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Coach Reading for Own Team: Advantage?

Posted: Sun Aug 12, 2012 8:34 am
by ValenciaQBowl
The thread on clocks recently included a bunch of posts discussing having coaches read at tournaments like HSNCT, all of which seem to assume that having a coach read for his/her own team is an unfair advantage to that team that needs to be avoided.

I think we had this discussion in the college section many years back but can't remember for sure. In any case, I've always argued that there's no real benefit to having one's coach read for one's team. I know that regular college teams don't have coaches, but CC teams always do, and I've never sensed any advantage for players hearing their own coach read, though I know there are a lot of conflicting opinions on this. The only advantage I can think of is if the coach/reader does obviously unfair/cheating things like giving his team more time or accepting mangled answers or something. Or maybe if a coach/reader has a particular accent or bizarre reading tic that his own players can manage better, maybe that would matter (though one hopes that such a person wouldn't read at all). I've heard folks argue that players are more "comfortable" or something if their coach is reading to them, but how can that help them answer a toss-up if they don't know it?

FWIW, my players usually (though not always) complain to me that they don't like it if I read to them at a tournament, as they feel "more pressure," though I think this is just as imaginary as feeling comfortable.

Anyway, is this only something to worry about for HS players? After all, I read DII at the ICT last year and was surprised to find myself in a room doing matches for the opening bracket including my Valencia Black team, and I read to them once. Was that an unfair advantage for them? And what about for regular college tournaments: even though coaches don't exist, is there an unfair advantage if one gets to hear a teammate read?

Re: Coach Reading for Own Team: Advantage?

Posted: Sun Aug 12, 2012 2:05 pm
by Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN)
My opinion is this: basically 99% of high school coaches who are involved enough in good quizbowl to be good moderators are also trustworthy enough to be safe to read for their team without it affecting the match in any way. As such, if a coach I trust tells me they can read a regular tournament I run, I have no qualms letting them read anywhere, and telling coaches who have a problem with it to cry me a river. However, at nationals, the stakes are high enough that on those merits alone, you should never put coaches in a position where they could remotely risk affecting the tournament in any way (and bear in mind, it's not just reading for your team that can affect the tournament - if you were to be reading another competitive game and somehow screwed it up, you could send along a weaker team that could help weed out your own team's competition, stuff like that). More pertinent to the problems, too, are that moderators make mistakes, and, if a coach is the moderator and they make a mistake that affects some important placement, that would be a PR disaster for everybody, and would be horribly embarrassing for the coach. It's better for everybody if coaches agree to sit out those tournaments and just watch their team. Especially give that it was a mere 2 years ago when Amit Bilgi cheated his team to a second place finish at PACE, and cheating is known to occasionally happen in some regular events, quizbowl has proven it absolutely cannot just tell teams "hey, we trust you'll do the right thing" and just leave it at that for the most important events of the year.

Frankly, given what Shantanu did this year, I'm hesitant to say that college nationals should allow coaches reading either. Again, the stakes are low enough at regular events and the number of untrustworthy quizbowl people at the college level is basically nonexistant, but again, why open yourself up to problems when NAQT has the funds to pay for other readers who don't have the same baggage if they screw something up?

Re: Coach Reading for Own Team: Advantage?

Posted: Sun Aug 12, 2012 2:13 pm
by Cheynem
In terms of college, people from a particular team (or who have affiliations to a team) read all the time for their teammates and I don't see that as a problem at all. I agree that at nationals, particularly let's say in playoffs or finals situations where it's easier to rearrange things, this is probably best to be avoided. I remember Seth Teitler not reading a match against us when we played a Selene-led Chicago team, for instance. On the other hand, the dastardly Eric Douglass read a match for my team when I played South Carolina at Nats one year and I am sure is for that reason and not for the fact USC scored hundreds of more points that we lost.

I think common sense is the key here. If I edit MUT and there are house teams, I'm probably going to read to those teams at our mirror of MUT, so that's unavoidable. In fact, I would go so far as to say I should be able to read the finals without any incident. As Charlie notes, at nationals the stakes are higher--perhaps if Rob edits ACF Nationals, for example, he shouldn't read for Minnesota in the finals--that sort of thing.

Re: Coach Reading for Own Team: Advantage?

Posted: Sun Aug 12, 2012 3:47 pm
by Angry Babies in Love
At HSNCT it seems like it's usually easy enough to switch readers such that the costs are so low they don't outweigh any sort of benefit that comes from avoiding intentional or unintentional advantage a team gets when they have their coach read.

Re: Coach Reading for Own Team: Advantage?

Posted: Sun Aug 12, 2012 4:10 pm
by Dominator
I mean, yes, Charlie, there are potential cases where a coach might make a mistake, but some coaches are some of the most experienced people in quizbowl, so having them read lessens the probability of a mistake. As to what Chris was saying, last year's IMSA A would be similar to Valencia: I read for them several times at tournaments, and they insist I always gave the other team an advantage.

EDIT: As for playoff matches, especially at nationals, I completely agree that an extra level of security is necessary, even if only to give the perception of legitimacy. At HSNCT, though, way more readers are needed for the prelims than the playoffs, and so a handful of coaches moderating Saturday but not Sunday could work. At other tournaments with other structures, that kind of deal is less swingable.

Re: Coach Reading for Own Team: Advantage?

Posted: Sun Aug 12, 2012 4:29 pm
by Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN)
I know that coaches are often extremely talented moderators - however, here's my point: every moderator makes mistakes. I usually make multiple small mistakes during the course of a tournament, occasionally one that will necessitate a protest, and I get praised as one of the better readers in my area. I at least make a really good faith effort every time to properly resolve my own mistakes so that the outcome of games aren't affected by them. In any case, if you're a director of a national, and you already know going in that every moderator you hire for your tournament will probably screw something up in some way or another, and a few of them will even do something extra boneheaded that might affect a match outcome, which situation would you rather see happen:

A. The moderator who makes a mistake is a coach, and even though the mistake was made by pure accident and there was no ulterior motives behind it, the fact it was a coach still opens you up to speculation about the coach's behavior, and also gets somebody angry with the TD that they allowed somebody with an attachment to a team to be a staffer.

B. The moderator who makes the mistake isn't a coach, and thus is basically as 100% impartial from all imaginable standpoints as possible, meaning nobody can really suspect that the moderator did anything wrong other than simply making an honest mistake.

In both situations, the same thing happened, but in one, there's WAY more opportunity for nagging coaches and parents to flip out and blame the director for irresponsible selection of staff, and especially at a tournament as huge as the HSNCT, you know there have to be tons of people there who might flip out over nothing. If I were the director, it would be pretty obvious to me which route I would go for determining my staff, and in my own coaching capacity I recognized this fact and refused to staff PACE on my own when I had been invited to do so because I wanted to make sure I didn't open myself and the tournament up to being criticized by some other team.

Re: Coach Reading for Own Team: Advantage?

Posted: Sun Aug 12, 2012 5:24 pm
by Kyle
A companion question is whether it could be unfair for a college student to read for his or her former high school teammates. In some areas, I suspect this is even more common than a coach reading for his or her team. At least with coaches, you're talking about adult employees of a school in a position of authority; with students, you could be talking about a 19-year-old reading for his own 18-year-old friends. It shouldn't be a problem, of course, but I bet it easily could become one.

Re: Coach Reading for Own Team: Advantage?

Posted: Sun Aug 12, 2012 6:39 pm
by Scaled Flowerpiercer
Kyle wrote:A companion question is whether it could be unfair for a college student to read for his or her former high school teammates. In some areas, I suspect this is even more common than a coach reading for his or her team. At least with coaches, you're talking about adult employees of a school in a position of authority; with students, you could be talking about a 19-year-old reading for his own 18-year-old friends. It shouldn't be a problem, of course, but I bet it easily could become one.
I agree with this, and certainly I think there is just as much chance that a college kid will make a mistake that appears to have been favoritism for his team as there is that a moderator would do the same thing. Though everything that Charlie said certainly makes sense, it seems that it would be very hard to get a very large collection of (good and) completely unbiased readers who are not affiliated in some manner with the teams at the tournament, and I would think that most coaches would be just as, if not more trustworthy than a recent alumnus of a school.

Re: Coach Reading for Own Team: Advantage?

Posted: Sun Aug 12, 2012 7:44 pm
by bag-of-worms
I could see instances where a reader might be harsher to former teammates. That must also be considered.

Re: Coach Reading for Own Team: Advantage?

Posted: Sun Aug 12, 2012 8:41 pm
by Windows ME
Yeah whenever I read for my old high school I'm probably harsher than usual on them. Goes both ways.

Re: Coach Reading for Own Team: Advantage?

Posted: Mon Aug 13, 2012 4:23 am
by kayli
Yeah, well, being harsher isn't exactly good either. The idea is to be impartial or at least as impartial as possible.

Re: Coach Reading for Own Team: Advantage?

Posted: Tue Aug 14, 2012 12:00 pm
by jonpin
I find there to be another factor in play, and it's the same reason I'm annoyed every time a six-team round robin has Team 1 stay in the same room all day. Hearing a moderator a lot does tend to build a familiarity with their rhythm and their speech. If I consistently mispronounce a certain foreign language, the students who I read to every week are going to be the most able to decipher what was meant. If one player on each team is waiting for that clue to become confident in their guessed answer, the student who I read to every week (or failing that, the team who I've read the last four games in a row to) is going to be more comfortable in the pace of my reading to know exactly when to buzz. I don't really know if either of those ever leads to a material advantage in practice, but they feel like possible advantages regardless of however much a moderator strives for impartiality.

Re: Coach Reading for Own Team: Advantage?

Posted: Tue Aug 14, 2012 12:14 pm
by Skepticism and Animal Feed
In the league I played in for high school, it was standard practice for the two coaches to read each round: one coach would read the first half of the match, the other coach would read the second half of the match. Impartial people actually volunteering their time to read us questions was unheard of.

Re: Coach Reading for Own Team: Advantage?

Posted: Tue Aug 14, 2012 12:54 pm
by Howard
jonpin wrote:I don't really know if either of those ever leads to a material advantage in practice, but they feel like possible advantages regardless of however much a moderator strives for impartiality.
I think it matters if the teams are very closely matched. I've read in several tournaments where the coaches split reading duties as Bruce described. I recall one match in particular where each half was heavily lopsided toward the team whose coach was reading. I couldn't find anything either of us was doing that was anything but impartial, but the disparate results were striking.

On the other hand, when I volunteer my time at tournaments to read, it's nice to read to my team once or twice, since this is an opportunity to see them play and provide feedback.

In general, I think it's probably a good idea to not let coaches read their own teams when there's something of significance at stake.

Re: Coach Reading for Own Team: Advantage?

Posted: Wed Aug 15, 2012 3:59 pm
by jkulesza
I'm a fan of coaches reading at tournaments, especially tournaments in which there are inexperienced moderators. However, impartiality is the key, and though my experience has been that 99% of the coaches are impartial, I believe people cross the line at times. We've played against a team the last few years in which it seems the coach is dramatically accenting syllables of key buzzwords that he expects his players to buzz on. Some of these matches we've won; others we've lost. I have yet to express my concern to him as I may not be seeing it correctly (especially during a loss), but as this thread is causing me to reflect a bit, I'll certainly be watching closely this coming season and will approach him on it if needed.