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Outside Assistance FAQs

FAQs for Outside Assistance

If a team has an 8th mind work on the long-term problem, how many points would they be penalized?

There is a limit to seven members on the team. You should not, under any circumstances, have eight different children participate on the same team. If a team has eight members, an outside assistance penalty of 1-100 points will be assessed. The value of the penalty will be determined on tournament day by the judges who watch the performance, based on their assessment of the magnitude of the offense. It is not possible to predict the penalty prior to the performance. You might want to review the Odyssey of the Mind Program Guide for further information; a link to it is available on the Resources page.

Can teams watch other teams’ competition performances?

Yes. Indeed, we encourage teams to watch other teams’ long-term performances on tournament day. Teams can watch other teams doing the same long-term problem, as well as teams doing other problems. Teams should NOT watch practice performances by other teams, prior to the Regional Tournament.

Is it outside assistance for coaches or parents to provide definitions of terms used in the problem?

Yes. Coaches and parents should not provide definitions.

  • Coaches and parents can teach the team how to use a dictionary, thesaurus, or other reference to look up words they don’t know and can help the team truly understand the definition.
  • Coaches can remind the team to check the glossary of terms in the problem and in the Program Guide.
  • Finally, the team can ask for an official clarification on the international Odyssey of the Mind web site if they think a term or rule is incomplete or ambiguous.

Can the team use the Internet and libraries to research possible solutions?

Generally, yes. However, it is outside assistance for the team to look at Internet sites or other references that provide advice or suggestions specific to Odyssey of the Mind long-term problem solutions. Such sites are especially common for the balsa structure problem. When using a library, teams may ask a librarian to help them find books about a topic and to teach them how to use the catalog system to locate books for themselves.

Can team members ask employees at stores (hobby shop, lumber yard, etc.) for help, including cutting wood?

It depends on the kind of help they ask for. Teams can ask employees to describe what an item can be used for or to describe the different characteristics of several versions of the same thing, such as uses of different kinds of glue or different kinds of paint. Teams should not ask a store employee to recommend something to do a particular job in the team’s solution; that would be outside assistance. It is the team’s responsibility (and right) to choose exactly what they want to use in their solution.

In regards to wood, if the team determines the exact cuts, then it is okay to have a store employee make those same cuts for the team that anyone else could request. However, if the store charges an extra fee for those cuts, that fee must be included on the Cost form. There is a fine line between generic cuts and having the store employee help produce your set. The team could consider sending a clarification request with the dimensions to CCI if still unsure.

If a coach answers a question, is it outside assistance? What kinds of questions can coaches answer?

Our best guidance is to let common sense and your conscience guide you.

Generally, coaches can answer questions that pertain to skills, such as “How do you thread the sewing machine?” or “How do I fit the drill bit into the power drill?” Coaches can also point the team to resources, such as dictionaries, to make sure they understand the problem, or the sewing machine instruction book, for how to thread it. Coaches cannot answer questions that are specific to the problem, such as “What is the best thread for sewing this costume?” or “Should we use nails or screws to hold this together?”

Coaches can explain what Style is, but must be careful not to suggest or recommend any specific item that they think the team “should” select for style.

If more than one team in a school is doing a problem, can the teams build and share a staging and performance practice area?

Teams can share a basic practice area, such as a classroom, but they cannot share ideas, props, set pieces, designs, or costumes. Also, if the teams reproduce the Competition Site to practice on as described in the problem, each team must build its own site from scratch, without seeing any markings or the physical layout used by other teams.

Is telling the team they have a good idea considered outside assistance?

Yes, unless you tell them that every idea is a good idea. Otherwise, you would be suggesting or recommending that the team keep or discard the idea. And that might not be helpful because they need to decide what they believe is good or not in the context of their solution. You can certainly ask them if they think it’s a good idea. Remember that part of the point of Odyssey of the Mind is to help kids become better at making good decisions on their own.

Can coaches suggest using costumes, music, etc.?

Absolutely not. Coaches, parents, siblings, friends, etc., cannot suggest or recommend any content for the performance. However, it is okay to teach the team basic skills and generic information. For example, someone could teach the team that theatrical performances often include costumes, music, sets, backdrops, dance, special effects, etc. If the team chooses not to use any or all of these, no one else can suggest that they should. Also, if the team decides they will use costumes, music, or any other “standard” elements, all details of what it looks or sounds like, how it is designed or crafted, what it is made of, how it is used in the performance, and who will make it (or perform it) must be generated and implemented by the team.

Can a coach organize a learning session, like for sewing or carpentry, without penalty?

Yes, if the learning session is not geared to the specific problem the team will be solving this year. Teach them how to thread and operate a sewing machine, not how to make a specific costume for the performance. When teaching, use materials and examples that will not be part of the team’s performance, so that there is no outside assistance.

Can coaches characterize the long-term problem as “putting on a play”?

Yes, but be careful. Not every problem requires “putting on a play” every year. For example, some years’ balsa structure problems do not have a required script or skit. The Program Guide (a link to it is available on the Resources page) prefers to use the words “presentation” and “solution” for what the team will be doing on stage.

Is it okay for coaches to suggest and allow team members to watch Odyssey skits from past years that are online?

It’s okay, especially if they have never seen a skit before. Make sure the team understands they need to use their own ideas; otherwise, it would be very tempting to try to recreate someone else’s ideas. Once they get the idea of what a performance looks like, it is probably better to limit this exposure to other teams’ solutions to ensure they create their own.

Is it okay for the coach to summarize the rules for the team?

  • For Primary teams, this is fine.
  • For competitive teams in divisions 1, 2, or 3, it is important that the team understand exactly what the rules require; in Odyssey, the details are important. The goal should be for the team to fully understand the detailed rules, and a summary will inevitably leave out some details. Also, a summary will reflect the coach’s interpretation of the rules, and that would be outside assistance. Coaches should try as much as possible to encourage careful reading and frequent checking against the rules, without actually stating or imposing an interpretation.

May coaches explain the scoring in detail to their teams?

Coaches may explain how Odyssey of the Mind scoring works in general, including the normalization and combination of scores for long-term, Style, and Spontaneous. However, individual long-term problem scoring is a part of the rules of that problem and should be treated like any other rules. The coach may suggest that the team consider the point values of various parts of the solution and remind the team to keep the scoring rules in mind, but may not interpret those rules for the team.

Coaches can recommend that teams look at the scored elements again or ask where in the problem something is described or scored. One good approach is to work with the team to set up a checklist of things to be looked at repeatedly over the season. If the checklist is part of every team meeting, the team can remind themselves, without the coach needing to be involved.

Can the coach teach the team to break down a problem into manageable parts to make it easier to understand?

The coach can teach the team many general problem-solving skills, including the skill of breaking down a problem. The team must decide what parts are “manageable” and what they want to work on first. As usual, the Socratic method is a valuable tool for coaches here.

Can the coach suggest the team add something to enhance their Style score?

There are many ways a team can enhance their Style score. The coach cannot suggest to the team what they should do. The coach can ask the team if they can think of ways to enhance their Style score; this might be a good brainstorming activity.

If the team had Outside Assistance in developing part of their solution, and then didn’t use any of that part in the final performance at the tournament, should the team list that as Outside Assistance?

No. The team should only list Outside Assistance that is used in the performance that the team presents to the judges at the tournament.

When coaching spontaneous, can coaches give examples of answers that the team could use (before or after the team practices that problem)?

Yes, that is fine. Because the problem at the tournament will be different, any discussion of possible answers to your practice problem, and review of whether answers were creative or common, is not Outside Assistance. It is up to the coach to decide what kind of guidance would be most helpful to the team.

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