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Starting Odyssey of the Mind at Your School

There is no one way to start an Odyssey program. Every school and school system has its own guidelines for clubs and organizations, its own degree of faculty involvement, and its own approach to Odyssey of the Mind. Some schools provide financial support, and some do not. In Northern Virginia, Odyssey of the Mind is operated entirely by volunteers outside of the school system. Although the program is already supported by many schools in the region, you may find that your school does not yet have an established program. Here are the basic steps to starting a new Odyssey program at your school. Click on each of the links below for more information.

10 Steps to Starting an Odyssey Program

1. Learn more about the program.

To find general information about Odyssey of the Mind, visit and to get started.

2. Get school approval to begin an Odyssey program.

  • Find out whether the school already sponsors the program.
  • Check with your school or organization to get approval for the membership and to discuss what resources the school is willing to provide.
  • Talk to the principal about the goals and values of Odyssey of the Mind.
  • Get approval for this extracurricular activity.
  • Explain what might be required in terms of sending flyers home, having a meeting for interested parents and students, enlisting a faculty sponsor, and perhaps soliciting teachers to judge at the Regional Tournament.
  • In some cases, such as with Fairfax County public secondary schools, you’ll need to determine whether Odyssey will be an officially sponsored club (in which case a faculty sponsor is needed) or an activity simply endorsed by the school (no sponsor needed).

3. Find out if your school or PTA/PTO will help sponsor program costs.

  • Determine who might sponsor the $135 membership fee for the program, as well as possibly sponsoring the costs for Coaches Training and Regional Tournament registration.
  • If the funds are not available from the principal, but he or she approves, contact your PTA or PTO to determine if they are willing to sponsor.
  • If the membership will not be financed through the school, examine other methods of financing. Consider charging each participant a nominal fee that will cover the planned program costs for the year.

4. Purchase an official Odyssey of the Mind membership.

  • Registration information is found on the international Odyssey of the Mind web site. You’ll need this official membership in order to access the full long-term problem statements that every team needs to work from. You’ll also need it in order to register your school’s teams for the Regional Tournament.
  • Typically, the school coordinator is the individual who completes the membership registration with the international organization.
  • You can submit your membership application early on or wait until you see if enough people are interested in the fall. Packets with the full problem statements and the Program Guide are typically mailed starting in late August or early September, once your membership application and payment have been received.

5. Contact our school coordinator liaisons.

  • Contact our school coordinator liaisons to let us know who you are and that you’re the new coordinator for your school.
  • Attend the Coordinators Meeting in the fall.
  • Attend Coaches Training in the fall, which is free for all coordinators. We want to make sure you’re educated, too!
  • To make sure you stay fully informed, you can also enter your email address in the “Subscribe for Email Updates” field on our web site. You’ll receive an email whenever we post new updates and critical information throughout the year.

6. Promote Odyssey at your school.

Send flyers home with students and organize an awareness meeting at your school to promote the program and recruit coaches.

  • Set the dates and locations for student information sessions and for parent informational meetings (if different). These awareness meetings are typically held in September and October.
  • Contact our regional director if you’d like to invite a representative from the NoVA North regional board to attend and help out at your meetings.
  • Download a sample flyer and signup form you can use—just change the information as needed.
  • Share an overview of the program and copies of the problem synopses with the attendees.
  • Consider holding Odyssey of the Mind “mini-sessions” for students (and parents!) at your information sessions so they can get a taste of what it’s all about. Give them a chance to try a few spontaneous problems.
  • Make sure everyone is aware of the date of the Regional Tournament. It makes it hard for everyone if team members will have to miss the competition.
  • Before their children sign up for Odyssey, make sure the parents understand the program and the commitment involved. Be sure they know where their participation begins and ends. Be sure they know every team must provide a JUDGE and a TOURNAMENT HELPER VOLUNTEER for the Regional Tournament and that they should start looking for them now. Every team will need a commitment from someone who will serve as a judge in order to register for the Regional Tournament by the deadline in January.  The team’s tournament helper volunteer must be identified before the day of the tournament.

7. Form teams out of your interested students.

Once you know which students are interested in participating, you’ll need to form your teams. Different methods of grouping students include:

  • Problem interest
  • Individual characteristics
  • Letting students choose their teammates
  • Past Odyssey experience
  • Dates and times when team members can get together
  • Geographic location
  • Coach input

Some schools have tryouts either to limit the number of teams or to determine commitment on the part of students. Some schools have other methods of selection. Ideally, all interested students should have the opportunity to participate!

For more information about the number of memberships your school will need, please see our page called How Memberships Work.

8. Recruit coaches for every team.

Many times coaches are parents of students interested in participating, but try these methods as well:

  • Explain that every team must have a coach. It is also possible to have co-coaches for a team who can share the responsibilities.
  • Send a letter home with students interested in joining, inviting parents to try coaching a team
  • Invite teachers to coach Odyssey—and don’t forget student interns, librarians, and support staff.
  • If your school has a parent/school organization, ask to speak to the group about Odyssey.
  • If your school has an enrichment coordinator, ask him or her for suggestions.
  • If your school has a business partner, ask to speak to that organization.
  • Put Odyssey information in the school newsletter or newspaper asking for help.

Coaches are encouraged to solicit help from team parents to provide snacks each week or even to take on a specific role, such as coaching spontaneous problems regularly.

9. With your coaches, encourage them to register for Coaches Training, verify that they register for the Regional Tournament, remind them to check for clarifications throughout the year, and have them check that their teams have completed all of the paperwork required for the tournament.

  • Attend the Coordinators Meeting and encourage your coaches to attend Coaches Training. Both events are held in the fall, and coordinators are invited to attend Coaches Training free of charge. The training is especially important for new coaches, and it will also help you be in the know.
  • Every coach will need to register their team for the Regional Tournament by the deadline in January. You can check our list of registered teams to ensure that all of your teams have completed the tournament registration process.
  • Remind coaches to have their teams check for clarifications on the international Odyssey web site at least once every month and at least once each week in February. Clarifications are just as important as the official long-term problem statements.
  • Remind coaches to ensure that their teams complete all the forms needed for the Regional Tournament (listed in each complete long-term problem statement) and make sure to let parents have all the information they need concerning transportation, logistics, and other competition details.

10. Ensure that coaches and teams have the information and support they need each step of the way.

  • Familiarize yourself with the materials included in your Odyssey of the Mind membership packet when it arrives. Make sure your coaches receive copies of the full long-term problem statements! Teams cannot solve their problems based on the synopses alone! Make sure they have a copy of the Odyssey of the Mind Program Guide, as well as their registered membership number and a link to the NoVA North web site.
  • If your teams are working at the school, be sure to arrange for use of the school building as necessary. Reserve rooms as soon as possible in the school year. Many teams hold meetings in the house of someone on the team. Wherever they meet, stress to teams and coaches the need to be good guests and clean up their work areas after each meeting.
  • Forward to your coaches all email messages with information they they need.
  • Remind coaches of registration deadlines for judges and volunteers so that the coach can complete team registration on time.

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