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Information for New Coaches

The information provided on this site will get you started, but there is so much more than we could possibly write here! We STRONGLY recommend that you attend the Coaches Training that we hold in the fall. More information about this and other events can be found under “Important Events” on the right. Additional coaching tips and the Virginia Coaches Handbook are all available under the “Resources” menu at the top of this page.


General Program Summary

Odyssey of the Mind is a creative problem-solving competition for children from preschool through college. Odyssey emphasizes creativity, encouraging students to “think outside the box.” One unique aspect of Odyssey is that the students are expected to do everything, from brainstorming ideas to building props and machines. The role of the coach is to supervise the students and provide encouragement and guidance when needed, but never to do something specifically for the team’s solution. For additional information about the program, please visit the national organization’s web site.


Forming a Team

An Odyssey of the Mind team typically consists of five to seven students with no more than seven students allowed on one team. Everyone on the team is expected to contribute to the team’s solution. Teams can be put together in many ways, but keep in mind that, especially with a new team, you never know who might be a natural with electronics, a talented writer, or an amazing actor. Chances are, at some point during the year, every one of your kids will surprise you with what they can do!

Your team of students is assigned to a division based upon the highest grade level among your team members. If you have at least one student above the highest allowed grade level for one division, then your team would compete in the higher division, regardless of the ages or grade levels of the other students. For example, if you have a team consisting of six third graders and one sixth grader, then your team will be in Division II (for sixth graders). The age limits for the different divisions are listed below:

  • *Primary: Kindergarten through Grade 2
  • Division I: Grades K-5
  • Division II: Grades 6-8
  • Division III: Grades 9-12
  • Division IV: College

*Note: If all team members are in Grade 2 or below, then the team may choose to participate in either the Primary problem or in a Division I problem. The Primary problem is non-competitive and is a great introduction to Odyssey of the Mind for younger children. If you have questions about which division would be most appropriate for your young team, please contact your school coordinator for additional information and help. Your coordinator can also assist if you have additional questions about the divisions or are unsure in which division your team should be placed.


Components of the Competition

There are three scored components at an Odyssey of the Mind competition: Long-Term, Style, and Spontaneous.

  • Long-Term: The long-term solution is likely what your team while spend the most time on. Each year, teams choose which of five problems they would like to solve (or the Primary problem for primary teams only). Problems fall into different categories, and they each have different scoring components. Generally, a long-term problem is solved with the presentation of an eight-minute skit addressing the scoring components in your chosen problem. You can read brief synopses of this year’s problems on our web site, but you will need to contact your coordinator to receive the full problem statement and rules.
  • Style: Style is incorporated into the long-term solution. It is not a separate part of the competition, but consists of elements that are presented within the long-term solution. Each problem usually has two required style elements, two elements that teams are free to choose, and one overall effect score for those style elements. Style elements contribute to the overall long-term solution, but are elements that are not already scored in the long-term solution.
  • Spontaneous: Only five of the team members are allowed to participate in spontaneous. There are three types of spontaneous problems:
    • Verbal (e.g., name things that are blue, list ways to drive your Odyssey of the Mind coach crazy)
    • Hands-on (e.g., students are given a set of materials and have to build the tallest tower they can)
    • Hands-on/Verbal (e.g., students are given two pipe cleaners and have to describe uses for them)
      • The key to spontaneous is PRACTICE! Practice often and practice as many different types of problems as you can. The team members won’t know anything about the problem before walking into the room, so learning strategies for each of the different types of problems, having the team plan in advance which members will participate in each type of problem, etc., is invaluable. You can come up with your own spontaneous problems for your team to practice or use the many online resources available, such as the sample problems on the international site.
      • For more information about the Spontaneous portion of Odyssey of the Mind, see the “Introduction to Spontaneous” video under the “Resources” menu at the top of the page.

Odyssey of the Mind Program Guide

It is vital that you read through the Odyssey of the Mind Program Guide. All of it. Every page. Make sure your students read through it as well. While you can remind your students of the rules, especially as they relate to safety, it is ultimately the responsibility of the students to be sure that their solution conforms to Odyssey of the Mind program guidelines.


Outside Assistance

The students are responsible for all aspects of their solution. They are the ones who decide which problem they want to solve; brainstorm ideas for their solution; come up with characters and a script; build props, cars, structures, and other parts of the solution; fill out paperwork…you get the idea. You can help guide them and keep them focused in practices, but you CANNOT tell them what to do or how to do it. Please remind your team’s parents, brothers, sisters, cousins, neighbors, best friends, or anyone else who might be tempted to help the team members of this fact. Help is fine and encouraged, just not in a way that tells the team how to solve a problem. Following the Socratic method generally works (e.g., “Why do you think the structure broke in that place?” instead of “That joint needs to be redesigned” or “You should use a triangle instead of a square”). If something is too dangerous for the team members to do themselves, such as using certain power tools, then either a team member needs to be trained in how to use that equipment safely or the team needs to come up with a different solution.

For additional information about Outside Assistance, please see the “Outside Assistance” section on the main “Coaches” page. In that section, we also have contracts for team members and their parents to sign. We recommend bringing these to your first team meeting and having all team members and parents sign them so that everyone knows what is expected of them from the beginning.


Team Volunteers

Every team must provide volunteer support for the Regional Tournament. More information can be found here.

We recommend that you identify your judge as early as possible.  Teams’ time slots for volunteer duty will be determined after the competition schedule is finalized and will be posted on the tournament schedule.

Additional information for volunteers and judges can be found under the relevant menus at the top of the page.

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