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-Building a Competitive Team-

Setting Goals - Setting Expectations - Running a Productive Practice - Next Page
Setting Goals - The first thing you need to know is that building a competitive team is not a one year venture. Hopefully, you will see progress early on, but you should have distinct short-term, medium-term, and long-term goals. The greatest virtue you can possess in your first couple years of coaching is patience. You're not going to win a national championship in your first year. But you can begin to lay a solid foundation for a team and achieve some short-term goals. Short-term success can lead to more confidence and more effort by both individual players and your team as a whole.

Setting Expectations - Assuming that you are taking over a pre-existing team, the new expectations may be more difficult to handle for returning players. If you have disclosed this to your players ahead of time, preferably to their parents as well, they will know what you require of them to be a part of the team.

Running a Productive Practice - Most practices take place after a long day at school. I recommend giving the kids some time to wind down from a long day, grab a drink or snack, and just recover from the day. Once practice begins, the team needs to focus on the matter at hand. Cell phones should be in their pockets with the ringer turned off. Outside distractions are going to happen, but be sure to transition right back to practice when they do.

Now that we have that out of the way, let's talk about how a practice should look. While I'm sure there are many more techniques that coaches have implemented over the years to create a productive practice environment, I have included a few that I have used here.

  • The classic quick recall/quiz bowl practice should look like a match in almost every way. The biggest difference is that players should be taking notes on questions they missed. Sometime later they should take the time to look up anything from these notes on which they need more information. Also, unlike a real match, feel free to provide any extra information between questions that you see as being relevant. Over time, you will get a better feel for what is relevant. If you have an assistant coach, have them keep stats (correct early, correct, incorrect early, and incorrect) or do so yourself so as to track progress. With a new team, learning aggressiveness seems to be the hardest thing. I find it is easier to reign in an aggressive team, than to accelerate a passive one. So, teach them to be overly aggressive at first.
  • List study is the fastest way to build surface level knowledge, and when you're just getting started, that is exactly the type of learning your players should be doing. If you have players that are focused and can be in small groups, you can have them work together or alone. I recommend mixing it up a bit, because no matter how dedicated your team is, it can get monotonous. If you have a large team and your quick recall practice is full, this is one practice method that people can be working on in the background. You may have to isolate this group (with supervision of course) if the quick recall is distracting to them. Within list study each player has to learn the best way to absorb the information for themselves, however, I have found that learning each list as a mini-list of four to five items each works well.
  • I hate for this to come across as an advertisement, but I believe so much in the computer program that I am going to tell you about it anyway. When I first began coaching I found that my students absolutely despised list study. This is a problem when you are starting a new competitive team, as lists are integral to building a solid foundation. Back in high school I had taken a computer programming course (Qbasic). Using this old language I wrote a simple quizzing program and built the lists into a database. The team loved it because they felt like studying the dreaded lists had become a game that tracked their stats. The only problem I ran into was adding more questions and lists. For each player I had to burn it onto a cd and then hope they would load it correctly. That has become easier now, of course, with the advent of flash drives. However, the version of this program that we offer on our website here allows the coach to view everyone's stats. This is nice because you can assign your team to practice from home if you have to cancel.
  • Test taking is a viable option for practice time if, and only if, you are competing in a format that uses formal tests as an event. Depending on the frequency of your practices and the number of practice tests in each subject area that you have available to you, you want to space out how often you take time away from other areas such as studying. However, anytime a player does take a practice test, be sure to have them go back and take notes to be researched later on all of their incorrect and guessed correctly answers.
  • Pop quizzes are a fast way to determine how your team is doing on their list study. Once you have made them a regular part of your practice schedule, you will find that you can fit them into about 3-4 minutes of your practice. Pretty efficient if you ask me.