Starting out a team as a coach

Coaching Odyssey of the MindTM teams is a fun and rewarding experience, although at first it may seem intimidating.

Below are a few tips that will help coaches get started for the program year.

  •  Hold a parent meeting early in the season.

1. Ask parents of team member to list their scheduled commitments and then distribute a calendar. To avoid possible conflicts like vacations, holidays, parent-teacher conferences and the like, consult the school calendar of events before drafting your practice schedules. Include Odyssey of the Mind tournament dates.

2. Explain the importance of attendance by pointing out that for a student to gain the full benefits from the program, he or she must be a continuous part of the team’s solution.

3. Explain the Odyssey of the Mind philosophy.

4. Describe the Odyssey of the Mind process.

5. Enlist the parents’ assistance in providing food, snacks, acting as chauffeurs, serving as judges, assisting at practices, providing an extra pair of hands and volunteering at regional competition.

6. Get a commitment from the team members and their parents – include a review of what you expect from them.

(Examples: Handouts Section – Expectations, Student & Parent Contracts)

7. Explain and stress outside assistance. Help parents understand outside assistance. Like the coach, they can’t volunteer solutions. Use them as resources for teaching the team skills necessary for the problem solution.

  • Coaches can improve the team’s performance by not allowing the team members to waste their creative energy by blaming others. The team creates its own solution and if something goes wrong, it is the team‘s responsibility. Remember Murphy’s Law: “If something can go wrong, it will go wrong.” The team should have a crisis management plan in place so it knows what to do when something breaks down.
  • Coaches keep in mind that Odyssey of the MindTM is a hands-on program for kids and a hands-off program for adults. The team must do all the work. If a breakdown occurs during a competition, the team must fix it.
  • Brainstorming is one of the basics of the Odyssey of the MindTM problem solving process. Encourage team to write down their ideas & generate several possible solutions. Help them see how pieces from different solutions can be combined.
  • Copy & distribute materials/calendars to members/parents to keep them informed of practices/snack schedules.
  • Stay up-to-date on problem clarifications. Check on a regular basis. Suggest submitting a problem clarification if your team is unsure of an aspect of its solution. Be sure to re-read the program guide to avoid unnecessary questions. Cut-off for submitting questions is February 15th.
  • Learn about Spontaneous and practice it as much as you work on long-term and style. Remember, “Think Time” in spontaneous is generally 33% of the problem. Encourage the team to use this time wisely.
  • Be sure the team solves the problem on its own. A coach is to help team members develop creative problem-
    solving skills, not help solve the problem. Before giving any input, ask yourself if it would add to or improve the team’s solution (outside assistance), or if it would teach better problem-solving skills (good coaching).
  • Encourage cooperation. Teamwork is one of the basic principles of Odyssey of the MindTM. All teams go throughgrowing pains, but members will learn to work together in time. Everyone’s idea is important to the group. Make a commitment to the team. Ask your team members to make a commitment to each other.
  • Set ground rules – it is better to have too much structure at first, as you can always ease up. Stress the importance of attending meetings. Set down rules for good sportsmanship and constructive criticism.
  • Read the entire Odyssey of the Mind Program Guide. It’s revised every year, updated rules, new rules and information added. Refer to it often throughout the year. This could make a big difference for teams. Let them know that the problem solutions will be judge according to the stated rules.
  • Keep the team on track – have them get organized and become aware of the importance of sticking to schedules;encourage them to estimate how long things will take.
  • Coaches should always answer a question with a question rather than giving an answer. For example, if asked, “Which hat do you like better” the coach should say something like, “Which one do you think goes best with the theme of the solution?” This encourages the team members to think independently.
  • There is a time limit of 8 minutes for the Long-Term problem. This includes the set-up time, as well as the team’s solution presentation. The 8 minutes does NOT include the take down and clean-up time after the problem is presented. In technical problems, the team will be stopped at the end of the competition time period. If a technical breakdown occurs, the team should know which team member will be responsible for trying to fix it as time continues. In performance problems there is an overtime penalty. In this case, the team may finish its presentation and if it exceeds 8 minutes a penalty will be assessed. There is nothing worse, when the entire solution is in the form of a performance, than stopping the team’s performance before it is finished. This does not allow for the “punch line” or climax of the story. Encourage the team to end in 7 1⁄2 minutes or less.
  • When tired, take a break – sometimes the best solution to the problem is to take a break. Surprise and reward your team with a break and treats during practice. Learn to recognize burnout and when to lighten up. Keep morale high and make the learning/working environment a fun-filled place.
  • The coach should encourage shy members to participate. They often are the ones with the best ideas but are often reluctant to propose them. Thousands of kids have emerged as stars while beginning overly quiet. Sometimes getting shy kids to open up is the most difficult, yet most rewarding experience a coach will encounter.
  • What seems like an acceptable solution today may be replaced by a better idea tomorrow. The team may change and adapt its solution time and again. In the end, the team should be guided to produce a solution of which they are proud. The coach must also accept that he/she may not directly tell the team which idea to pursue. Help them learn how to evaluate their ideas and progress continually throughout each aspect of the problem solution. Remember that the difference between good solutions and excellent ones is in the details and embellishments.
  • Help the team to understand that winning is not the goal. The process of getting there is the important thing-not the competition. Have the team set goals & place them in clear view. Discuss what kinds of goals are helpful.
  • Go over the score results with the team after a competition and discuss how they can make improvements for the future. Don’t make them feel like they have failed if they don’t win. Failing is only when they won’t try again.
  • Plan on mistakes, disappointments and disagreements and decide early in the year how you, as a team will handle them. Be ready to be the rock, motivator, resolver of social conflicts, parent, doctor, lawyer, referee, or friend.
  • Teach contingency planning. Encourage your team to think about backup materials, tool kits, and how to recover from unexpected problems. Have the team make checklist for loading, staging, tasks, etc.
  • Don’t dispute a judge’s ruling without explaining why to the team. Always be sure your dispute is valid and the team wishes to carry it further.
  • Be a real resource person. Teach your team how to acquire the skills they want, and put them in touch with the resources that can help them do that. Take the team on field trips to the hardware and fabric stores.
  • Have fun with the team members – help the team laugh when things go wrong. Help them develop an “Oh, well, back to the drawing board” attitude. Keep them on task, but don’t chide them for failures. Every failure means they learned a way it won’t work. This is part of the learning process.
  • Praise the team members – when the team members have done their best, no matter how they placed at the tournament. Tell them how proud you are of them. Sometimes tears of defeat can turn into smiles just by knowing that you, someone who has become one of the most important people in their lives, think that they are great. That’s what it’s all about anyway!
  • Coaches should try to serve as role models for the team members. It is important that they remain optimistic and maintain their patience. Henry Ford said “that there are no failures, just opportunities”. Coaches need to be enthusiastic and open-minded to suggestions. Don’t complain about other teams, coaches or judges. Coaches should strive to make learning fun!

Relax and enjoy seeing these young, creative minds at work!