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!


Quizbowl Study Plans for All Levels

One of the most common questions that we at GPQB receive from students and coaches is how to start studying for quizbowl. Since pretty much anything that you ever learn will, at some point, show up in quizbowl, getting started with the studying can appear quite daunting. There are many resources and some guides for how to improve, but most are fairly vague and designed for either complete novices or very experienced players. Telling players to “read packets” is a good idea, of course, but which packets should one read and how should one read them? Using Protobowl might be appropriate for some players, but is it good for everyone?

This is a guide for players at different stages of their academic competition career. For each level, we offer both recommended study materials from old tournaments on the quizbowl packet archive and some strategies for how to study at each level. This guide is most certainly not the definitive word on this and I would be quite interested to hear from coaches and players in the comments on their own studying procedures. But I think as far as a basic guide for players trying to get to the next level, wherever you are, these are useful outlines.

Keep in mind for each of these that the relevant tournament sets can be found on the packet archive: Just use “find” or search for them that way.

Complete Novice
This is a player who has never played before, has never played any quizbowl questions at all, or has maybe played one local tournament but never anything more than that. If this describes you, then welcome to the world of quizbowl!

Study Materials:
– SCOP Tournaments
– Fall Novice Tournaments
– Collaborative MS tournaments (see under “middle school” on quizbowlpackets)
Quinterest searches for MS level subjects

Study Strategies:
– Just read questions! Start reading these novice level or Middle School (MS) level questions and get an idea of how pyramidal questions work and what topics tend to come up in quizbowl. If you look through a few tournaments (compare, say, 2014 to 2015 SCOP), you’ll see the same topics come up again and again (not the same questions verbatim, of course, but similar clues and answerlines).

At this point, focus the most on developing familiarity with how quizbowl works. If you come across an answer line that you’ve never heard of before, Google it to find out what it is. At the level of these questions, every answer line is probably something that you will see frequently in the future, so you need to know as much as possible about these topics. Practice slowly scrolling down on the packet archives or letting Quinterest “read” questions to you to start thinking like a quizbowl player.

Advanced Novice
This is a player who has played a few tournaments but is still in 9th/10th grade or is playing as an 11th/12th grader and finished the complete novice guide. These are players who know how pyramidal questions work, but still haven’t quite mastered the quizbowl canon for high school and might be more interested in improving their points-per game beyond 10 or 20.

Study Materials:
– NAQT Frequency Lists
– NAQT “You Gotta Know” Guides
– Textbooks
– HSAPQ District and Regionals
– History Bowl C Sets

Study Strategies:
At this point, the goal is to start to master the “canon.” Get a solid understanding of all the question topics that might come up in the quizbowl categories that you are interested in and develop the ability to buzz-in on the “stock clues” for these categories. Protobowl and reading full packets is useful for this, but so are going over things like the top 10 items on the NAQT frequency list and making sure you can guess them on bonuses or tossups. You also want to be looking over the NAQT “You Gotta Know” Guides and start to think about picking up a textbook or two (ones you have at your school and use in-class are fine) in some categories. Start keeping a notebook that you bring to practice and tournaments, writing down any answerlines that strike you as interesting and/or clues that you want to look up some more. Start to look up clues from practice every time–a good rule of thumb is to look up the clue just before the one that you buzz on to learn a little bit more each time.

Play Protobowl in a private room (just add a /yourroomname to the regular address) and start working on getting comfortable guessing a bit earlier in the question that you normally might. And make sure to attend practices! You’ll need to be as comfortable as possible on the buzzer at this point. It’s okay to rack up a few negs so long as you start to make sure you’re buzzing before your opponents and giving your team a chance.

Experienced Player 
This is a player who’s been to several pyramidal quizbowl tournaments and maybe played a year or two already. At this point, you know what you know and what you don’t know and want to try to get both your power rate and your TU/N rate as high as possible. You’re starting to narrow in on a few specialty areas and you want to make your team competitive for the playoff cutoffs at tournaments.

Study Materials
– Protobowl
– Flashcards (make them yourself)

– HSAPQ ACF-Style Sets
– HSAPQ VHSL Regionals and State sets
– MSU/UD Housewrite
– History Bowl B Sets

Study Strategies
This is where you need to start picking a few categories to “lock-down.” You want to focus now on depth rather than breadth to make sure that when you learn a potential answerline, you can beat your major local rivals to that question.

Start reading further down the frequency lists and make sure that you’re never surprised by an answer line. Flashcarding can be an excellent way to make sure that you cover; applications like Anki could be useful here, but you could also use Quizlet or other apps (or even actual paper cards!).
Try to practice these as much as possible here–on the way to school, during downtime in class, etc. Enlist the help of others–get your friends, parents, grandparents, etc. to read to you.

Veteran/Role Player
This is a player who’s played pyramidal quizbowl for a year or so and ideally has begun to develop a specialty in a few categories. You may put up 20-30 PPG consistently or be more of a generalist racking up 40-50 points at a time at this point and want to put your team in contention for the top 3 trophies every tournament.

Study Material:
-Prison Bowl
-Flashcards, outlines, and other self-directed studying

Study Strategies:
The goal at this point should be to develop deep knowledge to nab 2nd-line powers and 3rd or 4th line (definitely before “FTP”) buzzes in your specialty categories. Continue to keep a notebook, do flashcards, and study old packets. Go talk to people specifically about quizbowl. Talk to your English teacher about their favorite novels for instance or go to local orchestral concerts or art galleries and just start to go for depth over breadth. You want to start branching out well beyond the curriculum at this point and maybe think about reading college quizbowl packets or attending a college tournament to start to branch out into new areas. Time spent in a library here reading specifically for your categories will be well spent, especially if you look at textbooks (science especially) or other solid overviews.

State Competitor/Nationals Playoffs Contender
This is a player on a top 5-6 state team who’s also attending nationals and wants to try to make the playoffs at HSNCT. You can consistently power at least one or two questions per match in your specialty area and your team is usually in contention to win local tournaments.

Study Material:
– ACF Fall
-Previous HSNCTs and/or DII ICT and DI SCT

Study Strategies:
You need to start to become the best in your state at various categories. This is where taking a bit of a break from packet reading might pay off as you instead focus on reading and writing your own questions. Start reading books on these topics–things like “Czars of Russia” or a compendium of summaries of Faulkner’s novels and literary critiques could be useful. You’ll need to also get ahead of the curve here as far as what college players are writing on and thinking about (answerlines often “filter down” from college sets to high school sets over the years as writers are exposed to new question topics and clues and then continue to write on them for different audiences), so this is where ACF Fall and any undergrad-targeted tournament like MUT is great. Your goal should be to power as much as possible in your specialty areas here and to also contribute and back-up your teammates on bonuses. You need to crank up the seriousness level here and be devoting at least some time each day to quizbowl, even if it’s just reviewing 20 flashcards or writing 1 question.

Nationally Ranked Player
This is a highly elite group of players. Most have devoted a considerable part of their lives to quizbowl, but it’s also quite possible to ascend to this group in a relatively short period of time through concentrated studying. There are a number of examples of solid players who became nationally elite over the course of a few months, but it will take lots of hard studying to happen.

Study Materials:
– ACF Regionals from the previous year
– Other Regular-Season College Sets (like MAGNI or MOO)
– HSNCT and/or DII ICT and DI SCT

Study Strategies:
Read books, dip your toes into the academic literature on your topic (art criticism, recent major science studies, etc.), and WRITE QUESTIONS. At this level, you want to note only be an excellent specialist at your categories, but also a savvy player; it’s somewhat remarkable how many times matches at nationals come down to players who have seen questions on topic X before and buzz on how it feels rather than knowing the exact clue.
Every chance you can get, play against high-level competition both at the high school level and college level. The top high school teams in the country play against college teams more often than not and several other schools have had great success just getting some experience playing at the college level. This is where you’ll learn the first-line clues and 3rd bonus parts that might prove critical deep in the playoffs at HSNCT or NSC. You must consistently be powering in your categories and get at least a few outside of your main categories through heavy exposure to playing and to help shore up your weaknesses.

This is just a starting point for each of these levels (and of course you can feel free to use the strategies for more advanced levels as you see fit), but I hope that it proves useful. The most awesome thing about quizbowl to me is that anyone can become a world-class player; all you need is a work ethic and the willingness to learn. The best players, of course, tend to also have a deep love for many of these subject areas, but you can become a very good player in any category with just hard work and determination. Good luck to all–and don’t forget your notebooks at tournaments!


Quizbowl Summer Study Plans

With the end of the school year finally upon us, the summer break is an excellent opportunity for enterprising quizbowlers to get a head start on next season and learn more awesome stuff. Here are three tips for teams to think about during the break:

Read actual books/poems/plays/essays! Summer is a perfect time to compile a reading list and attempt books that you might have been introduced to during quizbowl. Actually reading a work will likely increase your chances of getting a good buzz on it during the season and will probably lead to a more lasting memory than flashcarding or just reading a summary. So go ahead and tackle those Shakespeare plays or Garcia Marquez novels.

Write up a store of practice questions, then share them with other members of your team. These could be on any subject, but the ideal would be to use the greater amount of free time to spend time going through the question-writing process and then sharing them with fellow members of your team. This might be useful for trying to close any holes that you noticed emerged over last season or if a senior with a strong subject specialty is graduating. Need to work on Religion? Assign someone religious holidays, another one religious texts, and another one various minor religions to write up questions and then share at a summer meet-up or over Skype/Google Video.

Read over the national championship sets from this year once they are available. PACE’s NSC has already been posted and is chock-full of good clues, interesting ideas, and grist for future question writers. NAQT’s HSNCT was available to teams who attended this year, but others can order copies of the set from NAQT here. And HSAPQ’s NASAT will be posted soon as well after some other mirrors of it (many open to high schoolers–check the HSquizbowl forums for details). Even if you’ve already played the sets, it can be immensely helpful to go back over them and note where you could have/should have buzzed and perhaps calculate how well your team did at various subject areas.

Do you have any other ideas for what you’ll be doing with your team? Feel free to post ’em in the comments! 

How to Get the Most out of Practices and Tournaments: Get a Notebook

Every moment that you have a buzzer in your hand while playing quizbowl, you should also have a notebook open next to you ready to take notes in. Here’s a page from mine:


I really should’ve gotten that Turenne TU. Also, it’s apparently “Siqueiros,” not my more Greek spelling here.

This notebook has been with me since 2006 at my very first national championship tournament. I tried to make sure to put at least one clue that was associated with each answerline down so that I could remember and, ideally, not miss it again. I also wrote down answerlines that sounded interesting or things that I wanted to look up later.

Why bring such a low-tech thing as a notebook to practices and tournaments and not some fancy flashcard program like Anki or an app like QuizBug on Quinterest? First, actually writing things down can help you remember them more effectively than typing them on a computer. Something about the process of writing by hand just seems to stick better.

Second, a notebook is much more portable and useful for a quick glance during downtime en route to tournaments and at practices and tournaments. In between rounds and waiting for the next one to start? Take a quick glance at your notebook. Stuck on a long bus ride up to the next tournament? Peruse your notebook.

Third, with a notebook you have something to do during other teams’ bonuses and tossups on things you definitely have no shot of getting. Too many players just zone out; having a notebook open and ready to write or circle things can be useful to keep your attention on the match. Open it to a blank page for each match and you can even keep score with it too or keep track of the categories for each question (very useful in tournaments with a fixed question distribution so that you can figure out which categories have yet to come up).

And fourth, when you return from a tournament or practice, you can refer to your notebook as a way to review what you learned and figure out where you could improve, especially if you start noticing patterns of what you missed. If you again mixed up Manet and Monet, get them straight by making separate powerpoints of their work. If you mispronounced a play title, this is your chance to learn it now and forever. But if you don’t keep a notebook, you won’t necessarily remember what you need to work on.

A caveat: you shouldn’t write write down everything that you hear in a match in a notebook. Just focus on clues and answerlines in your areas of knowledge or things that sounded interesting. Make sure that you go up and look at those later–you can then incorporate things that you missed into those other study technologies.

You can also write down lists of related things that you want to review during and before tournaments in the same notebook so that you can quickly flip through to study those. For instance, here were some wars I decided to write down while jumping through an old all-history tournament packets:


Remember, this was for college nationals. Don’t feel like you need to know these wars for your average HS tournament!

This is all part of a larger quest to help maximize your study time in quizbowl. Every practice you should leave having learned new things. Every tournament you should leave having learned new things. Spinning your wheels and expecting to learn by osmosis will not work out very well. Zoning out during questions in practice and repeatedly missing the same clues won’t work very well. But maximizing your time spent in a chair holding a buzzer will make your quizbowl experience more enjoyable and rewarding. Remember, if something comes up at one quizbowl tournament, there’s an excellent chance it will come up in some form at another quizbowl tournament later.

This is the beauty of a notebook–it gives you something to do and read at all times that will help you get better at quizbowl. Get one and use it well.


GPQB Podcast Episode #18: Quizbowl Question-Writing Tips

In the 18th episode of the GPQB podcast, Ben and Chris are joined by Eric to discuss how to write practice quizbowl questions. They discuss the best sources to use when writing questions as well as some common pitfalls among new question writers.

Click here to listen.

The always-excellent Vinokurov guide to writing questions, referenced in the podcast, is available in full here.

GPQB Podcast Episode #16: Advanced History Studying

In the 16th episode of the GPQB podcast, Chris talks with Will Alston and Eric Mukherjee about strategies for studying and playing history questions. This is a bit more advanced than some of our previous podcasts, but there are plenty of strategies here that will be quite useful for all players. Note that this is a double-sized episode, so it’s closer to 30 minutes than our usual 15.

Click HERE to listen or download the podcast.

Some of the study resources mentioned in this podcast include:
Quinterest question database
aseemsDB question database
The History of Rome Podcast
Revolutions Podcast
History of England Podcast

Developing as a Player, Part One: How to Study

As we prepare for the beginning of a new quizbowl season, many players would like to know how they can improve and score more points for their teams. As a player who went from never having heard a pyramidal question to regularly scoring 100 ppg on IS sets in the span of a few months, I will share with you some tips and methods that I used to improve myself.

I will start with a disclaimer: I cannot guarantee that my methods will work for you. The overall best advice I can give is to find a way to study that works for you and roll with it. For example, many quizbowlers like using flashcards to learn topics. I do not. But if you decide that you prefer using flashcards to my method, by all means go ahead and use them. Do what suits you.

Here’s the method I used to do in-depth studying of specific topics, step by step.

Figure out what you like: Having an interest in a topic makes it much easier to study. If you like classical music, try to take on learning about it in a quizbowl context. If you’re a history lover, pick some of your favorite historical figures and events and choose to learn more about them. Just about any academic discipline you may like has some representation in quizbowl. Pick what you want to study, and go from there.

Explore your subject’s canon: It’s easy to feel as if quizbowl covers an infinite amount of things and that it’s impossible to learn them all. Fortunately, this is not actually the case. Look through packets used in previous tournaments, and you will find that many answerlines repeat themselves; this is often referred to as the “canon,” and picking up on what these topics are and studying them in depth is the key to quizbowl improvement. So take some time to find what those common topics are. The High School Quizbowl Packet Archive is an excellent resource for you to do this. Once you have a good grip on the canon for your chosen subject, you can move on to more intense studying.

Take notes on old packets: Not only are many of the answerlines the same in quizbowl, many of the clues are as well. Thus, I have found that the best way to improve is to make strong efforts to familiarize yourself with these clues so that you can readily associate them with their respective answerlines in matches. is perhaps the best place to find questions to familiarize yourself with. For example, if you want to learn more about Edgar Allan Poe, simply type his name into the search bar, and set the difficulty to high school (note: if you’re getting into preparing for higher-level stuff like HSNCT, PACE NSC, or NASAT, it may help to look at college clues, but don’t worry about that yet). Read through the results, and see what works of his come up often. See “Masque of the Red Death” a few times? It may be a good idea to try to read that story if you can, or at least look at a plot summary. It’s best to be able to look at the source material whenever possible, but time doesn’t always allow for that, so do what you can.

Another major tip for this part, since I believe it’s the bread and butter of good studying: write notes as you read these old clues. Writing things down has a much longer-lasting effect on memory than simply reading them does, and it will ensure that you’re using your study time wisely.

Use practice methods to reinforce what you’ve learned: Ideally, you’ll be able to do this at team practices so you and your teammates can get used to playing with each other. But if this isn’t possible, or if you want to do some extra work on your own, I recommend Protobowl. Make a room, set the difficulty to high school, and set the category to whatever category you’re studying. There’s a bit of a stigma in the quizbowl world against using Protobowl, but my personal opinion (which you can go with or ignore as you choose) is that it’s a worthwhile tool if you use it correctly. It’s easy to fall into the trap of just using Protobowl all the time instead of doing focused packet study. Don’t do that. Use Protobowl practices to supplement and reinforce the notes you’re taking. It helps keep the material fresh in your mind, and may provide that extra bit of memory you need to get that great buzz on the final tossup.

So, that’s my method. It’s not very fancy, nor is it very hard. It can be time-consuming, depending on how much effort you want to put in, but that decision I leave entirely up to you. I hope this guide is a help, please leave a comment with your thoughts. Good luck this quizbowl season and happy studying!

Ryan Bilger

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.

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.

Most of the time, coaches of any kind of academic competition team want their team to do well. But they may not understand exactly how to do that, especially outside of better-known local formats and competitions. All coaches likely have a busy schedule with family, work, and personal issues to juggle along with quizbowl. So how can a busy coach (who may be sponsoring other activities at the same time) better prepare his or her team without making quizbowl an undue burden? 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 and ease your burden. So how do you build a successful quizbowl program?

a. Making Time and Space for a Team. Getting word out about your 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 after school helps immensely. Start practices as early as you can during the school year rather than wait–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 lots of practices, then your students will be too.

b. Building an Institutional Reputation. You probably have somewhat of a loose 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 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 the students necessarily dedicated to playing, just helping 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