How to run a practice
One of the major responsibilities of a team is to run regular practices for their members. In addition to developing a sense of camaraderie amongst teammates, practice is a critical part of developing a player's skill and comfort at the game.
This page is meant to serve as a guide for a captain or coach who is looking for help on how to run effective practices.
Preparing the environment
Ensure your team feels welcome
A quiz bowl team is a social organization and its practices are social gatherings. Its members are competitors but also people. It is the responsibility of every club's leadership to ensure that all members of a team feel welcomed and that none feel excluded.
Ensure that you and your team do not act in a manner which is exclusionary. Establish a code of conduct for your club and be prepared to enforce it. If members of your team are acting inappropriately, be willing to confront them.
Consider your audience
Different teams will have different goals. Some years are meant for rebuilding - some may be intense races to nationals. Both of these attitudes may coexist in the same team, especially if the club is large enough.
In general, practice should aim to be easier and more relaxed. The reasoning for this is two-fold:
- For casual players, practice may constitute the majority of their involvement with the game. While it is certainly reasonable to expose them to harder sets, many players have little incentive to study and aren't necessarily going to gain it by performing poorly at practice.
- Dedicated players will quickly reach the limits of what practice can achieve. Once improvement becomes a goal, it is much more efficient for a player to study individually.
One major source of friction is players of different skill levels expressing interest in sets of different difficulties. Aim to establish a compromise.
Like any other activity, it is important to ensure that practice is held at a time and place that is practical for all those involved.
Choosing a time
- 1. Consider how often your team wants to meet, and for how long
A typical practice will last between one and two hours. Dedicated players may be interested in holding longer practices, especially if the social environment is pleasant. Generally, it is simplest to stay after the official end of practice and allow those who have other commitments to filter out as they desire.
Practice should be held at least once a week - this allows team members to miss a few and still attend many over the course of a year. Some clubs hold it twice - it is known that some teams have practiced up to five times a week.
- 2. Poll your team
Hold an official or unofficial poll of your team. Prioritize times which dedicated members can consistently make. There's no need to please everyone - some members of the team may come infrequently (or not at all) and that's fine.
- 3. Consider backups
Sometimes practice has to be cancelled. Sometimes there will be requests for extra practices. Either way, it's useful to keep in mind what the next best times are.
Choosing a place
Teams which are officially affiliated with an institution should aim to reserve rooms for their chosen times. There should be little reason to hold practice in public spaces unless strictly necessary.
Room reservations will vary widely in how they are handled. One piece of evergreen advice is "plan ahead": if your practices consistently take place at the same time and place, reserve rooms months or even years in advance.
The day of
Either you or another experienced member of the club should be present at every practice to help organize it.
Consider what the goal of a given practice is. At the beginning of a year, it may be appropriate to set aside several practices to introduce new recruits to the game and its rules. Later on, it may be time to prepare your A team for nationals.
Some other things which can serve as the focus of a practice:
- working on a writing project, like a submitted packet or a housewrite
- getting players experience serving as a moderator or scorekeeper
- reading unheard packets for a recently attended tournament
- preparing for an upcoming tournament, whether local or national
The focus of most practices should be on playing questions. Ideally your club has access to a buzzer set - one should be brought to practice as often as possible. If not, there are alternatives like Buzzman or good ol' slapbowl.
The main resource for finding packets is quizbowlpackets.com (external link).
Highschool-level NAQT packets are available using an NAQT account affiliated with a team. Depending on the age of your club, you may have access to paper copies as well.
Trash packets are also available. These are an option that players may appreciate - be careful to avoid making practices entirely themed around pop culture rather than academic quiz bowl, though.
There is not always a need to keep score - indeed, it is more efficient not to. However, it may be beneficial to run mock games if there are the numbers to support it. This is a good option for improving cohesion on bonuses and trying out new team compositions before a tournament.
There are a variety of alternative practice formats which exist to spice up gameplay and help involve players who would not normally participate much.
There is a tendency for teammates to chat in between questions. This is good! However, don't be afraid to refocus your players.
Practice is no good if no one shows up. Though practice is only one part of the game, it is an important one. You should aim to motivate your teammates to come.
One part of this is discussed in the section on logistics: if practice is held at an inconvenient time, it will reduce attendance.
Your school may offer a small budget for food early in the year or for events: take advantage of this. Even if they don't, having pizza or snacks at the opening meeting(s) can help hook those who are on the fence about attending. Organize small events and advertise them to your teammates - if passers-by are interested in the goings-on, you may earn a mid-season recruit as well.
In the average team, there will be two broad cohorts: the experienced players (minority) and the less experienced players (majority). As mentioned above, practice should aim to focus on the latter. This does not, however, mean that the rest should be ignored.
In practice larger than six or seven, there is the potential to separate some of the players and run a second sub-practice. If everyone is of comparable skill, there is less reason to do this. When there is only one or two experienced players, it's typically better to trade off reading duties.
If there are enough resources to handle simultaneous practices (including space to do so), doing so will help ensure that all members of the team get something out of attending.
As alluded to above, practice is only one part of the quiz bowl experience. In particular, a player invested in improvement will have to put in additional work outside of practice to improve.
For more directed advice on how to effectively study, visit the article on studying.