB Coach of the Year, Bern McCauley. During the interview, coach McCauley provides his views on his vision of building up a top quizbowl program and dealing with the various challenges that quizbowl coaches often encounter.

Click here to listen or download.

Quizbowl National Championships: A Guide

One sometimes-confusing aspect of quizbowl is the presence of multiple tournaments that claim to be the “national championship” of quizbowl and similar academic competitions (Scholars Bowl, Brain Bowl, Knowledge Bowl, Academic Challenge, etc.). For teams and coaches, getting multiple emails throughout the year telling you that you qualified for different national championships can be a bit of a baffling experience.

This is a brief guide to explaining what these tournaments are, which ones have fair questions and formats (and which ones do not), and how your team can qualify to attend the ones that will provide the best experience for your team and players.

The Quizbowl National Championships:

 NAQT’s High School National Championship Tournament (HSNCT)

Sponsor: National Academic Quiz Tournaments (NAQT)
Location (2016):
The Hilton Anatole, Dallas TX
Location (2017): Marriott Marquis, Atlanta GA
Field Size:
Approximately 272 teams (based on the 2016 field) 
Written by NAQT and follows the NAQT HSNCT distribution. The difficulty is significantly harder than regular IS-sets and the questions are slightly longer than regular IS questions. 
10 power-matched games (against opponents with similar records) over 16 rounds on Saturday. All teams with a winning record (i.e. 6-4 or better) make the playoffs on Sunday; other teams can come back for consolation games. Playoffs are double-elimination for all 7-3 or better teams; 6-4 teams start off in the loser’s bracket and are eliminated with one loss. 
How to Qualify:
Finish in the top 15% of any tournament that uses NAQT questions. NAQT highlights those teams in the results when statistics from a tournament are published on their website (see here for an example). Wildcards are also available for teams who did not qualify normally to apply for in hopes of getting a spot; for teams that got close to qualifying in a strong field or did not have a chance to play often, this is a good option to pursue.
Previous Results:
Available from NAQT’s website from 1999 onward. Click on each year to see more statistics. 
HSNCT has rapidly grown into the largest national championship, with over a thousand players taking over a hotel each year to play quizbowl. The power-matching format used in the preliminaries usually ensures that each match pits you against a team more and more similar to your team’s skill level, so the matches tend to be close. The double-elimination format of the playoffs also can be exciting to participate in or watch, though making the playoffs can involve a little bit of luck of the draw for many teams close to the middle of the pack.

PACE’s National Scholastic Championship (NSC)

Sponsor: Partnership for Academic Competition Excellence (PACE
Location (in 2016 and 2017):
Hyatt Regency O’Hare in Rosemont, IL (a suburb of Chicago next to O’Hare International Airport) 
Field Size:
Approximately 96 teams (based on the 2015 field)
Written by PACE members. The distribution is similar to the college ACF distribution and tossups are often 6-8 lines, with 20 point (instead of the usual 15 point) powers and no negs for incorrect answers. Unlike the HSNCT, there are no pop culture questions at the NSC and more of an emphasis on the fine arts and the humanities. Bonuses are bouncebacks, meaning that if one team misses a bonus part the other team gets a chance to answer that part for points. Similar to HSNCT, the difficulty level for the NSC is significantly higher compared to most regular season high school tournaments. 
Seeded preliminary pools initially, then rebracketed playoff pools, then another rebracket to superplayoff and final placement pools. Basically, every team continues playing games that help determine final placement throughout the tournament. This also means that all teams play at least 18 games (!) over the two days of the tournament. 
How to Qualify:
Qualification depends on finishing highly at various PACE-affiliated tournaments. Almost every quizbowl tournament on good questions is PACE-affiliated, but the exact percentage of teams that qualify from each tournament depends on what level of certification PACE awards. See this page for a more detailed explanation, but in general the top 20-25% of the field qualifies. Wildcards are also available like with NAQT by emailing with a record. 
Previous Results:
Available on PACE’s website here
Comments: I
f you want lots and lots of quizbowl, the NSC gives you the most matches out of any of these tournaments on one of the best-written question sets of the year (see last year’s set here). The NSC field tends to be more “elite” on average than the HSNCT, so a team that finishes at 5-5 in the middle of the pack at HSNCT may finish in the lower tiers of NSC and with a much higher percentage of losses. Some teams prefer the bounce-back bonus format of the NSC since it keeps all teams listening on the bonus regardless of which team got the toss-up question.

NAQT’s Small School National Championship Tournament (SSNCT)

Sponsor: National Academic Quiz Tournaments (NAQT)
Location (2016 and 2017):
 The Hyatt Regency O’Hare, Rosemont (Chicago Area) IL 
Field Size:
Approximately 80 teams (based on the 2016 field) 
Written by NAQT and follows the standard NAQT distribution. The difficulty is approximately the same, if slightly tougher, than regular IS-sets.
9 power-matched games (against opponents with similar records) over 11 rounds on Saturday. All teams with a winning record (i.e. 5-4 or better) make the playoffs on Sunday; other teams can come back for consolation games. Playoffs are double-elimination for all schools with records of 6-3 or better and single-elimination for those at 5-4.
What NAQT defines as a “Small School”: [Via NAQT’s website] “A public high school with 500 or fewer students in grades 10-12 that has a non-selective admissions policy. This excludes all private schools, magnet schools, and home school collectives; it also excludes some charter schools.”
How to Qualify:
[Via NAQT’s website] “Finishing in the top 30% of the small schools at a high school varsity tournament that uses NAQT questions and includes teams from at least three schools (of any size). This includes traditional one-day tournaments, leagues, televised tournaments, and all other events that use questions provided by NAQT whether or not they use NAQT’s official format and rules.” NAQT highlights those teams qualifying for the SSNCT separately in the results when statistics from a tournament are published on their website (see here for an example). Wildcards are also available for teams who did not qualify normally to apply for in hopes of getting a spot; for teams that got close to qualifying in a strong field or did not have a chance to play often, this is a good option to pursue.
Previous Results: Available from NAQT’s website from 2014 onward. Click on each year to see more statistics. 
SSNCT is a great option for smaller schools, from open-admission urban charter schools to rural schools that might not have the resources and student base as larger schools. You can listen to some previous SSNCT matches to get an idea of the level of competition here.


HSAPQ’s National All-Star Academic Tournament (NASAT)

High School Academic Pyramid Questions (HSAPQ
Location (2016):
The University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY 
Field Size:
12 (although maximum is as many states that register) 
Written by HSAPQ at a very high level comparable to a normal-difficulty college tournament. Distribution is here.  
A round-robin followed by rebracketed playoffs 
How to Qualify: 
Since this is an All-Star tournament, all states are eligible to send a team. Pennsylvania’s team last year was selected by tryouts and looking at individual statistics from tournaments. If you are interested in competing against the best high school players of each state on very challenging questions, this is your tournament. The 2015-2016 PA NASAT teams can be seen here
Previous Results:
See here.


A few frequently-asked questions about the HSNCT and the NSC:

Which national championship should my team attend?

Besides their different locations (which usually rotate every year), the biggest differences between the national championships are the timed rounds at HSNCT vs. the untimed rounds at the NSC and the different question distributions at each. The use of timed rounds at HSNCT adds new strategic elements and means that readers tend to go a lot faster, making games a little bit more frantic. You can see video of the finals of the 2016 HSNCT here to get an idea of what it’s like. Small schools should definitely consider attending SSNCT, but can also attend HSNCT as well if they’re up for the challenge.

The distribution of the question subjects for each tournament also varies in small but important ways: the HSNCT question distribution has more current events, geography, and pop culture/sports; the NSC has more fine arts, more religion, myth, and philosophy, and no pop culture. The formats of each tournament also differ slightly as outlined above. One nice thing about having two national championships is that if you can’t make one due to graduation or prom, the other is still a possibility. Either of these are a good option for teams looking for a challenge and a fun end-of-season trip.

When can/should you register for a national championship?

You should register as soon as possible after you qualify and work quickly to firm up travel and payment plans. The HSNCT and NSC fields historically get close to filling up by late February. While you can get a spot on a waitlist and hope slots open up  later (which tends to happen at the HSNCT in particular), by late March both fields are likely completely filled. Note that both tournaments are now requiring that schools pay a deposit by some point to reserve spots in the field due to high demand, so it’s crucial that you start making arrangements to attend as soon as possible and perhaps budget for nationals attendance at the start of the year if you think you’ll be likely to qualify.

How do we get a wild card into these tournaments?

At a certain date, the HSNCT, SSNCT, and the NSC will open up applications for wild card teams. You should have a good reason explaining why you were not able to normally qualify, such as a lack of tournaments nearby to attend or consistently finishing just out of the qualification level at many tournaments against good teams. Just applying for a wild card does not mean you will be accepted–you need a good reason and must demonstrate strong results to get a wild card to either national.

Can multiple teams from the same school qualify for nationals?

Yes, but generally they must qualify at the same tournament. If Franklin High wants both its A and B teams to qualify for nationals, both teams must finish in the top percentage of the field at the same tournament. If Franklin A qualifies at one tournament (but not Franklin B) and then at the next tournament Franklin B qualifies (but not Franklin A), Franklin can still only send 1 team from Franklin to the national championship. Some schools have sent A, B, C, D, and even E teams to nationals (and done quite well).

Are there special divisions for schools of different sizes?

NAQT runs a separate Small School National Championship Tournament. If you are a non-selective, public high school with fewer than 500 students in grades 10-12, definitely take a look into the SSNCT, which runs on a separate set of NAQT questions at a different location than the HSNCT, usually sometime in April. PACE awards a top small-school title at the NSC, but small schools compete normally alongside other schools. Otherwise, all schools compete together.

Should we attend a national championship even if we know that we won’t win?

Even if you’re not in the running to win, you get to play the best teams from around the country and see just how well you measure up to teams outside of your local region. Knocking off a “name-brand” team or getting revenge on a rival local team can be great fun and just getting a few questions against the best teams in the country can be a rewarding experience. There’s also something about being in the same building as thousands of others involved in quizbowl and getting to meet people from all around the country. You’ll also have the best readers in the country flown in to read some of the toughest yet still well-written questions of the year. The final matches at these tournaments are always open to the public and are often thrilling to watch.

That said, quizbowl nationals are expensive, with a minimum of $800 or so for hotel and registration fees plus the cost of travel. You can attend a lot of other quizbowl tournaments with that funding, so consider your team’s interests and goals early on in the year so that if you do qualify for nationals, you can make sure you can secure the funding (hosting a tournament or two can really help with the cost too). Many teams enjoy the chance to travel and give seniors an appropriate send-off on the best competition quizbowl has to offer.


Other Competitions that claim to be “National Championships”

An organization known as Questions Unlimited runs a competition they call the National Academic Championship (NAC). At one time, decades ago, the NAC was the only game in town. Today, however, the NAC has four major problems that make it the quizbowl equivalent of college basketball’s NIT and not an actual national championship in the eyes of GPQB. In fact, we strongly advise schools to stay as far away from the NAC as possible based on the following issues:

Poorly Written Questions
A defining feature of the NAC is a lack of commitment to good quizbowl practices in question-writing, as documented rather extensively here. While there are some quasi-pyramidal questions, the vast majority appear to focus on trivial details and lead to buzzer races. Others also have swerves, hoses, and other aspects of bad quizbowl. One infamous “audio” question asked teams to identify the sound of a blender; others asked about the sounds of barnyard animals. Widely varying difficulty and distributions contribute to the unevenness of the outcomes. In short, the NAC’s questions are, in the opinion of GPQB, extraordinarily unfair to the players and a poor platform for academic competition.

A History of Plagiarism and Question Recycling
Last year, a team at the NAC actually stopped a match because it had heard the exact questions before in a practice packet. This would be unthinkable at any other national quizbowl tournament and exemplifies the history of plagiarism and question-recycling in the NAC.

An Unwieldy and Unfair Format 
The preliminary matches at NAC seem to be very roughly (if at all) seeded, which can lead to lopsided preliminary schedules of widely varying difficulty for different teams (a problem that’s compounded by the use of total points scored for playoff seeding). Unlike other national championships, only 6 games are guaranteed and those are read in an odd game-show-like environment with the focus on the “host” rather than the players.  The playoffs at each tournament site also are single elimination and the winners of each of the three sites come together to play weeks after some of them last played. This, suffice to say, does not seem like a fair format for determining a national champion.

The Best Teams Do Not Play NAC
The repudiation of NAC from former players, coaches, and even former NAC moderators has been nothing short of extraordinary in the past decade. As this graph shows, over time the NAC’s field has been surpassed in number by the HSNCT field. Almost all of the top 200 quizbowl teams in the country on the Morlan HSQBRank poll choose PACE or NAQT over NAC and more continue to abandon NAC every year, further diluting the NAC’s field strength. Additionally, more and more teams at the NAC come from a smaller handful of states like Nebraska, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and New York.

Few teams play both the NAC and the other nationals, but when they have played in good quizbowl tournaments the NAC attendees have not come off well. For instance, the national NAC runner-up in 2015, Lusher Charter, finished 59th at the NSC; a year before, the NAC runner-up in 2014, Pingry, finished 63rd at the NSC.

Put all these together and there is no good reason to attend the NAC. Going there only supports a bad quizbowl organization and will deprive your team of a legitimate national championship experience. If your team does not qualify for a good quizbowl national during the year but you still would like to travel, we recommend attending a regular-season tournament in April of May further away than normal.

Some other competitions also claim to be “national championships” of buzzer-based competitions, but those have even less claim than the NAC. The “National Tournament of Academic Excellence” [currently on hiatus] only attracts a small handful of random schools from a few states to Disney World to play a few very expensive rounds of bad quizbowl. “Hi-Q” sometimes claims to decide a national champion by a Skype match, but they’re only playing a tiny number of other schools from a few very specific geographic regions. And there may be others out there. But for our purposes, the only quizbowl national championships are the HSNCT, the NSC, the SSNCT and the NASAT.

Going to Quizbowl Tournaments: How it Works

The best way to get good at quizbowl or help jumpstart a new quizbowl team is to find some teammates and start attending tournaments. Whether you’re a teacher interested in starting a team, a coach of a current team looking to attend a new quizbowl competition, or just a student hoping to start playing quizbowl, here’s a step-by-step guide to finding tournaments, getting to a tournament, and what to expect at your first quizbowl tournament.

To register for a quizbowl tournament:

Email the Tournament Director. Quizbowl doesn’t have a centralized registration system for most tournaments outside of the national championships, so to register for a tournament you need to get in touch with the tournament director (TD) for each tournament directly. Usually, the email addresses for the tournament directors are given with the tournament announcements that may be emailed to you directly, posted on the regional schedule on GPQB, posted on the HSQB forum under the “Regular Tournament Announcements” section, or searching for tournaments registered on the HSQB database.

Sign up early! Quizbowl tournaments have field caps based on the number of staff and/or rooms available, so it’s usually a good idea to register as soon as you know you can attend. Sometimes the fields fill up 1-2 months before the tournament and the host has to start a waitlist of teams. Make sure you get confirmation from the TD that you’re in the field and registered before you make final travel plans. Good tournaments will often keep a running field of who’s already registered on the tournament announcement, so you can use that as a rough guide of how filled the field is already. It never hurts to ask and there are usually some spots that free up before tournaments.

Provide all needed information. A tournament registration email simply consists of letting the tournament director know that your school wants to attend as well as the following info:

  • How many teams you’re bringing (remember only up to 4 players can play per team at one time, though you can also bring fewer than 4 players on a team as well)
  • How many buzzer sets you’re bringing (this may be 0, but most tournaments give a discount of $5 for each buzzer set you bring, so if you have one you should bring it)
  • How many staffers you’re bringing (this may also be 0 as well; some tournaments may not need extra staffers, others may only want experienced readers and such, so check with the TD and read the tournament announcement)
  • Some tournaments may request that you provide a contact phone number so that the Tournament Director can call you if you’re running late.
  • Some tournaments may also request that you provide the names of your team members, though this is usually not absolutely necessary and doesn’t have to be exactly correct. TDs often ask for this to help facilitate scorekeeping or to verify what players are on what team, which can be useful in the seeding process.

Do not register until you are sure you can attend. While you should feel free to inquire about the details of any tournament, you shouldn’t register for the tournament until you’re sure that you’ll be able to attend. As more than one quizbowl elder has admonished, “Registering is a commitment to attend, not a note that you will probably try to show up unless you hear about something more interesting at any time between now and five minutes before the tournament starts.” Check with all the students you plan on bringing first to the tournament and get confirmation from them as early as possible before you register them and find out they have other commitments.

Keep the number of teams the same even if players drop. You can change the members of your team(s) as circumstances come up, but adding or dropping whole teams after you register is strongly discouraged outside of an emergency since tournaments have to plan for specific numbers of teams in the schedule well in advance. You should email the TD as soon as possible if you absolutely must change the number of teams–remember it’s fine to play with only 3 players on teams.

Paying for a Quizbowl Tournament

–  Calculate the cost. To figure out how much your school owes for a tournament, check the tournament announcement since those should list the costs and discounts. Most tournaments cost $60-80 per team, with discounts for bringing buzzers and/or staffers, traveling long distances, or being a new team to quizbowl. If you’re attending your school’s first-ever pyramidal quizbowl tournament, definitely ask for a discount–most tournaments should be happy to oblige. If you have major financial exigencies that may prevent your school from attending otherwise, you can also ask for some kind of arrangement with the host, though be aware that most hosts will expect at least some payment to help cover the cost of the questions.

Get payment to the host. Payment for tournaments is usually due the morning of the tournament, although occasionally some hosts will accept payment mailed beforehand.  Cash and check seem to be the major methods, though always ask who the check needs to be made out to since it may not be to the school itself. You can and often need to ask for a receipt from the host (hosts should provide receipts) if you’re using funds from a school.

Consider all your funding options. Finding sources of funding to pay for attending tournaments deserves a whole post in itself, but there are a number of options available. Some schools may have student activity funds or specifically designated funds for academic competitions. Sometimes PTAs might be a good source of funding or you could organize an academic booster club. Each school has different regulations that you should make a point to follow. It may be simplest just to ask each competing student to chip in part of the fees–for the price of a movie, you can get a full day’s worth of quizbowl education! Of course, one of the best ways to raise funds for quizbowl is to host a quizbowl tournament and we could certainly use more in Pennsylvania–feel free to ask us for advice on when might be the best time in the already filling schedule.

Getting to a Tournament:

– This can be very simple or could be very complicated, depending on your school’s policies. Sometimes you can just have the coach or an interested parent drive. Sometimes students can even drive themselves. Unfortunately, some schools like to make things complicated, so check with your school’s administration and/or other teachers to figure out the policies that apply to your situation.

– Note that most tournaments will simply require that some adult be responsible for the students from that school–you don’t always have to send the coach; it could be a parent or an alum. Again though, read the tournament announcements and check with your school to see what you need to do.

– If there is an inordinate mass of red tape that prevents you from attending tournaments, you may want to look into sending a non-affiliated team. See this post and check with the tournament director to see if that’s possible.

– If, en route to a tournament, you get lost or stuck in traffic, always let the tournament director know if possible via a phone call so that they can make the proper arrangements and know that you are still planning on coming. More communication is better than less communication here.

At the Tournament: What to Expect and Do 

Find the location of the pre-tournament meeting ASAP. Good hosts will often give you instructions, if not a map, and have signs directing you to the location, but expect to have to do a bit of walking from where you parked. Get there early, if at all possible. At the pre-tournament meeting, you’ll get the schedule for the tournament that indicates what teams you’ll be playing, at least for the first part of the tournament. This is also when you’ll pay for the tournament and drop off your buzzers if you brought them.

Take notes during games. Teams that take notes of what they missed, interesting clues they heard, things that sprang to mind, etc. are teams that are going to improve. Coaches can focus perhaps on the categories that seem to be getting missed while players can write down what they might want to study later. It’s a good idea thus to bring a notebook for each team member.

Expect to be lose some games. It is exceedingly rare for a team making its first tournament appearance to be competitive against the best teams right from the start (though it has happened a few times!). Think about it–even if you assembled a bunch of good athletes, sending them out to play a new sport for the first time against experienced teams would mean they’d probably get trounced. Quizbowl is the same way–while it’s based on factual knowledge, quickly recalling these facts and learning all of the subjects that come up in quizbowl can take work.

Stay for the whole tournament. Most good quizbowl tournaments seed teams in morning round-robin pools and then re-seed them during lunch to have competitive matches against teams with similar records in the morning. Thus, even if you lost all your games in the morning, in the afternoon you’ll play all the other teams who also lost their morning games so the matches should be competitive. The only time to even consider leaving a tournament before it ends is if the host is incompetent and the tournament is running several hours late. Otherwise, stick around the whole time since it’s a logistical nightmare for the host if teams leave early and unfair to other teams who lose out on a chance to play competitive games.

Talk to other teams and staffers. There will be downtime between games and during the pre-tournament meeting, so make use of it to talk to the other people! Ask someone (after the match ends) how they got a good buzz or just see how the other team’s doing. During matches, keep the chatting to a minimum, but afterwards feel free to be social so long as you don’t dawdle getting to the next room. Also, if it’s not clear on when you need to be back after lunch or where your next room is, always feel free to ask the other teams or a staffer.

Give feedback to the TD on how your experience went. Although during the tournament the director is probably going to be extremely busy, it’s always useful to hear from a new team how their experience was and what could be improved in the future after the tournament ends.

GPQB Interviews: Missy Doll

Today we metaphorically sit down with Missy Doll, GPQB’s coach of the year, for a discussion of coaching. Missy has been co-coach of the Manheim Township program since 2009, overseeing their transition to pyramidal quizbowl. She has also helped reform the Lancaster- Lebanon quizbowl league to using exclusively good NAQT questions instead of house written speed checks, bringing excellent quality product to hundreds of students in the Lancaster area.

1) How did you first get involved with coaching Quizbowl?

Six years ago, the coach of our quiz bowl team wanted to step down.  He wanted to train his replacement, so he asked Chris Manning and I to do it.  We both said no at first, but we decided to do it together.  We were co-assistant coaches for a year before taking over the team.  Manheim Township has had a quiz bowl team since at least the late ‘80’s.  Last year the father of one of our players also played for Manheim Township when he was in high school.

2) Manheim Township has an extraordinary record of constant contention within the Lancaster Lebanon League (4 of the last 6 titles). How do you work to stay one step ahead of the other teams in your area?

We practice a lot.  We have practice twice a week, and we compete in as many tournaments as we can. When students miss practices, they write questions instead.  They are still doing something to improve as a quiz bowl player during that time.  This year alone, we have had 19 different competitions.  While the questions are different, you will learn something at one tournament that helps you answer a question at another. We also have amazing students that spend the time studying on their own.  Our team is whatever our students put into it.

3) Township consistently has one of the largest squads in the Philadelphia area, bringing D and E teams to tons of invitationals. How do you recruit?

Actually, you have to try-out to be a member of Manheim Township Quiz Bowl.  There’s a limit to the number of students that we can manage.  We’re limited to the number of students that can fit in our school vans to attend competitions, and that is our only means of transportation. We are even driving two vans to Chicago for HSNCT again this year.

We hold try-outs on the first Friday of the school year, and we rely on our students to help advertise.  So far, they have done a great job bringing in their friends that are also good quiz bowl players. If you make it fun, students will come. With that being said, I don’t support having try-outs if you can avoid it.  It adds a constraint to the team, but our district requires an activity fee for quiz bowl.  Everyone that competes on our team has paid $120 to the school to be eligible to play.

4) Manheim Township has always had several solid players sharing points at one time as opposed to the “superman” model of team. Do you think this has helped you over the seasons?

You can study one topic in depth, but you can’t cover every subject as well.  I highly recommend that strategy for new teams.  Even when we have had one player that overshadows the others, the team would still be a top bracket team without that one person.  That takes the pressure off that individual.  If they have a bad game, others will step-up.

I try to emphasize that individual awards don’t matter though. A team will be much stronger with four balanced, equally scoring players then with one dominant player. Individually scoring awards don’t reward that.  I personally wish individual scoring awards didn’t exist, but they are a staple of quiz bowl tournaments.

5) What’s the greatest challenge facing you as a coach in today’s game? Greatest reward?

The greatest challenge right now is funding.  When I started coaching, we received enough money to fund every tournament we wanted to attend.  If I put it in the budget, I got it.  Today, I am paying for a lot of things out of my own pocket.  I have purchased 2 ½ buzzer systems myself.  We are constantly fundraising to be able to pay for everything that we do.

The greatest reward is getting to work with this great group of students.  You won’t find a better group then quiz bowlers.

6) What’s the most memorable match your Manheim Township teams have been involved in?

Our most memorable matches have been on our local tv show, Brain Busters.  The show caters to close matches because the question distribution varies, and the questions include a lot of buzzer races. You never know what will happen.

At this point, I think the most memorable match would be last year’s finale.  We were behind by 75 points, but our team didn’t give up.  At the end of the round, Jake buzzed in with the answer of “A Streetcar Named Desire”. Their reaction was priceless.  The next day we drove to Chicago for HSNCT, so that was a much more enjoyable van ride!
We were at a rest stop in the middle of Ohio when someone came up to Matthew and congratulated him on the win the night before.  It was a nice way to end our season.

Thanks to Missy for taking time to answer our questions!

How to Improve a Team (for Coaches)

This is an all-too-brief introduction to some of the weightier elements of setting up a successful quizbowl program targeted at coaches. If you’re completely new to quizbowl and coaching, see our guide to starting a quizbowl team. If you’re a player interested in improving, see our other post on How to Improve as a Player. If you’ve already read this and want more advice on coaching, see our post on Coaching Efficiently to maximize your time spent on quizbowl.

Before we get into the specifics, I want to take a moment to emphasize the importance of having a dedicated coach for a team. Teams without a dedicated coach are often ephemeral in the long run and even in the short-run probably will not reach their full potential. We really can’t have quizbowl without coaches, and I want to pre-emptively thank you for your hard work on behalf of your students.

So how can a quizbowl coach better prepare his or her team? Here are the five major points, with an emphasis on the first:

1. Focus on Building a Program, not just a Team
2. Run Efficient Practices
3. Play Quizbowl as Much as Possible
4. Track Your Team’s Progress
5. Understand the Limited Role of In-Game Coaching

Focus on Building a Program, not a Team. This may seem counter-intuitive at first. Shouldn’t a coach by definition focus on, well, coaching during matches?  There is a role for in-game coaching in quizbowl, but the primary role for a quizbowl coach is to put in place the conditions that will allow your players to succeed. If you set things up right, the program culture that you create will end up doing much of the heavy lifting for you. So how do you build a successful quizbowl program?

a. Making Time and Space for a Team. Getting word out about your quizbowl program starts with having time and space for it meet. Simply making it known within your school (and having that info available on the school website, in the school handbook, on your board, on your classroom door, etc.) that your club practices year-round on say, Mondays and Thursdays in Room 314 after school helps immensely.

Start practices as early as you can during the school year rather than wait too long–the longer you wait, the more likely potential quizbowl recruits will get involved in other activities. Some coaches also run practices or studying during activity periods (if you have an activity schedule), during lunches, or during homerooms. Whatever works for you and your schedule is the best, but the key is to provide as much time and space as possible. If you’re enthusiastic about practices, then your students will be too.

b. Building an Institutional Reputation. You probably have somewhat of a de facto hierarchy of clubs and activities at your school now–maybe the Model UN team has a case full of shiny gavels or the marching band has every single AP student also in it or the robotics team is always getting in the local press for their achievements. If quizbowl isn’t high up there now, your task is to make it so. Winning trophies and doing well as tournaments helps, but overall professionalism and persistence is the real key.

Your audience is not just the administrators who control the purse-strings of school funding, but also the parents of current and even prospective students. Students want to be involved with something that’s fun and successful–and fortunately, quizbowl is inherently a pretty fun activity for most academically interested students, so encourage your current players to bring friends (I will get into running practices with players of different abilities below). Quizbowl may not necessarily have the cachet that other activities have right now, but you can make it so.

Other aspects of professionalism include adding a team website (and updating it!). Contacting local reporters about your team if you have a solid placement at a tournament is always a good idea. Keeping track of the trophies you win and making sure that the school reports what you win on their website, Twitter, Facebook, etc is helpful.  If you ensure that practices as well-run, enjoyable, and productive, students will be more likely to choose that over other possible activities.

c. Attracting Players. Building up a strong reputation within your school is helpful, but it’s also up to a coach to get players to join the team. Strong recruiting at the start of the year is a good idea that will pay off later on throughout the year. Get your practices and start-of-year interest meeting up on the announcements for a whole week, ask other teachers to talk up your team to their students, go to activity fairs and make sure you have more than a piece of notebook paper, etc. etc. Once you start getting players, ask them to bring their friends or if they know of other people interested. You can get creative here.  One coach I know emails all teachers and asks them to name their most intellectually curious students. He then sends letters to the students and their parents “inviting” them to be on the quizbowl team. Who could resist such an official and flattering invitation?

I would estimate that 20-30 regular practice attendees for a team would be about as big as one could reasonably get. Bigger teams are good both for arguing for more funding and for hosting larger tournaments, but you don’t need to have all your students necessarily dedicated to playing; some can just help out when needed. Attrition will always happen, so just roll with it. You want to see the students who have stick-with-it-ness that they’ll need to study for quizbowl. I have not found that formal requirements of showing up to X practices a month are that helpful–students are busy and if they have track practice on Monday, it’s going to be hard to not lose them then. You should, however, show that you noticed–if a player is missing when they normally come, check in on them to find out what’s up.

Middle schools, which usually have fewer activities in general, are a great recruiting ground as well. Find your feeder middle schools and start talking to the admins or teachers there for interest in starting up a team. Middle school quizbowl is usually less intense than high school quizbowl in terms of fewer tournaments a year (2-3 a year seems to be about normal), but just the mere exposure to the set-up of quizbowl and gaining buzzer confidence can be huge. Thus, when those players become freshmen, they’ll be familiar with the set-up and you can start focusing on having them learn the material.

Now that you have done outreach and recruited a team, what do you do with them when you have their attention?

Run Efficient and Effective Practices. One of the biggest problems with many teams seems to be that practices are not productive and, as such, few players benefit from them or take them seriously. Lackadaisical practices often translate into lackadaisical teams. One thing you can do is challenge your players to not waste time–say, see how fast they can get the buzzer system set up at the start of practice or get organized to start playing questions (15 minutes is too long!).

As a coach, there are only a few things that you need to do at practice:
1. Make sure it’s clear who’s reading each day to avoid endless buck-passing (you should rotate and have people give positive feedback, especially so as you prepare to host tournaments and need readers your players will all be ready).
2. Encourage–if not require–every player to bring a notebook and write down clues they found interesting, questions in their subjects that they missed, etc.
3. Pick out the question packets to be readthat help correct weaknesses or prepare your teams for upcoming tournaments. The week before an NAQT event, you should probably practice on NAQT questions. The week before an HSAPQ event, you should run HSAPQ questions. Using to select some specific subject categories for extra review might also work–categories that are small at the high school level but not normally taught much in schools like philosophy and anthropology would be good candidates for a focused practice.

Practices shouldn’t necessarily be constant barrages of tossups and bonuses. Don’t be afraid to let players look up things they missed during practice–it’s more valuable for them to learn what a painting looks like rather continuing to miss clues for it because they’re trying to buzz on something they haven’t seen.

You may want to think about dividing practices into JV and Varsity practices. Say, JV practices on Tuesday (or in an assistant coach’s room, if you are fortunate enough to have one), Varsity on Monday and Thursday. This not only helps ensure that every player practices with a buzzer in his/her hand, but also allows for newer players to get a feel for playing without being overwhelmed by the more experienced players. If you only have a small window for practices, it’s probably better to have the less-experienced players on the buzzers more often and have the experienced players sit out for part of practice and work on studying/writing questions/reading. Everyone in quizbowl can benefit from practicing on the buzzer, but at some points the more advanced varsity players may benefit more from using practice time to make notes of old questions and look things up rather than play on the buzzer.

– Play Quizbowl as Much as Possible. Your students need the experience of actually competing to help build up their knowledge base, identify their strengths and weaknesses, and learn to mesh well as a team. They can play their local format (whether it’s at your local IU, your local county league, your local TV station, etc.), but they need to also be playing at invitational tournaments on pyramidal questions in and around the state as much as possible. Pyramidal questions will help your players learn more material; though you may have to modify some of your in-game buzzing decisions for local formats, the knowledge base will carry over anywhere. They’re also what’s now used at the PSAC state championship.

Track Your Team’s Progress. At tournaments and in practices, keep track (or have your students keep track) of tossups that go dead and bonus parts that got missed by categories (you can also get your players to do this on their own in their notebooks or during practice and then have you compile the data). Did they just miss “De Toqueville” for the third time that year at that last tournament? If so, some remedial Democracy in America studying may be due. Are they not getting more than a 10 on painting bonuses? Some visual arts studying may be in order. Tracking can be a good motivation for your students–they may not realize what they keep on missing–and it is useful for you so you can figure out what kinds of questions you should be using at practice and what specific tasks you might need to assign your players. A google docs spreadsheet that everyone can access might be helpful here.

In-Game Coaching. Though in-game coaching is only a small part of your coaching responsibilities, it can be useful in some cases.

Much of in-game coaching comes down to two broad categories–keeping emotions in check and paying attention to what’s going on rule-wise. Keeping emotions and egos in check will depend on the unique mix of students that you have on a team. Channeling rivalries into productive and friendly contests, keeping intimidating players or coaches from intimidating your other players, etc. are all important things both within games and outside of games for coaches to work on. Furthermore, you should be alert to drop-offs in motivation during a tournament. Is one of your players seemingly “giving up” and negging too much? Is another getting frustrated and visibly upset? Is someone falling asleep at the buzzer (it happens!)? This is where you can come in either with a time-out, a brief chat at halftime, or a friendly one-on-one talk after a match. This aspect requires some strong emotional IQ on the part of the coach, so make sure that you figure out what works with your players and what their tendencies might be that you can step in to help correct. The worst kind of in-game coaching is haranguing your players. I’ve seen teams on the verge of tears during time-outs as the coach yells at them. Don’t do that. Be positive and keep your own emotions in check.

The other big part of in-game coaching is dealing with protests and the rules. You should not be afraid to fight for your team IF you have a valid reason. Protest things that could matter–if you’re being totally blown out, it’s probably not a good idea to keep lodging protests. But in a close game, don’t be afraid to protest something that seems wrong in the question or in the accepted answer. You should take this on yourself moreso than your players–it’s better for you to focus on this rather having your team worry about it. In good quizbowl formats, hopefully you won’t have to worry about protests as much, but they can and will happen. Be polite in all your dealings with moderators and the other coaches, but don’t be afraid to note the rules. For instance, if the other team buzzed in, completed a full word of an incorrect answer, then changed to another answer, the moderator must accept the first completed word as the answer (this is something even top college players often still don’t realize!). Know the rules, know what kinds of things you can protest, and always be polite when sticking up for your team.

That’s it for now. Feel free to reply to this post with your own questions or comments on how you’ve approached coaching.

-Chris Chiego