Coaching

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 NAQT.com, 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.

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