Odyssey of the Mind is a pretty ingenious program. It’s a creative problem solving challenge for teams of kids as young as kindergarten and as old as college. Teams receive a problem and spend months working on the solution. These are not simple problems. The link I gave you is to the summaries. The problems are several pages long, have many different elements and caveats, and require real creativity.
Did I mention, the Coach is not allowed to help?
That’s right. The kids have to read through the problem and develop the solution all on their own. Coaches can ask them questions to get them on track. But we can not offer suggestions about how to solve the problem. Every element of their solution must be their ideas and their work. Coaches can not help them cut, sew, draw, build, or do anything to create their solution.
When the organizer for OM for our town was putting together teams, we had the typical volunteer experience. There were enough kids for my younger daughter to form a team, but no one stepped forward to Coach.
Because I am a volunteer-a-holic, I offered.
You might think that because the Coach really isn’t allowed to do anything, this is an easy gig.
There is so much to learn about how the program works, how solutions are scored, what’s allowed and not allowed, and how to analyze a problem. But none of that was the hardest part, for me.
The hardest part of Coaching has been developing my skills in guiding kids without telling them what to do or doing it for them.
This is my first year Coaching, and my whole team as well as the other Coach are all new. Experience matters, that’s quite clear to me now. It’s not just about knowing the rules. It’s about knowing how to be a Coach.
I’ve had to learn how to ask questions that help get them thinking without giving anything away.
I’ve had to bite my tongue to keep from giving a suggestion that seems so obvious to me.
I’ve had to learn to sit and listen while they work it out. Sometimes the way they work it out is not the way I would do it. They raise their voices. They argue. For the most part, I let them use their own process.
I’ve had to learn to ask them, “so how do you think that went?” instead of jumping right to offering my own feedback.
The best part is, what they come up with is better.
It’s better because it’s their work. Their sense of pride and accomplishment. And it’s extremely creative. Kids think of things that adults would never think of, because adults are pretty set in our ways.
Rainbows and Unicorns
As much as I have loved being a Coach, let me be clear. The past 6 months have not been pretty. It took me several weeks just to adjust to the noise level. In the beginning, I came home from meetings and sat quietly on my bed for 15 minutes just to feel normal again.
I have lost my temper. When you say the same thing over and over (something simple like, “please sit down”) and nobody listens, it can be frustrating.
The kids each have their own personalities. It took me some time to figure them out, and learn what works for each. One child has more ideas than there are fish in the sea. Another has to be prodded to give input.
But it has been so worth it.
I love my team. Love them. They’re funny and bright and hardworking. I think I’ve learned as much as they have, maybe more. I can’t wait to see how they do during their competition on April 2.
And I will be back next year. I hope they will, too.