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College Practices

Posted: Thu Sep 27, 2012 4:28 pm
by jmannor2
Hey everyone, I'm kind of curious how quiz bowl playing colleges around the nation organize and do their practices. Here at Auburn, I run practice Monday through Thursday from 5:15 to 7:00. I know that everyone probably has a lot going on with coursework and other activities, and I ask everyone to attend at least one practice a week. I think we get a pretty good turnout every day with numbers in attendance ranging from about 6-13 with most days right around 8 or 9 members in attendance. Considering we have only just branched out to the Auburn public this past month (with flyers on a few billboards on campus), is having about 17 people ranging from semi-regular (once a week) to regular (attending most practices) members attending high or low?

Also, how do you guys run your practices? We usually just read like 2 packets. Most players on our team are brand new to pyramidal quiz bowl, so for the last few weeks I have just been reading questions to let them get used to the format. Yesterday, I recommended that everyone should bring a notebook and write down answers that they are interested in and maybe some clues from the question. Is there any other way to run practices?

So pretty much what I am asking is:

1. When and how long does your college team practice?
2. How many regular members attending practice constitutes a successful number of members for a school's team?
3. Is there a different way to practice other than reading packets and having everyone write in their notebooks?


Re: College Practices

Posted: Thu Sep 27, 2012 4:51 pm
by Skepticism and Animal Feed
17 different regulars at practice is probably well above the 90th percentile.

I'll note that during the one week in 2011 where everyone was using Google+, the University of Maryland used the "hangout" feature of G+ to invite myself, Eric Mukherjee, and Jerry Vinokurov to their practice via videoconferencing. We were able to hear questions and buzz, with the low power of the microphone being a bigger problem than lag. That was kind of cool, and it might let people who are sick or otherwise bedridden attend practice.

Re: College Practices

Posted: Thu Sep 27, 2012 4:56 pm
by Cheynem
Practices I guess differ depending on the needs and style of your team.

At Minnesota, we typically met twice a week from 6-9 PM. Generally speaking we read packets. Despite attempts at it, our practices have never really featured the more organized structure of some clubs in which actual "study session" type things are arranged. I have found that the best results of packet reading is to perhaps feature brief discussion when needed of particular topics (for instance, "hey, what is that story about?", as well as an identification of key points to buzz on for well known answerlines. We've had in recent years especially decent retention and improvement, so hopefully this does some good.

The most important principles of practice that I've noticed are:

1. You or someone else must take initiative to organize the practice. The biggest thing that can kill a practice is the feeling of haphazardness--what to read, where to find it, etc. Have an idea of what packets you are going to read--you don't have to read them all, but that way you can set the tempo. For inexperienced teams, reading a packet can be an odd chore--you see a list of packets, but you have no idea what to read so you end up reading something inappropriate (at a recent practice for Morris' team, the person running the practice ended up randomly reading the 2001 NSC because "that's what he clicked on"). Also, this avoids the odd tendency I see in inexperienced teams to just keep reading the same tournaments over and over because they don't know what else to read.

2. You must take it seriously. I'm not saying don't have fun and don't be afraid to have a sense of humor, but quizbowl practice is to practice at quizbowl and do quizbowl-related things. It is not time to watch a YouTube video or talk about your day (again, I mean have that be your focus--obviously a quick story or a somewhat humorous link is fine, but it shouldn't take up fifteen minutes of practice time!). Some clubs ask that people not do homework or play around on their laptops; our team doesn't really enforce it, but I will say that the people who try to do both usually end up having an unproductive practice and doing stupid things like buzz in on bonuses (or not buzz in on tossups) or neg in ridiculous ways that show they weren't paying attention. It's one thing I guess for an experienced player to sit in the back and unobtrusively use his laptop while he or she lets novice players play; it's another thing for everyone on the team to only sort of be paying attention and you want to nip that instantly.

Everything flows from those two points I think. If you have those straightened out, deciding whether or not to split into two rooms or who will read or anything of that nature is at least based on the foundation that this is an organized, serious practice.

Re: College Practices

Posted: Thu Sep 27, 2012 6:46 pm
by No Rules Westbrook
That was kind of cool, and it might let people who are sick or otherwise bedridden attend practice.
I think quizbowl will be greatly benefitted if sickly albinos, agoraphobes, and persons with deadly contagious diseases are able to get in valuable qb practice time. Finally, a practical way to grow this game.

Edit: Also, we can't overlook the criminally insane who can't secure release from mental asylums to attend practice.

Re: College Practices

Posted: Thu Sep 27, 2012 10:06 pm
by ValenciaQBowl
sickly albinos
That's 70% of most fields I see. Surely there's a point of diminishing returns.

Re: College Practices

Posted: Thu Sep 27, 2012 10:29 pm
by TulaneKQB
That's pretty impressive that you can make enough time to practice four times a week--I think we would get tired of seeing each other if we practiced more than our Tuesday/Thursdays. We usually read one academic packet with one half of the room against the other half of the room, and then play an "anything goes, anyone can buzz whenever" trash packet to unwind. I've found that playing the trash segment that way helps because it gives the not-as-good players a chance to participate, which keeps attendance up.

Re: College Practices

Posted: Fri Sep 28, 2012 11:06 am
by grapesmoker
If you can get 10 people to come and stay on a regular basis, you are doing superlatively. Brown and Berkeley both practiced twice a week for 2 to 3 hours each practice; I think that twice-weekly schedule is really good because you can learn something on the first day and hear it come up again on the second, and this is a good way of reinforcing learning.

Re: College Practices

Posted: Fri Sep 28, 2012 1:22 pm
by Tale of Mac Datho's Pachycephalosaur
As someone intimately involved with a relatively new team, I can't understate the importance of having multiple practice slots available during the week. I run one formal practice on Tuesday afternoons and a less formal one on Friday evenings, and I usually get about 7 or 8 people, with an overlap of 4 or 5. One thing you have to understand is that, barring some sort of extraordinary event, you probably aren't going to have more than 15 active members at a time, especially as a new team.

In my experience, a decent way to keep people showing up is to not *just* read packets. For example, in the coming weeks, we'll likely be screening a great film on the Popol Vuh, and I have recently initiated a practice where everyone gives a 1-minute overview of an interesting topic (with attention paid to buzzable words and context--for example, I gave a quick summary of the Hall Effect on Tuesday). My hope is that substituting a variety of still-academic activities for just mundane packet-reading (wherein each person may only answer one question correctly) will help keep interest and attendance up.

Another thing I've been trying to do is help people get a handle on their subject specialization. A lot of times, new players don't know where to start, so just pointing them towards a resource gets them the push they need.

Lastly, if you're from a city with multiple collegiate teams--I've heard that holding a joint practice every week or two helps. It gets people playing against some different individuals (with different areas of expertise), and it also lets people form a group they feel comfortable with.

Re: College Practices

Posted: Fri Sep 28, 2012 1:49 pm
by Skepticism and Animal Feed
I forget which school it was, but some school I attended once moved from a two-practices-per-week format to a three-practices-per-week format, with the intent of giving people more flexibility.

What actually happened is that fewer people attended any practices at all, because each individual practice was smaller and people seemed to lose respect for the practices.

But we may have screwed up in some other way, and other people in this thread seem to have sucess with three or more practices per week.

Re: College Practices

Posted: Sat Sep 29, 2012 11:04 pm
by Ethnic history of the Vilnius region
South Carolina has tended to practice for 2 hours a night, 3 nights a week over the years. Our practices usually consist of just packets, with the occasional very special practice that focuses on quizbowliana (like question writing and whatnot). Our attendance has varied greatly over the course of a year, with between 3-11 people coming to practices regularly depending on the week. This year, we've had great recruiting, so we're getting a solid 10-15 people at practice every night, and the practices have been very productive. I hope we can keep that up. Since our team is basically starting from scratch due to the loss of several experienced players, we've basically just been reading novice-level questions (old college novice questions, Delta Burkes, and some HSAPQ sets). I think we're about ready to step it up a notch now, though.

I think Mike makes great points about the importance of keeping things organized. I've certainly seen time wasted with internet videos, people reading newspapers, and whatnot. Figuring out a way to minimize nonsense is a good idea. Also, like Mike said, if you're running practice, be sure to get there on time and have questions ready to read. I've been guilty of the opposite before, and it's a surefire way to keep practice unproductive and ill-attended. Finally, it's smart to cross train some people on running practices so you can miss practice or be late without people sitting there idly.

I think our practices have been easy to run this year because most of our players are on about the same level. A challenge I've seen that I'm not sure how to address is when you have a mix of novices and more advanced players. Obviously reading a mix of questions or having separate novice practices are ideas, but if anyone knows other ideas, I'm interested.

Re: College Practices

Posted: Sun Sep 30, 2012 3:22 am
by tiwonge
Skepticism and Animal Feed wrote:I forget which school it was, but some school I attended once moved from a two-practices-per-week format to a three-practices-per-week format, with the intent of giving people more flexibility.

What actually happened is that fewer people attended any practices at all, because each individual practice was smaller and people seemed to lose respect for the practices.

But we may have screwed up in some other way, and other people in this thread seem to have sucess with three or more practices per week.
This happened to us one year.

Re: College Practices

Posted: Sun Sep 30, 2012 9:33 am
by ThisIsMyUsername
Yale practiced twice a week for two hours each practice (I speak in the past tense here, since I'm referring to how I ran things, but I suspect Matt Jackson is changing little to nothing). I inherited the tradition from my predecessors of always dividing the practicing players into teams (I didn't realize that this is less common, until Kevin told me that most teams do not do this), and I took this further by running almost every practice as a series of real games: score was kept, teams needed to come up with one answer for bonuses, answers had to be given in time (NAQT practices were run on the clock), protests were handled as they would be in a match, etc.

I believe in this because it accustoms everyone to always working as part of a team. Players learn how to collaborate on bonuses (when to speak up, how to listen to each other and decide on an answer among themselves, etc.). It also helps players find the playing style that's most beneficial to the team (depending on the situation and teammates), because they can see how risk-taking is affecting their team. Of course, it's good to change teams up from match to match so that players can experiment with being a cog in a stronger team and being the leader of a weaker team, and learn how to adapt to playing different roles as needed. These skills can be as important as your actual knowledge base in winning close matches, and are generally beneficial to the playing experience.

It's also good to rotate readers, both to give players who are overshadowed in their categories by particular other players a chance to shine in a game every now and then, and to make sure everyone gains moderating experience.

I found that even players who attended lots of practices rarely absorbed many clues via osmosis, unless they were making a concerted effort to learn clues (different players will want different things from the game and one has to adapt practices to their needs), but running practices like this ensured that everyone on the team (no matter what their knowledge base was) knew how to function as a part of a team whether they were playing a tournament or helping to run a tournament.

This may not be the way to go if you're just starting out (since it can be a little intense, and you also need five or six decent players for this to work), but once you're a stable institution, it works well.

Re: College Practices

Posted: Sun Sep 30, 2012 8:54 pm
by marnold
The variety of practice gameplay has interested me. Chicago essentially always played free-for-all tossups, collaborative bonuses and never played with buzzers (with the one exception being when we played teams for Designate Bowl). When I showed up to Columbia, they always played two teams with buzzers with score being kept. I've been slowly bullying them into Chicago-style practices, because:
(1) keeping score can take a surprising amount of time (Do we have a team name!? Did we 20 or 30 that!? Oh, I knew that bonus you just got! It's not fair that that team has all the good players!),
(2) One of the hardest thing for new players to do is know when they know something and feel confident buzzing on knowledge (or even solid guesses). Playing with a team tends to clam up new players because OH NO I NEGGED US OUT OF IT. Free-for-all encourages more risk taking by new players and, importantly, also by more experienced players; good players will neg more which gives other people a chance to answer questions, it shows negging is not the end of the world, and it can sometimes illuminate how one can go about thinking through a question.

That said, practice is wildly overrated as a method of improvement.