Dave’s Spontaneous Coaching Tips

Last updated 11/30/2021

NOTE: 2021-2022 season has seen some rule changes to the spontaneous problems. CTOM’s pages have been updated to reflect these changes but be aware most problems on our web site and on the web still have legacy processes. These resources are still valuable but should be adjusted when presenting the formal process to teams.

Here you will find spontaneous (spon) tips I have collected or developed over my many years of coaching, training and running spontaneous problems. Some of these tips may be advanced for some teams. It takes a a lot of coaching, practice and time for both the coach and team to bond, to a point where the team jells, and can successfully applied some these tips. I hope you find them useful and if you have suggestions, thoughts, ideas, anything please email me.

  • Tip #1: Let the team make mistakes – once a mistake is made it is less likely to be made in the future
  • Tip #2: Create spontaneous problems to help solve parts of the team’s long term problem – Spon is all about brainstorming and collecting ideas quickly to solve a problem, why not the long term problem. Use caution not to create spontaneous problems or coach in a way that leads to outside assistance!!
  • Tip #3: Assign jobs – Each team member has strengths. Identify these strengths and assign that team member to exploit that strength. Examples of jobs – Time keepers, problem copy reviewer, builders, scoring analyzer, inventory master and a leader that queries team members that are usually quiet.
  • Tip #4: Know who will do each type of problem before the team gets to competition. (Hands on, Verbal-Hands on, Verbal). Teams are no longer given 1 minute to select which team members will solve the spontaneous problem.
  • Tip #5: When the team can’t talk to each other they can ask questions (usually at any point except while problem is being read). Querying the judges can be an indirect way to communicate between team members. This assumes that the spontaneous problem has a rule that team members were instructed to not communicate.
  • Tip #6A: During verbal and verbal hands-on problems, coach team members to communicate with each other by giving a response that sends a message to the other team members. Example: Use the word blue. Response: My Odyssey team should know that blue is more than a color. This is a valid response and assumes the problem rules stated team members were instructed to not communicate.
  • Tip #6B: During verbal and verbal hands-on problems coach teams to communicate with signals.  This assumes a problem rule stated team members were instructed not to talk to each other versus COMMUNICATE or SIGNAL with each other. Teams may want to ask if this is OK as it may be interrupted differently by judges.
  • Tip #7: Have team members play the role of spontaneous judge.
  • Tip #8: Build the team dynamics by doing fun, bonding, team related activities that are not Odyssey related.
  • Tip #9: There is no outside assistance when coaching spon!
  • Tip #10: During verbal response have the team look around the room for items, words or triggers that may help them respond.
  • Tip #11: Have Team members remember 5 words for each finger on one hand. Strange words. Try to work these words into verbal responses.  It will help the team move along and potentially generate a creative response.
  • Tip #12: Acting out your verbal or verbal-hands on responses will energize the judges, make it more fun for the team. If not told to sit during response, coach them to stand and work their response into an action.
  • Tip #13: If it doesn’t say not to, you may be able to. Coach the team to do the extreme. Coach them to ask also. Example: “Can I stand on the table? It does not say I can’t.”
  • Tip #14: Don’t discount any response your team is giving. Stay positive as you coach and give positive constructive feedback.
  • Tip #15A: Coach team to ask lots of questions but make sure the time keeper works to keep team on schedule.
  • Tip #15B: Challenge judges with questions but don’t argue. It takes time from the solution and may deflate the energy you are trying to create.
  • Tip #16: Coach team to be positive at all times. It can cost them team-work points (if assigned) and even deflate the judges during scoring.
  • Tip #17: An important job to assign is the score analyzer. It should be the team member that is crafty – the one that can find loop holes and tricks to maximizing the team’s score. Some spontaneous problems have these types of tricks built in that a teams fail to recognize.
  • Tip #18: At the beginning of the hands-on problem, teams should inventory all items and understand what is available before jumping in to solve. Assign some this job to lay out all materials.
  • Tip #19A: I used to tell my team that NASA engineers would plan for 9 seconds and implement for 1. A bit extreme but it got the point across. The team should brainstorm, agree on the best approach, implement, and adjust as challenges arise. Don’t jump right to the solution. Sometimes the team may need to return to brainstorming during implementation. This is expected but should be managed by the time keeper, and the person responsible for the team copy/rules.
  • Tip #19B: Here is a real life hands-on spontaneous example that saved lives – Have your team watch this video. Notice that something goes wrong with the implementation (pipe falls off). Coach the team to deal with issues like this and practice staying calm.
  • Tip #20: Coach teams to avoid references that judges may not understand.
  • Tip #21: Prepare teams to deal with different verbal response methods, example picking cards from a deck, placing cards from a deck in a can, rolling a die, random, etc…
  • Tip #22: Repeating a creative answer will always gets scored as a common response. But the same creative answer given by two different teams will be scored as creative by same judges.
  • Tip #23: The new verbal problem where teams can write down their answers and select higher point cards for answers they think are creative presents a new challenge. I have found that teams don’t display their cards well. Coach and practice is the only way to fix this.  Reference this Spon example for a real case.
  • Tip 24: When responding to verbal problems coach teams to lay out their response cards. All too often I have seen two cards end up in the can for one answer. This can cause confusion and time. It also allows the team to see their progress and assists the time manager in determining how much time is left vs responses to be given.
  • Tip 25: Before responding to verbal problems have teams verify that they have the proper number of cards. Teams should interrupt Judges before time begins to correct the problem.  Judges are instructed to double check but mistakes happen.
  • Tip 26: Practice a spontaneous problem at every meeting! Practice, Practice, Practice – Practice makes perfect
  • Tip 27A: Setting up spon problems takes a lot of time. There are quicker ways to practice spon problems.  Just ask team quick questions like, “Name thing that go up” or hand them an item(s) from the house and have them improvise. No time limit, no rules. This technique gets the same creative thinking process that is needed for a spontaneous problem.
  • Tip 27B: Have a co-coach or parent set up problems for you.
  • Tip 27C: Bring in a adult that the team does not know to score and administer the problem. Watch how your team acts, reacts and handles the problem as they perform the problem. Make this problem as formal and true to the process followed on competition day.
  • Tip 28: No timing devices, watches, electronic devices are permitted in the Spon competition room.  Coaching good time management is vital to success.
  • Tip 29: Comment on Comment exercise.  Sit your team in a circle.  Have one team member make a comment (anything, or give them a subject or topic).  Have the next team member improve that comment into something more creative. Restart with every other team member.