I know (wink) you are all wondering how we did. Well, for the second year in a row, the team I coached placed second to last in their division.

I have to admit that last year my son’s team probably did not work as hard as others in his division. But this year? This year felt different.

With one year of OoTM under my belt, I felt a little more prepared when my son came to me asking if I would coach his team again this year. I agreed, with two conditions: the problem could not involve balsawood and the team had to have an equal number of girls on it.

I took the same approach with coaching OoTM as I do with everything else in life: Got organized, made a plan, kept us on schedule.

My team was enthusiastic, creative and original. They worked well together. I enjoyed spending time with them (for the most part–even when at one practice they all called me mean). I loved watching them problem solve together. I honestly felt they were going to place. Out of 10 teams in our division, five would get ribbons. 50-50 odds seemed pretty good.

But two days before the competition, I realized I failed to understand a key part of the problem and thought that maybe I gave the kids a bad piece of advice when I told them their idea met the qualifications. In my effort to take the “no outside assistance” rule seriously, I read and re-read the problem to the kids more times than I can count. And as I wrote a while back, when the group finally decided on a concept for their skit, I was so excited to see them come together that I didn’t want to squelch the idea or their creativity. I knew our interpretation of the problem was more creative than literal, but assumed we’d be OK.

To document what went wrong at competition would take too long to write up. But suffice it to say that my son’s balloon car, the one he designed and built out of a styrafoam egg carton, bamboo skewers, straws and lego wheels had mechanical issues. The car went, but got stuck in the tunnel on all three required runs. It was, excuse the pun, deflating.

This being only my second year with OoTM, I still am working out what level of adult supervision, interaction, and input is technically appropriate. Looking at some of the other elementary school teams I had to wonder whether these kids truly came up with their solutions on their own. Some clearly did. Others, maybe not so much.

So another year goes by and while Tommy and I have both recovered from our loss, our competitive fire still burns. He tells me he’s not ready to give up on OoTM until he gets a ribbon. A real chip off the old block, that one.

I think my husband would prefer I return to my old ways of avoiding volunteering at all costs. “Maybe you should leave the coaching to someone who actually has the time to study up and understand all the directions.”

He’s right, there are probably coaches who simply have more time to work with their teams.

And yet I can’t help but think there may be a germ of truth to what a coworker said after hearing me lament over letting my team down. “Sounds to me like maybe OoTM is a competition for parents,” he said. “You know the kind…where parents do the work and then coach the kids on how to hide it from the judges.”


8 Responses to The Odyssey of the Mind results are in

  1. Erica says:

    Actually, I really WAS wondering how the team did! Ribbon or not, it sounds to me like it was a ‘win’ for both you and the kids this year. The way you described the process leading up to the competition, in this post and on the podcast, was very positive and inspiring. I bet the kids on your team learned a lot more from the experience, with the creative license that you gave them :)

  2. Jennifer says:

    Having just finished coaching a OotM team myself (balsa wood), I can totally understand when you say that perhaps some of the teams interpreted the Outside Assistance a little looser than you did. While I lamented every week how our “practices” seemed like giant playdates, I really enjoyed the competition day and how well they pulled it together. Our team came in 4th out of 6 teams, and honestly, I was good with that. We didn’t move on as the kids hoped, but we didn’t get last either. I was inspired by what our kids came up with. I might even be crazy enough to co-coach again next year if my son chooses to participate (which he says now he wants to). I learned a lot just from seeing the competition. I imagine every additional year you are involved, the more you will learn and use to coach your team. Don’t be so hard on yourself – if the kids want to do it again, you must have done something right!

  3. Meghan says:

    I really was wondering, too! Thanks for sharing. I hope it isn’t the kind of competition where you do the work and then hide it from the judges… although that is probably more preparation for the real world, it is nice to maintain their innocence as long as possible, so good for you!

    BTW, I’ve been on Retin-A for a week and can already see a difference! Yay – another great thing I learned from Manic Mommies!

  4. Mary says:

    As a mom who coached OM (as we called it back then) for over 9 years with some years having 2 teams we did it all–we came in last and at one point we even came in first. We did the balsa wood and the skits, the vehicles (ours also had balloons) and whatever else they came up with. The year my team thought they would win with their volcanic rap song….every team had a volcanic rap song! Like you, I always wondered about some teams and ahem, outside help, but in the end my teams always did their own work, were always proud, even when they came in dead last (because their balsa wood structure broke right away and one of the kids said “oh sh###” so we were instantly disqualified…..) I still look back at those years as some of the best….and yay for you for coaching ;-)

  5. Susan P. says:

    Chin up, you are a talented leader (as referenced by your accomplishments in work, in Manic Mommies and your family). You have given these kids tools to do their best in solving problems to the best of their ability without outside consultation. That is HUGE. They may have even gotten more out of the experience if other groups had the work interpreted for them. Sometimes success cannot be measured by subjective judges. You are INCREDIBLE!

  6. Susan says:

    My husband and i coach a lego robotics team of all girls. Imagine the chatter and singing level! This year, year three, they won a trophy and moved on. Though they didnt place in the championship, they won for best costume.
    So three might be the charm. And yes, there are parents who do the work, that is clear.

  7. Oz listener says:

    My daughter was also involved in a Lego Robotics team and were very diasppointed to place 9th out of 35 when the top 8 teams go to the nationals.
    There were many tears but you know, once they regrouped, they are now super keen to work harder this year to get the place they need.
    Maybe they won’t get it but they still take a lot of learning away about determination and resilience.

    Having said that the team that won was, to quote my daughter, “mean”. They were rude and selfish with a coach who yelled at the children. A contrast to everyone else.

    They may have won but I wouldn’t trade my daughters 9th for their 1st any day. As this great quote I heard said “when you do your child’s work for them, you may save them from failure but you also rob them of their success”.

  8. wendy says:

    My daughter did OM for the first time this year. Thankfully I didn’t have to coach. (I don’t think I could have kept my mouth shut with the no outside help rule…..)
    They didn’t do so hot on their skit, or so we thought, and I felt bad for them. But THEN, at the awards ceremony, they tied for 4th place! The top 4 teams get to go to state so I was happy for them.

    HOWEVER, in true Manic Mommies fashion, state competition is the same day as a 5K race I was going to run/walk in for work AND my husband’s company is moving offices on that SAME DAY! So I have to drive my 3 kids to a town 3 hours away by myself and spend all day on a college campus. Joy. Thankfully my mother lives fairly close and I have asked (i.e. BEGGED) her to come and help me.

    And to think we were 1 point away from getting to stay home and relax that weekend….. :)