For more in-depth reading, please see the Smithsonian article linked here.

FAQs: These are the questions we are asked most often each year.

1. Where can I learn more about Odyssey of the Mind

A. On this website!!. It has recently been redesigned and reorganized to provide as much information as possible to as many different interest levels as possible.

B. If you’ve been told that the program is fun, engaging, and educational for kids, and you’re puzzled about “how educational and fun can coexist in the same sentence”, start with this article from the Smithsonian.

C. Read everything else on the site that you’re curious about. Then read the first 20 pages or so of the Program Guide on the national site.

D. But read this first. The most effective way to learn more about Odyssey of the Mind is to get involved. It’s been said that trying to explain it is like trying to explain how to tie your shoes over the telephone.

2. How can I get my child on an Odyssey of the Mind team?

This question oftentimes assumes that the regional board is involved in team formation. We are not. Our purpose is to organize regional events that fulfill the educational goals of the program, and to insure they run as smoothly as possible. There is only one direct and foolproof method to get your child on a team, and that is to become a coach yourself. But if the thought of coaching  feels too intimidating, or your life is too busy to undertake the commitment, there is a successful alternative. You can generate interest in your community (link to “finding a coach”), and try and get someone else to coach a team. If these approaches feel like too much effort, it may be that Odyssey of the Mind is not what you need it to be for your family. But you are welcome to join our MailGroup and ask other coaches if their team would like to have your child as a member.  In our experience, however, this method has never successfully answered the question of how to get a child involved in the program.

3. What is the cost of participation in Odyssey of the Mind?

A. To bring a team to the regional tournament, the financial costs per child are minimal. Most of them are outlined in Item 1 (“Required Registration and  Fees”) of the Coaches Checklist

B.  Another cost that is important to include in any financial consideration is the Long Term problem budget: Each team will choose one Long Term problem to solve. Each of these problems has a budget of approximately $140. This is the value of all materials that appear during the course of the team’s presentation of it’s solution at the tournament. There is a detailed discussion of this topic, starting on page 46 of the written copy and page 51 of the .pdf version, in the Program Guide. But it’s important to emphasize here that Odyssey of the Mind encourages children to explore ideas and experiment. The problem budget sets a limit on the cost of a team’s “finished product”, i.e., it’s solution as presented to the judges: it does not set a restriction on what the team may spend in the development of  that solution.  Adventurous teams may spend more.

C. Teams advancing to the State tournament, or the World tournament, will incur additional costs. There is lodging, food, travel, and -in some cases- shipping of the team’s solution to the tournament location that must be considered. For planning and fundraising purposes, a reasonable estimate of these expenses for the team and it’s coach(es) is $150/person for the State tournament, and  $1200/person for the World tournament.

4. I want to get involved. What kind of time commitment is necessary?

A. Coaching

1.The amount of time an individual spends coaching will vary. A team and it’s coach must determine the number and lengths of their meetings. This will depend on the coach’s schedule and the schedules of the kids, with some sensitivity to the age of the children. Generally, at the outset, teams will meet once a week. One hour goes by very quickly, unless your coaching style provides a very structured environment. Many teams meetings are 1½ to 2 hours

2. In addition to the time a coach spends with the team, there is also some preparation time that’s necessary each week. Even after becoming familiar with the Program Guide and the Long Term problem that the team chooses to solve, a coach must prepare at least one Spontaneous problem each week. This can take an hour or two.

3. Lastly, there is the “crunch time” leading up to the tournament.  The Coaches Checklist on our site is very thorough. In addition to guiding a coach through the important necessities of a team’s obligations to the region and its solution, the checklist suggests a timeline that can minimize the need for extra or longer meetings as the tournament approaches. But not all coaching styles or team dynamics allow for such linear simplicity. Some flexibility may be necessary. Ultimately, the kids and their coach will determine what’s necessary to be ready for the tournament. For the purposes of answering this question, it’s wise to be able to set aside additional time the last month before the tournament.

4. Don’t let these guidelines deter you from coaching. Like anything that is worthwhile, it is not without it’s challenges. But the rewards of discovering what children can do on their own are well worth it. If the time commitment is the only problem, remember that co-coaching is an acceptable solution.

B. Judging

1. The commitment to judging is one 6 hour day of training and all day at the tournament. Each team participating at the regional tournament must provide one person 18 years or older who is willing to judge: it is a required part of tournament registration. Judges that represent teams or have children participating on a team at the tournament will not be able to see those performances

2. Important judging dates vary slightly each year. They are available here.

C. I want to help out at the tournament, but cannot be a judge

1. The tournament has a variety of jobs that are filled each year by volunteers. Please contact our Tournament Director for more information.

FAQs: Parents and Family (with a thank you to the generosity of the Virginia OotM website “Voices”)

How much will it cost for my child to participate?

For most students, the total cost to participate for the year is no more than $30.00 – $50.00, and is often even less. Assessed fees might include a share of the  membership application fee, a contribution to purchase supplies for the long-term problem, a tournament fee of approximately $10 per child, and maybe a donation for snacks. Each membership/team assesses dues differently, and each team individually spends varying amounts, of course. Some PTAs/PTOs, schools, or school districts pay membership and tournament fees. In addition, if the team should advance to State Finals, then there may be the cost of shared hotel rooms, depending on the location of the tournament. Again, some school districts absorb part or all of the cost for State Finals. Lastly, if the team should advance all the way to World Finals, there is airfare and meals & lodging, amounting to as much as $1,000 per child.  School districts may contribute to the costs, and teams may also get corporate sponsors.

How much time does Odyssey take?

This decision is up to the team and it’s coach, but most teams meet from October or November until the Regional Tournament in March (and beyond, if they advance to the state tournament). Generally, teams meet once or sometimes twice a week. Many teams meet from 1 ½ – 2 hours per meeting, depending on age and frequency of meetings. And most teams will have longer work sessions as the regional tournament approaches, to finish up props, costumes, and so forth. All meetings must be at the convenience of the coach(es), of course!

My child says, “adults can’t help” an Odyssey of the Mind team at all. Is there anything I can do?

Adults certainly can and do help teams, but some kinds of help are “OK,” and some kinds are not. A fundamental rule for Odyssey of the Mind is that all the content of a team’s solution must come from the team, including all the ideas and all the work developing them into a tournament-ready presentation. The team may have no “Outside Assistance” with the long-term problem. Some students might feel more comfortable if parents do not help in any way, but there are some things parents can do, including:

  • Teach skills the team may need, such as sewing, woodworking, art, drama, welding, and any other skills the team believes might be useful. The only constraint is that you may not teach them a particular method of doing something specifically for their problem solution. For example, you may not show them exactly how to paint the exact sort of tree they want to paint for a backdrop but you MAY show them different ways to draw and paint trees. In other words, you may teach general skills and several methods for doing something, but not teach or demonstrate a specific way for a team to solve its problem. They must learn to take the skills they are learning and apply them to their own ideas, as well as the overall solution.
  • Encourage your child to be a problem solver and not to give up when the going gets hard.
  • Support the coach by offering to take the team to Home Depot or other retailers, or by providing snacks if the coach would like help with those.
  • Learn the process for Spontaneous and help the team practice (or practice at home with your family). There is no such thing as Outside Assistance when the team is practicing Spontaneous!
  • Help the team get everything to the tournament and help them carry props around campus, IF the team asks you to (but if you break something, the team must be the ones to fix it!)
  • Learn to step back and let your child apply his/her own makeup, fix his/her own vehicle, make or repair his/her own costume, and generally be empowered to do all the work by him/herself.
  • Volunteer to help for an hour or two at the tournament (at registration or concessions).
  • Volunteer to train as an official for the tournament (but be aware you will not be able to see your own child compete, as you will be assigned to a different judging team).
  • Most importantly, be supportive of the team’s efforts and understand that failure is not  option, but sometimes inevitable, and is an opportunity for growth and for learning.

Why can’t I watch the spontaneous competition?

Even coaches do not attend the spontaneous portion of the tournament. This is a time for the team to be “on their own” and to solve a problem on the spot. Part of what we want children to learn is how to “think on their feet” individually, and how to work together as a team in any situation. An audience would only be a distraction (they only have 5-10 minutes to solve a “Spont” problem). If you are interested in spontaneous, ask the team’s coach about watching the team work on a problem at a meeting, or even offer to learn the process and be a “spontaneous coach.” You might work with other parents to offer a spontaneous workshop for all the membership’s teams by setting up problems for several teams to come practice. You could also volunteer to be a spontaneous judge at a tournament (but be aware you would almost certainly miss the team’s long term performance)

I will not travel to the tournament with the team.  How do I find my child (grandchild, niece, nephew) when I arrive at the tournament? (I never knew there would be this many people and so many performance sites!)

Every tournament has a registration/information desk where there are maps of the performance sites and copies of the schedules. You need to know which school your child or relative attends, what grade he or she is in, and you MUST also know the name of the long-term problem the team is solving. One school may have several teams performing at different locations, so knowing the name of the problem – or at least the type of problem it is – is necessary in order for us to direct you.

I have another question that I’d like to see answered and posted here. Where do I submit my question?

E-mail your question to Bob Anderson at LAOotM@gmail.com.  Put “Parent FAQ” in your subject line, please.  You will either receive an answer via email, or your question and it’s answer will be added to this page.

FAQs: Coaches (with a thank you to the generosity of the Virginia State OotM website “Voices”)

How do I learn more about coaching a team?

Attend a coaches training. They are held in various locations around the region each fall.  We have been known ot have them in the spring too.  You can find out when they are by joining our MailGroup.  If you can’t wait for one, contact Bob Anderson at LAOotM@gmail.com and host one of your own!!  All that’s needed is a room, a screen of some kind, and a digital projector.

How can I find out more about what to expect at the specific site where my team will present it’s solution?

In general, all performance sites adhere to the same physical constraints.  They are outlined in the Program Guide.  Specific physical constraints are spelled out in each Long Term Problem.  Questions about steps, floor covering, and other details which might vary from tournament to tournament can be asked of our tournament director. One such question will be answered here, however:  a room’s ambient lighting will not be altered at any performance site.

My team started out full of enthusiasm, but now they are dragging their feet. What can I do to restore the initial fun and excitement?

Every team has periods of frustration: they often learn more from failure than success, but failure requires time for regrouping and rethinking. If your team doesn’t seem to be happy with working on the problem, then talk to them honestly about it, and ask them a simple question: “What is making this difficult for you right now?” Listen to their answers, help them identify the problem(s) and let THEM brainstorm solutions to those problem(s). They may need your help in asking the right questions. (“Is there something you worry that you cannot do?” “Do we need to meet longer/shorter time periods?”, etc.) They may need support in abandoning a plan altogether and starting all over again on something. No one likes to admit that something has failed, but you, as the coach, can encourage them to evaluate the vehicle that didn’t run, or the structure that didn’t hold weight, or the backdrop that won’t stand up, the costume that just doesn’t look like a duck, etc.  Your guidance when the team is stuck is NOT outside assistance. It’s not you discussing the content of their solution, it’s you who is encouraging them to look at their content critically, with an eye towards renewing the interest that is frustrated, isolated behind whatever wall the team has built between itself and its Long Term Problem.  As a coach, you will likely see a miniature version of this situation sometimes during Spontaneous practice. Learn to recognize it: since there is no Long Term content in a Spont problem, it is not Outside Assistance to point out direct solutions to being “stumped” by a spontaneous problem.

My team is progressing towards its problem solution, but its members are not working well TOGETHER. What can I do to help them get along?

This is a problem for every team once in awhile, and sometimes just a little fun activity and relaxation (like a pizza party or a “game day”) will help them relax with one another again. Other times, however, there are more fundamental issues. Team building activities might help with these, reminding the kids that they can trust one another.  Spontaneous activities can also help build teamwork. But there are plenty of websites and books that offer activities designed to help you understand what you’re seeing. It may or may not be obvious at first, but occasionally the problem is a single team member who is creating difficulties for the entire team. If this is the case, you may need to step in and help the team work this out. It may be that YOU need an expert to do that: don’t hesitate to enlist the aid of your parents, the teachers at school, or the school counselor in more serious instances. Some Odyssey groups stress the importance of teamwork at the outset, asking the students and parents to sign behavioral contracts. These are useful because they clearly lay out expectations, and enable a coach to request a team member be removed if those expectations are not met, without the decision seeming arbitrary,. The primary objective should be to identify teamwork issues before they become too entrenched in the team’s behavior, and to focus on their resolution.  It should be noted here as well that teamwork issues will arise for every team as it’s members begin to stretch their creative wings.

We were all so proud of the team’s solution: it seemed almost perfect. Why wasn’t the long-term score higher?

First of all, remember that all problems in OotM are “open ended”.  That means there is no one right solution:  therefore, there is no “perfect” solution, either.  Long-term problems are designed to challenge teams to be as creative as possible: like beauty, however, creativity is in the eye of the beholder.  Further, the appreciation of creative ideas is shaped by their physical presence in a performance, informative and accurate paper work, and successful time management. These aspects of OotM develop as a team matures. Remember that you, as the team’s coach, will be much more familiar with the team’s solution than your parents, but  even they will be more familiar with it than the judges.  Judges must evaluate a SINGLE effort by a team to convey its problem’s solution, and to address the “perfection” of it according to scoring criteria that ranges from “did the team do it or not?” (5 points or 0), through the creativity and realization of an idea (1 to 20 points), to the quality of the team’s stage presence, which is by necessity a score that will compare teams.  These last two sets of scoring criteria are also subjective.  As long as each individual judge is consistent in scoring throughout the day, however, it’s fine if there is a “hard judge”, who gives a high score of 12/20, and an “easy judge” who scores the same criteria at 18/20. But all of these variables exert influence on a team’s score.  That’s one reason why coaches are given the opportunity to pick up the team’s score sheet while it’s solution is still relatively fresh in the judges’ minds.  If there is a concern about a specific score, it can be addressed at that time.  Judges do make mistakes sometimes. Teams do too.  But part of the learning process for a team at the tournament is understanding it’s strengths and it’s weaknesses.  Scores should be viewed more as feedback of how the team met the problem’s requirement than as an evaluation of what they have achieved. Every team that successfully solves the long-term problem has won an enormous amount of self-confidence, problem-solving skills ,and  the ability to work with others.  Tournament scores cannot evaluate that growth, but the more that members of a team  “perfect” those skills, the higher the team’s Long Term score is likely to be.

What, exactly, is “Style”?

Style is the third scored component at a tournament. Style scores are scaled to 50 points, with each of four categories receiving up to 10 points, and “Overall Effect” also receiving up to 10 points. Each team must fill out three copies of the “Style Form” to give the Staging Area judge(s) at each competition. But…what IS style, exactly? Style is the unique elements that each team adds to its Long Term Problem solution. There are one or two “mandatory” elements listed in section F of each problem. The team will also select 2 or 3 other “free choice” elements, and consider the following question. “What have we made or done that is not specifically scored on the long term problem score sheet, but which enhances our presentation in a unique and imaginative way?” The answer may be a creative costume, a clever way of introducing themselves, an unusual use of materials almost anything may be listed for a score in Style so long as it is not already included in elements scored in section E of the team’s problem.

Who reads the Style Form?

Only the officials who are judging style will read the Style Form. The Problem Judges will not see it.  The space at the bottom of the form (aka the “style paragraph”) is to be used to explain their Style elements and how they enhance the overall performance, not a summary of the performance’s theme or script (unless that is a part of what they wish to have scored for Style, of course.)

I have another question that I’d like to see answered and posted here. Where do I submit my question?

E-mail your question to Bob Anerson at LAOotM@gmail.com. Note in your subject line that this is an “Coaches FAQ,” please. Your question will be answered by email, or it will be added to this FAQ page with our response.