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Suggestions for Coaching UIL Academic Events

By Dr. David Stevens, Academic Director | Tuesday, November 20, 2012 11:33 AM

Sponsoring or coaching UIL academic contests is both challenging and rewarding. Here are some suggestions that have proven successful for coaches of academic events.

One of the initial objectives is to recruit team members for your activity. Although entries are limited to a maximum number in district competition, recruit more team members for several reasons.

It is inevitable that someone will get too busy, lose interest or not show up the day of the meet. It is important to have back-ups who can fill in.

Healthy competition for positions on the team is normally a good thing. Use competition to encourage each student to push harder to earn a spot on the team.

In terms of locating team members, there are several strategies. First, meet with your campus UIL academic coordinator to get names of past team members who might still be interested. Inquire about what students may have participated in UIL events in elementary, middle or junior high school.

Next, it is always a good idea to ask teachers on your campus for the names of students who appear to have interest in your contest subject area. Look for such students in your own classes as well. Sometimes a simple acknowledgement or showing interest in a student’s talent will light a spark that will make that student feel special and become interested in the contest.

Finally, schoolwide announcements will get the message to students who otherwise might not be aware of what the contest entails or who to get in touch with about their interest in participating.

After you have gathered interested students, it is time to prepare them. With respect to preparation, there are several activities you might want to consider that usually tend to work well.

Regular practice sessions are a good idea. It is important to keep in mind the fact that many students, who might have an interest in your activity, are already committed to other activities as well. This means that, flexibility is suggested. If too many of your potential participants have after-school activities then you might want to arrange practice sessions before school or during other appropriate times, such as activity periods during the school day. Some coaches even hold duplicate sessions at differing times, in order to meet with all of their team members.

When conducting practice sessions, try to always have a well-organized agenda for students in order to effectively and efficiently use the time allowed; the time you have with them will be limited so make the best use possible.

Refer to the UIL website for contest information to understand the basis for the competition. Review the contest rules and download sample tests. Review the rubric for grading the essay, if there is one, and any other approaches to succeed on the tests. For some contests, find recommended sites and sources listed on the website.

Flash cards are a great way to prepare for some contests. Give students a flash card assignment and then, keeping in the team spirit, request that they compare them with other team members to make sure multiple issues are covered.

Write practice test questions for students and require students to bring their own questions to practice sessions to share with teammates. Construct practice tests with these questions that will resemble actual competition tests when possible.

Some events are based on a writing component or have an essay. The essay question is an important part of the contest. Review the rubric for grading the essay or the contest. Familiarize students with techniques and strategies for writing essays. Require students to submit possible practice essay topics for certain contests.

Study Materials may be ordered from the UIL office for most of the high school contests. The UIL high school study packets contain the tests and answer keys from the previous contest year. Contest manuals or other resources other than previous tests are invaluable guides that are usually written by the state contest director.

Subscribe to one or more additional resources listed on the UIL website that provide sets of practice material. The companion companies listed provide resources and study materials for a variety of UIL academic contests. The UIL does not review nor endorse any supplemental resources. This list is for informational purposes only.

Invitational meets and scrimmage practice tournaments are great ways for students to experience the contest setting prior to the district meet. The UIL website has a list of those meets being held. Look for one or two in your area.

Coaching an academic event can be a rewarding experience of working with outstanding students. All events complement the academic curriculum and are designed to motivate students as they acquire higher levels of knowledge, to challenge students to confront issues of importance, and to provide students with the opportunity to demonstrate mastery of specific skills.