Remember—There is no outside assistance in spontaneous since you have no idea what problem the team will get on competition day. So, work with the kids with whatever skills you have, to help them get better. Practice alleviates stress and makes for a team that gets excited to do a hands on! Happy building


All Teams—Have the team complete a problem. Discuss what worked well and what did not and then—DO THE SAME PROBLEM AGAIN, and maybe one more time. Do not be afraid to freeze frame and discuss what is working at that point in time. Is the team in the right place for the time? Are they spending too much time discussing the problem leaving no time left for building? This is typically what happens, but with practice (and age) this improves. Practice auditory skills—the problem will be read on competition day so the kids will need to learn to retain the instructions. For kids who struggle retaining the problem, try having them close their eyes and listen.


Div II, Div III, Competitive— Here are my ideas that worked for many of the teams I have coached—


Re-read (scan) the problem—One of the biggest mistakes any team of any age makes is in not thoroughly understanding the problem. This is where the skill of a visual and quick team reader is critical. Scanning and reading the problem and making sure the basic information is understood by all. Kids often do not like this role as it is seen as boring. But the team member who finds a loophole in the problem, or catches an error in the team solution in the rules will be the’ hero’ of the day.


Time management—The first thing you ask a team in practice after reading a formal problem is how much time they have—is it two parts and if so how much time is in the second part. Then have them learn how long should be spent discussing the solution, before beginning the building. It could also be that there are two parts and in the first part they discuss and the second part they build. It could also be that there are two parts and in the first part they discuss, build and test solution and in second part they actually do the solution. The team should be clear on when the judges will tell them what time is left. Typically they will give them two warnings, like when 3 minutes and one minute remain, for example. This may not be on the instructions on the table so the team should pay attention to the judge instructions or ask to make sure. These can be used as a time frame for where the team should be at in the problem—discussion, building, finishing.


In a hands on problem they need to learn how much time is talking and looking at materials, how much time is for building and testing, etc. This is so hard and must be mastered. Teams that master this, master winning! This is where managing time comes in. I have always coached my kids to pay close attention to the time at the beginning of the problem and adjust discussion, building time, etc. In the middle of a hands on problem I ask them how much time they have spent so far in order to help them to learn how long a minute, two minutes, three minutes is, etc


Where are the points—height, length, creativity in solution, teamwork? Hopefully the ‘reader’ can catch this as the team is discussing their solution ideas.


Go for the highest or second highest points if given a choice. Lowest points will most likely not win the competition.