top of page

Tips for Coaches

This is training produced last year by Odyssey of the Mind. It covers doing spontaneous virtually, so may not be relevant for you in your regional competition. It has other useful general information, so worth a look!


Teams should practice at least one spontaneous problem at every meeting. Teams should always debrief each problem and discuss what went well and what could be improved. Coaches may give direct feedback on the team's performance but should primarily encourage the team to work out how they might do better.

Coaches might find keeping a “spontaneous supply kit” helpful, as many of the problems use the same types of materials or could have materials that are easy to substitute. 

As a coach, here are some basic guidelines for running spontaneous problems:

  • Prepare the problems beforehand. Setup hands-on problems and run through them with a coach or parent if needed 

  • Decide on learning objectives – what skills / techniques are you hoping to improve?

  • Record score and explain why you scored a team a certain way. Give honest feedback, especially in verbal problems (a silly answer isn’t necessarily creative, especially if it doesn’t fit the response structure of the problem) 

  • Video the team and let them watch themselves afterwards. This strategy is especially good to show teams needing to improve teamwork and delegation for hands-on problems 


Learning Objectives

Here are a few learning objectives for spontaneous problems:

  • Practicing time management: designating a team member to ask judge for time

  • Utilizing a spontaneous team captain: designating a team captain to organize the flow of discussion, testing, building, and scoring, especially when splitting up in smaller groups to solve the problem if necessary

  • Understanding the exact wording of a problem - designate a problem reader/checker. You only get points for what the judge is scoring!

  • Practicing solutions during thinking time 

  • Generating as many ideas as possible, choosing solutions efficiently

  • Piggybacking off other team members

  • Working out a plan B on the fly if plan A isn’t working

  • Telling a story with a beginning, middle, and end (talk about what are the components of a good story)

  • Listening to other team members give responses so as to not give repeat responses 

  • Using props effectively - what other uses can the team think of for a wig?


Debriefing Spontaneous 

Why is spontaneous debrief important? Often, coaches and teams undervalue debriefing spontaneous problems. Don’t make this mistake! The debrief is as important (if not more important) than running the problem, especially for younger/newer teams. Debriefs should take at least as long as the problem itself (5-10 minutes).

Debriefs build teamwork and give a platform for team members to encourage each other. Also, the most successful spontaneous teams win because they have a framework for attacking spontaneous. Rarely will a team encounter a problem in competition exactly the same as something they’ve solved before; they need to learn how to solve problems generally and recognize patterns in the types of problems presented. The least important (and most overdone) aspect of spontaneous debrief focuses on the nitty-gritty of the problem such as specific materials used or better responses available. 

What makes a good debrief?

Talking through a spontaneous problem effectively is hard, especially if you’re a new coach! Here are some general pointers on what a what a good debrief looks like:

  • The debriefer controls the conversation, but team feels free and safe to express their ideas

  • Discussion is focused on learning goals (planned beforehand)

  • Clear action steps are developed for future spontaneous problems (timekeeper will call out time every minute, everyone goes home and practices puns with their parents, etc.)

  • Don’t just talk about what could go better, take active steps to improve!


Here is a sample outline of questions to use as a basic guide:

  • Intro: How do you all feel like you did?  

  • What did you do well on?

  • What could you improve?

  • Where do you think you could have scored more points? Why/how? 

  • Do you think you understood the problem well? 

Specific to problems observed: 

  • Why did you run out of time?

  • How were you doing task management? Was that effective?

  • How do you think of creative answers?

  • Did you have good teamwork? Why or why not? 

  • How could you have used your materials more effectively?

  • Why did you choose to do…XYZ?

  • End: What is one thing you would now do differently in a similar problem? 


Rinse & Repeat

Repeat the problem, either the same or sometimes changing materials, requirements or scoring. Debrief again.

bottom of page