How do I start a Quiz Bowl team?

Welcome to the world of quizbowl!

Quizbowl encompasses a wide range of specific formats and names (Quizbowl, Scholars Bowl, Academic Challenge, Academic Competition, etc.), but in general buzzer-based academic competitions that test academic knowledge are part of the world of quizbowl.

This page is a guide to how to set a quizbowl team up at your school. [If you already have a team, you might be interested in our guide to improving a team for coaches or our guide to improving as a player.]

Feel free to leave a comment if you have questions or email us at gpquizbowl@gmail.com (we’re happy to work with teams from anywhere!).

I. The Basics
II. Steps to Setting up a Team
A. Holding an Interest Meeting
B. Running Practices
C. Finding and Attending Tournaments
III. Other Administrative Tasks

The Basics Every Quizbowl Team Needs: 

1. An adult willing to take responsibility for the players at tournaments. This could be an official coach or sponsor or just an interested parent. Your school/district’s policy on extracurriculars will largely dictate who this person is, but at the bare minimum you need to have an adult with responsibility present at practices and tournaments. Note though that coaches don’t necessarily have to “coach” the whole time; busy teachers are totally fine to spend time grading and planning at most tournaments.

Some quiz bowl teams are more student-centered than others with students organizing practices and running the team while the coach supervises; other schools have more involvement and direction from a coach. Either model can work, though ideally both the players and the coach/sponsor work together to help share the burden of running the team.

2. Practice questions. Fortunately, there is a practically unlimited supply of quizbowl practice questions available for free online. Start reading the novice packets first and then work your way through other packets and tournaments. You might be interested in our guide to improving for players at all levels, which has suggestions for specific packets and techniques.

You can also purchase old NAQT questions from NAQT as well as frequency lists of how often different topics have come up.

3. [Optional, but recommended] A buzzer set. It’s definitely possible to practice quizbowl either online or by playing “slapbowl” (slapping the table) without a buzzer set, but it’s a good idea at some point to invest in a buzzer set to hone your players’ buzzer skills.

Buzzers cost anywhere from $200 upwards. Interestingly, the cheaper ones (like the Anderson set, reasonably priced around $250) seem to be more popular and longer-lasting than the more expensive ones. Since you usually earn a $5 discount off the cost of each tournament that your bring your buzzer set to, over time the buzzer set will pay for itself in discounts (this is a good line to use when asking for funding!). You can also enter the MattsBuzzers yearly drawing for a potential free buzzer set. Potential sources of funding for a buzzer set include your principal, student activities boosters, PTAs, parents of quizbowl team members, your district’s gifted office, or online fundraisers.

First Step: Interest Meeting

Once you have a sponsor, some practice questions, and either a buzzer set or a good table for slapping-in (students may also shout “buzz” instead to save the tables), you should hold an interest/organizational meeting to introduce potential team members to quizbowl and play some practice questions.

Some sponsors recruit for this interest meeting via morning announcements and fliers, others identify specific students to recruit based on feedback from other teachers (it’s hard to turn down a personalized invitation to join a quizbowl team, especially if you notify the parents too). Usually, word-of-mouth among intellectually curious students is going to be your best bet, so do whatever it takes to get the word out.

At this meeting, the best thing to do is to just start reading questions so that students get exposed to how pyramidal quizbowl questions work. From my experience, it takes about 15 minutes for students to “get it” and then they’re hooked. I like to start out with just tossups, then add bonuses later.

You can also take care of logistical issues like figuring out when to run practices and should probably pass out a sheet of quizbowl resources (feel free to link to any of our guides for improving on GPQB) for students to learn a bit more about on their own (or make a Schoology or Google Classes page of links).

Second Step: Running Practices

The bread-and-butter work of preparing for quiz bowl takes place at practices. Practices usually take place after school once or twice a week, but some schools also hold practices before school, during homeroom, during lunch, during activity periods, or during a designated class period. Most practices last from an hour to two hours and involve someone reading questions and players answering them. Practices can be held with students playing as individuals or as teams–both are good ways to practice different skills.

If you have enough students, it may be helpful to have separate novice and veteran (or freshmen/sophomore and junior/senior) practice rooms to allow new players to get a chance to buzz and for more advanced players to play on harder questions. It is highly recommended that players take notes at practice of questions that they miss or clues that they need to learn so that they can go home and study. Some coaches also designate a student to keep track of how many questions in various topics students get to help identify different strengths and weaknesses.

If you want to get a really competitive team though, students will need to not only pay careful attention in their classes but also prepare outside of practice. For out-of-practice studying advice and general guides to improvement, see the section on “Improving at Quiz Bowl

Third Step: Going to Tournaments

You should ideally go to as many tournaments as possible during a year, but the number of tournaments that you attend is totally up to your team. Some new teams think they need to wait until they are “good enough” to go to tournaments, but the nature of pyramidal quizbowl allows all teams to get some competitive matches and learn clues no matter how strong they are at first.

Tournaments are also good team-bonding events that can help build team chemistry and inspire players to do better. If you treat tournaments as learning opportunities, you’ll enjoy them regardless of how well you do and can use them as catalysts for improvement at future tournaments. Try to get to a nearby tournament as soon as you get your team formed.

Note that teams in quizbowl usually consist of anywhere from 1 to 6 players, with up to 4 players allowed to play at one time. Lineup changes from tournament to tournament are fine–in fact, changing your lineup at the first few tournaments can be a good chance to get an idea of how different groups of players work together.

We also have a guide for teams who are attending their first tournaments that may be useful.

Finding Tournaments

Your first stop for finding out when and where local tournaments in PA are going to be held should be the tournament schedule page located here on GPQB. There are also other tournaments posted (often with field updates and other info) on the HSQB message boards and database. In general, outside of major holidays and the start and end of the school year, there is usually a quiz bowl tournament going on somewhere within driving distance of Greater Pennsylvania on any given weekend during the school year.

In addition to finding tournaments online, you may be contacted by a tournament host via email.  Be sure to find out, at the very least, what question set is being used at that tournament and as much logistical information as possible before registering for these tournaments if such information is not included in the email.

Registering for tournaments is a commitment–do not officially “register” for a tournament until you have confirmed transportation, funding, any liability forms, and a commitment on your players’ part to come. It’s fine (and encouraged!) to email a host and “express interest” before you have firm commitments, but do not officially register until you have everything confirmed.

Factors to Consider When Deciding What Tournaments to Attend: 

The first is cost–how much will it cost your team? Note that there are often discounts for new teams, travel distance, buzzer sets, and sometimes for schools that bring multiple teams. If finances are a sincere problem for your team (this is often true for many new teams who don’t have a dedicated funding source yet), you should try to contact the tournament host and work out a deal.

The second is the type of questions used. We at GPQB highly recommend attending as many tournaments as possible on pyramidal questions and only list those tournaments on our schedule. Even if your local format is different, you can still learn much more–and often at a more effective cost-per-question rate–at pyramidal quizbowl tournaments and use that knowledge at local tournaments or leagues.

Be warned that there are “mirrors” of different question sets around the country–for instance, a school in Maryland may run a tournament on the same set of questions that a school in upper NJ did. It is your responsibility to make sure that you do not attend two tournaments on the same question set!

The third and perhaps most important factor to consider is the host’s record of running tournaments. Has the host been able to run an on-time tournament before or have past iterations lasted until 9 PM? Talk to other coaches and teams around the region and you can get a good idea. You also may find information by searching online for past iterations of these tournaments.

Administrative Tasks:

As a coach or sponsor, you will be responsible for all of the administrative tasks that come with running an extracurricular. These specific responsibilities vary (sometimes dramatically) from school to school, but in general will involve getting official approval for the team as an extracurricular, planning out the budget, running practices, deciding what tournaments to attend, and others.

You may also be involved in a local tournament or county league. The responsibilities involved in these vary depending on your local IU or league structure. These can be a great opportunity to meet nearby teachers and coaches and many leagues and IUs (though not all) in Pennsylvania have started to move to using pyramidal questions.

Hosting Tournaments:

Once you’ve got a team established, you may want to consider hosting a tournament. Hosting a tournament is a great fundraising opportunity, but also takes some careful preparation. It is probably a good idea to start small and local at first and once you get the hang of hosting start to expand. The Pennsylvania region could definitely use more tournaments, so check the calendar for open dates.

See the full Tournament Hosting guide for details.

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