Last year was my first experience with Odyssey of the Mind, or OTM as we like to call it for short. I was assistant coaching a team of 5 boys and one girl and as I documented last year, the problem was to build a structure out of balsa wood—of a very specific size and weight—that could hold as much weight as possible before crushing.

As I wrote last year, OTM is a wonderful experience for kids and it’s why I came back to coach again this year. Our team of 4 boys and 3 girls works very well together. Having an almost equal number of girls has really made a huge difference. I often just sit back and let the little gals whip those boys into shape. Our problem this year is to make three vehicles, powered by three different means, which have to deliver a total of 9 parts to an assembly area. Once there, the parts are assembled into a pet and the pet must do a trick. All of this has to be done in the context of an 8-minute skit.

Pretty simple, right?

My team has been getting together every week since November to work on this. Kids have gotten together in smaller groups to work on various aspects of the problem. My son has spent hours working on a balloon-powered car that can travel the required 10 feet.

We had had a pretty tough practice last week. The team was stumped by many of the practice spontaneous problems I threw at them (build a 8″ tower of pasta capable of holding a box with weights using only spaghetti, rigatoni, mini marshmallows, straws, and 5 address labels). This week I felt I needed to get them back on track and give them a little boost of the spirits. So I did what any good mother/coach would do: I made cupcakes.

Yesterday at practice I saw the kids really come together on an idea for the skit and it was so rewarding! After weeks of discussing, debating and shooting down ideas, they finally seemed to rally around one. (I think there are some technical challenges with the execution of their idea, but as coach your job is not to give ideas or direction but to try to get them to figure it out on their own—hard to do with 5th graders).

Competition Day is March 9 so we still have some time to refine and practice the script. Already we are way ahead of last year. Helps that many of the kids and the coach have one year of experience under their belts.

And while there’s no need to get all fierce about it, I’ll admit, I’m hoping for 4th place.

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7 Responses to Coaching Odyssey of the Mind

  1. wendy says:

    My daughter is in Odyssey of the Mind this year and LOVES it. I have to admit – when I got the email saying that they already had a coach, my first thought was Thank You Jesus! LOL! True Manic Mommies style…..

  2. Julie says:

    What a great experience! After three months of avoiding the repeated requests, I agreed on to coach my 4th graders Science Olympiad event. Oooof!

  3. Susan says:

    I love your blog and have enjoyed reading about your OM coaching experiences. Mirrors much of my own. I noticed though, that you have a photo of an actual solution to this year’s vehicle problem posted on this page. Personally, I wouldn’t post a solution where anyone googling can find it. It’s a clever idea and your competition might like it too!

  4. Suzanne says:

    This sounds so much fun for the kids! My son is 10yo and I would love to get him into this. How did you start the group? Is it threw the school? What is the max-min number of kids for the team? Thanks

  5. Erin says:

    I never thought about that since the thought of googling solutions would be considered outside assistance and outside the OTM code. But, Susan, you make a very valid point so I have masked the photo.

  6. Tamra Frey says:

    I would soooo love some of your valuable thoughts on this!! We’ve moved to Delaware & never heard of OotM before. The coach for the group is active military and just found out that she’ll be on assignment and unable to fulfill her position. 2 boys in the group have been productive, 4 skrewed around the entire time. We’ve got the 3 vehicles with the pet pieces problem….. 3 weeks away from competition, no vehicles are built, only 1 concept in someone’s mind, no propulsion ideas, no pet ideas…. nothing! I was approached by the teacher today to be coach. I’m overwhelmed and after talking to the 2 boys that have been productive since the beginning….. I’m finding out just how little they’ve accomplished.

    I want desperately to be the supportive and loving Mom but I don’t see this as being able to happen…. Do I spend the next week reading & trying to attend all meetings to be disappointed myself? or just come clean?

    My son & the other boys (the productive ones) were ready to walk away a week ago. After the teacher stepped in and had a “Walk with Jesus” speech with all of them, the wised up and were finally productive this past Friday…. they named the group. (um… yeah.)

    There are all kinds of scheduling restriction to work around and only 3 weeks left.

    Please give me some thoughts, ideas? or tell me it’s ok to just say no.


  7. Erin says:

    Tamra, I have messaged you privately. Please check your email. Thanks, -Erin