So you didn’t win a medal

Does that mean Odyssey of the Mind was a waste of time? Does that mean the team failed? Absolutely NOT! Teams can be very proud that they accepted the challenges of Odyssey and worked hard to solve them- no matter how it goes at the tournament. All of us at CT Odyssey of the Mind believe that every team that tackles an Odyssey problem and works to solve it to the best of their ability is a winner.

One of the most important goals in Odyssey is to have fun while learning. Odyssey is a process that takes time. Improvements may be small, yet important: a shy team member delivers one line in the skit clearly, loudly and on time during the performance; the team figures out, on the spot, at tournament how to adapt their scenery to an unexpected floor plan ; a team member offers a hug rather than a cold shoulder to another team member when some calamity happens during the performance. These may seem like simple accomplishments but they are not. Ask your team: “Did we have fun?” ”What did we do at the competition that we didn’t realize we could do?” “What did we do well?” “What did we learn this year?” Help them identify the strengths and successes, you all may be surprised at the progress. Perhaps a Skills List Chart, one coach suggested, started and added to throughout the year as skills are acquired, could be useful to concretely identify the new skills. Maybe a brainstorming spontaneous- “What skills do we have as an Odyssey Team?”

Many of the teams that advance to the medal level have been working, and working hard, at Odyssey of the Mind for several years. Odyssey of the Mind is a process. Odyssey is fun but it is WORK. The development of teamwork skills often takes time. Each year the team builds on the skills of the last. Problem-solving, artistic, building skills grow and become more refined and polished over time.

Part of the value of Odyssey is preparing for all potential outcomes. Teams need to adapt to rooms that are smaller than ideal or large gymnasiums where small voices and important one-liners can be lost. Teams have to cope when a device fails to perform as expected, all with the audience and the judges watching. Many teams have to cope with some kind of adversity during the competition day: perhaps the vehicle didn’t work; maybe the scenery fell down or didn’t fit. Preparing for the unexpected is part of the process.

Coping with adversity is one of the most valuable pieces of the Odyssey process. Although we, at CTOM, don’t deliberately set up obstacles, they occur, in Odyssey and in life. How the team handles the experience is what is important. For example, a few years ago, a team went to Worlds with a third place finish and a team Renatra. At Worlds, a judge not only didn’t see their creation as creative but thought it was in violation of a rule. The team asked questions, worked together on an alternate solution as a team, with earnest, polite, creative determination. The team had to change their creation and as a result it didn’t work as well. However, they learned and grew as a result of this experience. Their constructive behavior and superb teamwork in adversity proved that they were truly a team with Odyssey spirit. They didn’t let a negative outcome squash their creativity or the opinion of one judge discourage them.

In life, one man’s creativity is another’s spirit of the problem violation. That is risk- taking. A risk is defined as “a chance or possibility of danger, loss . . . or other adverse consequences.” It is the nature of a risk that sometimes a risk works and sometimes it doesn’t. The wise coach resists the temptation to jump in to solve the problem or prevent failure but rather allows the process continue through the failure, lets the students figure it out. That is where the value of Odyssey is: letting the students face a problem, brainstorm, consider and try different solutions, not rescuing them from failure; encouraging them to look at the process and figure out where to go from there, and try again. And again. When success happens, now that’s a natural high! “We DID it!!! We figured it out on our own!”

How the team handles the disappointment and the consequences of the risk is the important skill. A team won a silver medal one year, the next year they planned on the gold. They practiced, they created, they polished; their performance was wonderful. Everything went as planned, until they entered the spontaneous room. They encountered a hands-on problem that took away their hopes and dreams in an instant and they knew it. “It wasn’t fair!!!” was their first thought. The coach resisted the temptation to fix the problem and let them figure out what to do. After a struggle the team came to the conclusion that, “Our hands-on skills ARE weak.” So they decided to practice them every week until the next tournament. They took adversity, and conquered it with a plan. Does it surprise anyone that they went on to earn the gold medal? They went to the next World Finals knowing that they had earned the privilege with hard work and determination. And was that gold medal meaningful!!

Much of success in Odyssey comes to this: hard work and determination, perseverance and perspiration. That is the secret to Odyssey. There are no perfect, correct ‘creative’ answers to a given problem. In Odyssey it is a process of learning how to work as a team, how to listen to each other, how to create together, how to read, read and reread the problem so they catch all of the details, learning how to conquer the adversity productively. It can take years for some teams. Some teams never win a medal; if you ask them if Odyssey was worth the time and effort, most will say, “Definitely!” The skills you learn in Odyssey of the Mind will be with the students for a lifetime. An Odyssey student knows that a paperclip is more than just a way to hold papers together!

So you didn’t win a medal this year. So what! Did you learn? Did you have fun? The process of growing, learning, working productively together, even when things don’t go your way shows what your team is made of- WINNERS! Be proud of what you have accomplished. Come back and show us your Odyssey Spirit! We are looking forward to seeing your creations and ideas!