How to Coach Quizbowl
This page is intended as a quick-start guide for anyone who is new to coaching, sponsoring, or advising a quizbowl team. While there may be differences between different specific types of quizbowl, Knowledge Bowl, Scholars Bowl, Scholastic Bowl, Academic Challenge, or whatever other name it may be called in your area, there are a number of common features of quizbowl and general strategies for guiding a team.
Basic Quizbowl Sponsor Guidelines
These are the tasks that every quizbowl sponsor will need to deal with at one time or another. After you build up an initial team, much of this can be student-directed.
- Organize and Recruit a Team
- If you are starting a quizbowl team at a school without an existing team, you'll need to advertise to get the word out about quizbowl. Any PR strategy might work here, though describing quizbowl as "like Jeopardy! with teams" is a common shorthand. Making use of morning announcements, newsletters, school Facebook groups, personalized invitations to intellectually curious students, flyers and posters in hallways and rooms, etc. may all be helpful techniques in recruiting players. See also PACE's excellent guide to quizbowl recruitment for more ideas and advice. If you already have an existing team at your school, use the returning students on the team to help you recruit as well.
- Check to see if your school or district has any specific paperwork that you need to make quizbowl an official activity (this may also have implications for stipends; some districts will give stipends if it's an official activity). You may also want to register for a local city or county or regional league of some kind if your area has it. Note, however, that leagues and regional competitions vary widely in the extent to which they follow good quizbowl practices that provide a fair and fun competition for all students.
- Learn the basic rules of quizbowl
- The specific rules used at local events in your area may vary, but most pyramidal quizbowl tournaments around the country use similar sets of rules from NAQT or PACE or ACF that you can find online. It's worth getting at least a basic sense of the rules by reading over them, though most of the more-detailed aspects will make more sense after attending a few events. It may help to watch some matches of quizbowl on YouTube or a video introduction to quizbowl to get a sense of what quizbowl matches are like, the differences between tossup and bonus questions, and other aspects of the game. Other local coaches or college teams may also be happy to help here, so see if you can get in contact with them (try searching online for nearby events and seeing who's running them or who's listed as a coach for teams).
- Help students attend tournaments
- This means encouraging students to identify and sign-up for tournaments and to complete any requirements that your school or district might have to allow students to compete such as permission slips or other forms. Tournaments are usually posted on the Hsquizbowl.org forums tournament announcements sections, on NAQT's tournament schedule, or on websites for a local league or state competition. In-person tournaments usually require a sponsor or a chaperone on campus with students, but online events usually only need contact information for a sponsor. Check to see what your school or district requires.
- Provide practice space or practice times once or twice a week
- This is usually done in-person, but practices can also be held online. While coaches may need to provide some structure to practices at first by greeting students, introducing the rules of quizbowl to them, and then reading questions, students can usually take over most practice-running duties after some initial assistance from the coach.
- Find a Buzzer System
- Though playing slapbowl or using an online/computer-based buzzer like buzzin.live can work for awhile, at some point it will be a good idea to acquire a quizbowl buzzer system for your team (and you can earn a discount at every tournament to which you bring it, so it eventually will pay for itself). The QBwiki article on buzzers has a good guide to the major systems out there. There may be an existing buzzer system at your school or district in a closet somewhere too, so it never hurts to ask around first and see if anyone might have one.
- Direct students to quizbowl resources
- There are many troves of free quizbowl resources, including practice questions, online at sites like the quizbowl packet archive. See this page for a comprehensive set of resources. Simply providing links to these to students and reminding them to look into them or finding ways to use them yourself will be a huge help.
- Provide advice and support for students
- Students may have questions about quizbowl, frustrations with their own performance, or issues with teammates or other teams, so providing adult supervision and guidance is of course a key part of being a sponsor.
More Advanced Coaching Guidelines
While the "Basic" guidelines above are what every coach or sponsor should be willing to provide, some coaches may want to take a more active role in the development of their teams.
- Monitor practices and tournaments to identify subject-matter or topic-specific weaknesses
- This is where keeping score during practices and tracking the subject of questions at tournaments might be most helpful since players can sometimes have a hard time of recalling exactly what questions they missed after the event. If you do find that, say, your team is struggling on opera questions, this can then be helpful in directing studying and practice towards filling in those gaps. Over time as a coach, you'll also grow to recognize some of the more Stock clues and common answerlines that tend to come up relatively often and can make sure that your team is aware of them.
- Find ways to more effectively teach quizbowl material to students
- Let your pedagogical imagination take flight here and try to think of the best ways to get part of the huge amount of information that might be useful in quizbowl across to your players, who might all be at different levels of existing knowledge as well. You can try varying practice methods, requiring students to give presentations, inviting in guest speakers, putting up posters on your classroom wall of famous paintings, running mixes of pre-test/lecture/post-test setups, etc. This could be an enjoyable challenge for teachers interested in improving their team and stretching their teaching skills.
- Develop a "pipeline" of players at feeder schools
- This is one of the best ways to ensure that your team will have a steady stream of incoming players with at least some quizbowl experience. Finding and assisting new coaches and teams at your feeder schools can really pay off in the long run and is a key part of the success of some of the longest-running quizbowl dynasties.