To get back to the earlier thread of the question, how to keep newer players involved- this is a topic that should be on the minds of any coach that is trying to build a program. Quizbowl can be very intimidating to new players, particularly when you are dealing with the very strong personalities that often make up quiz bowl's best groups. People who are more confident about their knowledge base and more willing to be aggressive are going to tend to dominate practices, and those same people are often going to be the ones whose "I can't believe you didn't know that" or "that was a completely stupid buzz" reactions, ones that are understood and traded with close teammates at the varsity level as friends, will be totally demoralizing for novices. My players at the upper levels know that they are supposed to be mentors for their younger teammates, and they are expected to try to be encouraging. It really makes a difference to a ninth or tenth grader when the senior who has been to nationals and won a state title comes up to them after practice and says "good work today--keep studying and you'll really get that stuff down."
Yes, there's a fair number of players who are going to bull through regardless of what you do, and those you don't need to worry about. I'm assuming that this question is really more about the borderline players--the ones who show interest or potential, but who are wavering on whether they are good enough or if they want to make the commitment. Getting them to stay, I believe, is about selling them on two things. First, they need to believe that quizbowl is fun. If it isn't fun, why do it? There are plenty of other extracurricular options that are going to be far more appealing to colleges, more immediate-gratification oriented, or less demanding. Second, they need to be given a chance to feel like they are part of something special, not just a potential source of points for the coach. They need to be given a chance to grow into the game as it is played at high levels.
To help accomplish this, I do a couple of things. First, our Varsity and JV practice separately at least once per week. I used to have three practices a week -- one for JV, one for Varsity, and one for both groups together. I can no longer do that, but we make sure that the younger players spend most of their first year of practice playing rounds against other JV-level players. The advantage a 10th grader has on a 9th grader is enough to push them to improve in most cases without making every round a 450-40 beatdown. The younger players develop team relationships and learn where they need to fill in holes, which I think is more important in the JV years than developing speed against a varsity team. Every now and then, the best of the JV get to play a couple rounds against the varsity, and that gives them something to look forward to--a chance to show off and maybe scare the next group by giving them a challenge. The JV kids all want to make that top group that gets to "play up", so they work a little harder to be selected, but no one feels like they aren't part of the JV.
Whenever possible, I take as many teams to events as I can. Yes, this is occasionally expensive, but it is worth it to ask the JV parents to chip in $5 to $10 a player to pay for extra entries so their son or daughter gets to hit a few tourneys each year. There aren't a lot of JV events in our area, so the kids are often playing on a varsity set and putting up very low scores, and frequently, they get crushed by a varsity team from another school, but all it takes is ONE GAME when my ninth graders either beat another school's Varsity or come very close, and they are totally hooked. They see that they CAN compete, and that makes them want to complete. You have to give them a buzzer and let them have the fun that goes with all that practice time, or you're cheating them. I understand the financial issues, and I understand wanting to make kids commit and push themselves to make a team, but that, to me, is more for varsity and out-of-state consideration. I'll let any kid on my team that wants to be there, regardless of talent level, and I'll make sure that kid gets a chance to hold a buzzer at a tourney during the year, because that kid deserves a chance to do it if they come to practice. They won't play Varsity A; they may be JV C. It doesn't matter. They still get to play, and that's what counts. If they like it, and want to move up, they'll work. If they work hard enough, they can fill a role-player spot and make the travel team. If not, they're still welcome at practices, and they are still part of the team. They feel like they are wanted, and that encourages them to work harder.
No, we aren't exactly a powerhouse down here at Hoover. We've had a couple of good years, and are much better this year than we were last year, although I think we're still under the radar for most people. We do, however, have 35 people regularly coming to practice and enjoying themselves. That's a win as far as I'm concerned, because we're spreading quizbowl and getting people to understand that it is actually fun to learn things and to grow as a person academically.
I love this game. I really do. My wife thinks I'm crazy and that I spend too much time coaching kids to go and play with buzzers and worrying about ppb average and who to prep in what areas. I understand why she would think that, but she's wrong. Getting to work with young men and women who really love knowledge and fair competition, who understand honor and respect for one another, and who become a real team working together for a goal is a privilege. If your players know that you feel that way, and that you want them to be there so they experience the joy of being a part of something this great, they'll stay.
Coach, Hoover High School, Hoover, AL