Coach issues

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Pallas's cat
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Coach issues

Post by Pallas's cat »

A few months ago, I posted a question about academic team tryouts and got some helpful responses about how we should let the team naturally narrow itself down instead of artificially cutting its size. I suggested this to my coach, but he still decided to write his own “tryout” test which was made up of questions taken from middle school packets, online trivia quizzes, and so on. Then, he chose a somewhat arbitrary cutoff score to determine who made it to “round 2”, a playoff round on the buzzers. I don’t have a problem with the people he chose, but I do think it’s unfair to block other people from getting involved in quizbowl (especially since quite a few students who seemed excited about participating got cut, as well as a girl on last year's team who has studied and put in effort).

I think this is part of a larger problem with our school's view towards quizbowl and the academic team. We’ve mostly participated in a non-pyramidal local league, with the more recent addition of 2-3 pyramidal tournaments per year. Our coach obviously enjoys winning tournaments, but it seems like this has driven him (and our funds) towards non-pyramidal events, where placing in the top few spots at NTAE/Panasonic sounds more impressive to the administration than coming in 51st at NSC. Our practices are pretty messy, usually on speed checks or Avery questions as well as questions my coach makes up on the spot as he reads aloud from a magazine or newspaper. This year, a few teammates and I have decided to attend more tournaments on our own, so we’ll see how that goes, but it doesn’t do anything to change the fact that our coach is perennially stuck in a bad quizbowl mindset that gives the wrong impression about how the activity is supposed to be.

After this rambling explanation, I guess what I’m trying to ask is whether it’s worth trying to persuade him to support good quizbowl and to allow more interested kids to participate, or if we should just let him continue with his tryouts and practices and such while attending tournaments separately. For the past few years, several of his players (including me) have tried to talk to him about this, but it doesn’t ever seem to have much of an effect. While I’ve tried to be polite and respectful every time I do so, I’m usually accused of being rude or trying to have too much authority over the team. It’s gotten to the point where we’ve considered quitting his “team” to send some sort of message (while continuing to attend tournaments separately), but I think that might be a bit too dramatic. Does anyone have advice about what to do?

(Note: I definitely don’t mean this as a personal attack on our coach. I respect him and think he’s a decent person, but his views towards playing and coaching quizbowl aren’t exactly the best).
Jackie Wu
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Re: Coach issues

Post by High Dependency Unit »

I don't know how things work at other schools, but are you allowed to sack him and get a new coach/advisor? I'm fairly sure we can at DHS (I guess because it's a "student-run" organization), but I don't know if we're the exception to the norm.
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Pallas's cat
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Re: Coach issues

Post by Pallas's cat »

The problem at our school is that the administration is really attached to him, since the team won the state championship twice when it was on non-pyramidal questions and they think he's a great coach because of that. There's this weird loop where the better we do, the more credit the school gives to him. We're not sure if we can do anything about that.
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i never see pigeons in wheeling
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Re: Coach issues

Post by i never see pigeons in wheeling »

j.wu wrote:The problem at our school is that the administration is really attached to him, since the team won the state championship twice when it was on non-pyramidal questions and they think he's a great coach because of that. There's this weird loop where the better we do, the more credit the school gives to him. We're not sure if we can do anything about that.
There is nothing you can do about that. I would advise you to make your grievances known politely as a coalition. Maybe contact a local figure in the good quiz bowl world with an official-sounding title and advise your coach to talk to that figure about entering good tournaments. Maybe ask if you can devote a few practices to just reading good questions. Point out that the most prestigious national championship in the country (NAQT has brand awareness in remote circuits in ways bad writing companies do not) is on good questions. If your coach is overly attached to winning hardware, however, see if there's a viable way to undertake a velvet divorce whereby you and your teammates strike out to good tournaments on your own.

The administration will not side with you on this. Bypassing your coach and going to admin would do you no good. This kind of thing requires a delicate touch and an instinct for negotiation. Good luck.

Edit: I now see that your school is near Philadelphia. There's no one better for your coach (or you) to talk to about this than Chris Chiego, who's based in Philadelphia. Contact him and get his advice before listening to me.

Edit 2: clarification
Last edited by i never see pigeons in wheeling on Sat Sep 10, 2016 12:00 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Coach issues

Post by Snoopy »

j.wu wrote:Our practices are pretty messy, usually on speed checks or Avery questions as well as questions my coach makes up on the spot as he reads aloud from a magazine or newspaper. This year, a few teammates and I have decided to attend more tournaments on our own, so we’ll see how that goes, but it doesn’t do anything to change the fact that our coach is perennially stuck in a bad quizbowl mindset that gives the wrong impression about how the activity is supposed to be.
Sadly, with coaches like this, it is almost impossible to get them to change their mindsets. So I would concentrate on changing small things.

If your coach is reading at these practices, that might be something that would be worth convincing him to change. Try to get him to give someone else a shot at reading (so they can get better at public speaking [usually works] or whatever argument you want to use). Ensure that they do it the same way that he did it in the beginning, down to the questions from the magazine, whatever that is. Then, a few weeks later, you can say "hey, let's try something different and read x/y/z instead of Averys/SCs/Magazine stuff. We'll just see how it goes for this week." Then butter it up and make sure it goes well and everyone has a good time. If you usually use SCs, then you can try just reading the TUs from an easier set to ease the transition. Proceed to do it every week. Even if it doesn't work, at least he isn't reading, which may be a plus.

What Ankit said works as well. Perhaps you could convince him to alternate good/bad questions every week, as least to start.

In the meantime, I would strongly recommend going to whatever tournaments you like on your own, especially if you have willing teammates, which is certainly a luxury I did not have. If he is already doing 2-3 pyramidal, he probably will not go for more than that.

As for the people who got cut, if there are novice tournaments in your area, perhaps you could bring them to those tournaments on your own and encourage them to try out again next year.

You're not going to get rid of your coach. Don't bother trying; it can only end badly for you, and he will win, especially if he is in good graces with the administration. Don't quit either! If you quit, he wins.
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Re: Coach issues

Post by High Dependency Unit »

Regarding nationals: Where did your team go in 2016, and would your administration really be impressed if they knew NTAE had seven teams?
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Re: Coach issues

Post by Pallas's cat »

The team hasn't been to a good national tournament since NSC in 2014 and didn't go to any nats at all last year. I'm pretty sure the school knew that the field at NTAE was ridiculously small both years that we went, but the entire thing with it being at Disney and the $$ prizes probably made it seem a lot more impressive to them.
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Re: Coach issues

Post by bretthogan43 »

I totally understand where you're coming from. Having a crappy/undedicated advisor really sucks if you want to be good in quizbowl. If I can offer you any relevant advice it would be to try and talk to some decent coaches and players on better teams in your area and try to pick their brains a little. Befriend them on a personal level and talk to them on social media; do whatever you have to do to try and get an idea of how the powerhouses (that actually play on NAQT questions) run their practices. And like the guys said above: try and suggest whatever ideas you get to your coach. Best wishes to you and I hope that your team gets the revamp it needs. I'm in much the same boat. Personal anecdote: I had to remind my coach on multiple occasions just to get signed up for a tournament outside of our low-level local circuit. These teachers get put in charge of quizbowl by the administration that really don't wanna do it or only do the same things year in and year out without getting any better really infuriates me, and I know it does you too. I think it's the primary cause for the atrophy of Western quizbowl society in some regions and I honestly wish it would be stamped out.
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Re: Coach issues

Post by Snoopy »

Right, I forgot to mention something in my post: perhaps as you have asked this guy for a lot already, it would be better to use a surrogate who agrees with you and you trust and have him/her ask. Then you can agree later when/if it comes up.
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Re: Coach issues

Post by Sima Guang Hater »

First off, good on you for being diplomatic when dealing with this issue. I'm not sure I could have done the same.

Secondly, I would suggest that you try to run your own practices, on good questions, perhaps once a week for people who are interested. Rotate reading, order some food, make a good time of it. That way, you can get the practice you need without needing your coach to do so.

Third, before you attend tournaments on your own or undergo a "Velvet Divorce" like Ankit suggests, be careful to make sure you're not violating any school policies by doing so.

You are, of course, welcome to play at any Penn tournaments you wish.
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Re: Coach issues

Post by Quantity of Books v. Kansas »

Although we have transitioned to using pyramidal questions in practice, our school’s main focus remains in our local non-pyramidal league. We are extremely fortunate to have a strong, local pyramidal circuit, a financial situation that allows for us to pay for tournament fees ourselves, and supportive parents, but we’re coming across more challenges.

Perhaps our largest issue is the coaching style of our coach or lack thereof. He firmly believes that academic success and ppg is the only measure of a player’s skill, which has negatively influenced the team’s culture. In our local competition league, he refuses to play diverse skill sets, so we end up with three or four people who know roughly the same amount of the same subject. This is especially discouraging to new players, as they are rarely if ever played during multiple rounds.

Our coach does not encourage specialization at all. It has even gotten to the point where he printed out copies of the entirety of NAQT’s “You Gotta Know” articles for every member of our team with the impression that we were to memorize every single list.

During our practices, we’ve begun divvying up into teams in order to practice conferring on bonuses. This would be more successful if not for our coach actively condoning not working together on bonuses. We still have a few players who look to our coach for strategy, and when a bonus relating to a niche knowledge of theirs comes up they’re often not paying attention at all.

Because of these reasons, we end up competing against each other instead of working together to compete against the opposing team. This strategy has far-reaching consequences. The members of our team get along wonderfully; we’ve been/are in many of the same classes and participate in other extracurriculars together without a problem. However, our coach creates situations in which interpersonal tensions arise because we’re constantly pitted against each other.

In short, we’re in need of some advice regarding working with him and his coaching methods. At our school, we have to have a coach, so removal is not an option. Also, the administration is completely enamored with him because of our successes in the local league. Additionally, I have major concerns about the future of the team after Jackie graduates. If we are unable to find a younger student as committed to good quizbowl and the future of the team, all of the progress thus far will most likely disappear. We do have potential in a few of our younger players, but we’re unsure of how to utilize this in the most efficient manner.
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Re: Coach issues

Post by cchiego »

Y'all are preaching to the choir here. You need to go to your school admin and/or the school board as a unified group of as many students and parents as possible. A group of a dozen parents with their kids politely angry and organized to speak at a school board meeting or in a principal's office seems to be the only thing that might change this situation. The broader quizbowl community really can't help you here. What you're describing sounds like a toxically competitive situation too, and that's something school board members/admins might be interested in hearing more about.

Keep working on talking to freshmen, middle schoolers, etc. This is one of those things where all it takes is one person who "gets it" to step up.
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Re: Coach issues

Post by Everything in the Whole Wide World »

All I can say, as someone that came from a school in the very same league and had a long and at times contentious time convincing our coach to flip to pyramidal is that you're not alone, and we (I really should say they, as this occurred after I left) eventually convinced him to de-emphasize the local league and go whole hog on pyramidal, and now he's a staunch defender of that style. Sometimes years of work pay off, so make sure to groom the next generation, and show them the ropes. Keep fighting the good fight, and know the pyramidal circuit has your back!

Also wait for the league to find some insane question which totally screws you over, that helps too since it gets coaches angry at them.
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