Registration for May 12 (Postponed) State Meet is due TOMORROW

Greetings coaches!

In the e-mail you received about postponing the State Meet, we asked that all teams re-register for the event. That registration is due tomorrow, April 21.

Please fill out this form ASAP if you haven’t re-registered yet.

Thank you!

Posted in Announcements, For Coaches and Teachers, For Hosts and Facilitators

State Meet Is Postponed until May 12

Due to safety and travel concerns, the 2018 USAT State Competition has been rescheduled for May 12, 2018 at Woodbury Middle School (the location has not changed).
If your team registered for the State Meet, please confirm your team’s attendance at May 12 Competition by completing this registration confirmation form  no later than Saturday, April 21.
Over the 30+ years that USAT has existed, the State Competition has never been postponed. We know we can all work together to make this a smooth process – and completing the linked form will help staff reorganize for the later date.
Thank you, everyone, for your cooperation thus far. We look forward to seeing everyone in a month!
Posted in Announcements, For Coaches and Teachers, For Hosts and Facilitators, For Parents

State Info Available Now

You can now download the 2018 State info packet and Woodbury Middle School map here.

Please note, the State Meet is being held at a different school this year. The address is:

Woodbury Middle School, 1425 School Drive, Woodbury, MN 55125

Posted in Announcements

Never Too Early to Think About Next Year! Helping Your Students Set Goals in 3 Steps

To our teams who are moving on to the State Competition this year, congrats! But for the rest of our teams, we’re not just going to say “better luck next year.” We want to help your team get ready for next season right now.

Okay, you’re right. Next season won’t be coming up for a while. There’s a whole beautiful summer between now and the fall semester. The advantage of thinking about next season already is that this season is still fresh in the Triathlete’s minds. And when it comes to goal-setting, the fresher the experience, the better the goals.

It’s no secret that in the moment, winning feels better than losing. But improving can be its own reward, and one that isn’t dependent on the whim of the judges.

Setting Goals is as Easy as 1-2-3

This goal-setting exercise can be done for the team as a whole and for individuals on a team. If you are doing this is a group activity, allow your students to each have one “secret” goal that they don’t have to share with the group, but they must share at least one goal and the steps to reach it.

One low-pressure way to start the discussion of what worked and what could be improved, is to talk about the student’s favorite and least favorite challenges this year. See how many Mind Sprints they can name and how they felt about them. Ask about their favorite and least favorite P.A.R.T.Y. in a Box prompt this year. Did anyone feel frustrated about Face-Off? This is an easy way to get your students talking about what worked and what didn’t work over the season.

Then, it’s time to identify, quantify, and assess. So, have your students grab some paper, and divide it into three columns. (Hint – turning the page horizontal to a “landscape” rather than “portrait” configuration will give more space to each column.)

GOAL!!!

1. Identify Areas for Improvement

“Perfection” is a myth. Nobody does everything right all of the time. We all have our strengths and our weaknesses, and both can be areas of focus for goal-setting. This is why “Areas for Improvement” is a better label than “weakness;” even if you are good at something, there’s always room to strive to do it even better. And the more specific you can be, the easier it will be to measure success.

The first concrete step for goal-setting is to identify these areas for improvement and write them down. Each student should use the column on the left to record at least two ways they’d like to do even better as individuals during USAT next season, and one way the team could perform better overall. These areas for improvement could be in response to specific challenges they faced this season, such as “get faster at answering verbal brainstorming prompts,” or could be more general, like “listen to each other.” But the goals can’t get too broad, either, or they stop being helpful. Saying “get better scores” isn’t going to be as valuable as identifying specific areas where the scores were lower than they would have liked. It’s best if your Triathletes make their own lists, but here are a few suggestions to get them started if they get stuck.

  • Drawing backdrops for P.A.R.T.Y. in a Box
  • Answering current events questions
  • Listening to each other
  • Staying in character
  • Using time effectively
  • Speaking up
  • Writing clearly
  • Making props

There’s no need to share these lists yet, so have them work on this individually to start. Sharing will come after step 3.

2. Quantify – Create Steps that Lead to Success

People often forget this very important stage in the goal-setting process. It isn’t enough for us to just to declare we plan to “do better” in the year to come. To reach a goal, we need to identify the concrete steps to take to get us there. You may find that some of the goals from above are hard to break into steps, which means the focus of the goal needs to shift to make is something measurable. The Triathletes should use the middle column to record at least one step they can take to reach each goal for themselves and their team.

Let’s use “listening to each other” as an example. It’s easy to say “we’re all going to listen better next season,” but making sure this happens requires more than a promise. For instance, the team could agree that after reading the prompt in every P.A.R.T.Y. in a Box planning session, every teammate gets a chance to share their ideas before anyone touches the materials in the box. This doesn’t mean everyone has to have an idea, but they are guaranteed an opportunity to speak up if they have one.

If Triathletes did end up with list items like “score higher in Face-Off,” there are steps to take there, too. The subject areas in Face-Off are always the same: science/health, social studies/geography, math/music theory, English/literature, and current events/consumer issues. We’ve provided some tips for improving Face-Off performance before, but there could certainly be other ways. And if the students come up with the ideas themselves, they are going to be more likely to stick.

Mind Sprints may change from Meet to Meet, but there’s never a bad time to practice using the SCAMPER technique to improve verbal brainstorming skills. There are ways to practice, like making P.A.R.T.Y.-style props and skits in between Meets. But saying the next step is “practice” is only halfway there. It’s easy to put off practicing if there is no deadline or minimum number to meet. So, make sure the steps take either time (hold one practice before each Meet) or quantity (I’ll turn 10 plastic cups into props) to make them measurable. This makes the steps easier to accomplish, which will help the students reach their goals.

3. Assess

In addition to needing concrete steps in order to accomplish your goal, choosing milestones means that you can easily assess how much progress you’ve made. If you look at the steps the students brainstormed for the section above and find that there is no way to measure when they are done, they might need to rethink their areas of improvement and their next steps. Goal-setting needs to be a fluid process, but as long as it leads to actionable steps that can be measured, then it’s been successful, even if things have to get tweaked along the way.

Goals can be assessed at any time, but if you never set a time, then it’s easy to let the assessment slide by. The goals and steps can be evaluated at the end of each season, but also after every Meet or on a monthly basis, depending on the goal. The advantage of assessing progress more often is that the students may find they have already achieved a goal on their list, so they have a chance to set another one and continue to make progress. On the other hand, they could find out something they thought was a reasonable action step turns out to be too hard or too easy, or they prefer to do it with a friend. Any part of the goal-setting process can be changed at any time, but it won’t happen unless a time is chosen at the beginning.

Sharing Goals and Steps

If you are doing this as a group activity, now it’s time to share and discuss the goals the students made for themselves and the team as a whole. They should each share at least one personal goal, then each share their team goal, and how they plan to achieve them. Students may have suggestions for each other and the types of steps someone can take, and how to achieve their team goals. This activity has the chance to turn into an interesting discussion, and we encourage you to do it as a group.

If a student is working alone, that’s fine, too. But goals are much more powerful if they are shared with someone, like a friend, parent, or coach. Just saying a goal out loud makes it seem more “real,” and if other people know what someone else hopes to accomplish, they will be more likely and able to help them along the way. Sharing creates a sense of accountability that keeping it to yourself simply can’t match. So, even if a goal is only shared with one person, the act of sharing is already a step toward success!

Do you have any goal-setting activities to share? Did this activity lead to any surprises? Share with us in the comments.

 

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Posted in Enrichment Activities, For Coaches and Teachers, For Parents, Resources

Elements of Storytelling: The Finale

Now is the time to put everything the protagonist has learned to the test. To keep the tension high throughout the final act, the plan of attack has to hit a snag. For instance, Frodo and Sam make it all the way to Mordor, only to find that the power of the ring is so great that Frodo doesn’t want to give it up. Blake Snyder is famous for demystifying storytelling for screenwriters, and recommends a five-step finale. Using a classic “storming the castle to save the damsel in distress” scenario, he says to do the following (Source):

Step 1: The hero, and the hero team, come up with a plan to “storm the castle” and “free the princess” who is “trapped in the tower.”

Step 2: The plan begins. The wall of the castle is broached. The heroes enter the Bad Guys’ fort. All is going according to plan.

Step 3: Finally reaching the tower where the princess is being kept, the hero finds… she’s not there! And not only that, it’s a trap! It looks like the Bad Guy has won.

Step 4: The hero now has to come up with a new plan. And it’s all part and parcel of the overall transformation of the hero and his need to “dig deep down” to find that last ounce of strength (i.e., faith in an unseen power) to win the day.

Step 5: Thinking on the fly, and discovering his best self, the hero executes the new plan, and wins! Princess freed, friends avenged, Bad Guy sent back to wherever Bad Guys go when they are defeated — our hero has triumphed.

The Final Image

The protagonist may be victorious, but the story isn’t over until they have found their way back to a State of Perfection (SOP). This is the “awww” moment for the audience, who gets a chance to catch their breath after the action of the finale. For our triathletes, it is also the best place to explicitly state the moral or theme of the play for the judges before they write down their scores.

Let’s go back to the original SOP we discussed in the post about beginning a story. A group of Wilderness Scouts were gathered around the campfire. If the misfit protagonist was the only member of the group having a good time, the audience needs to see them back at the fireside. However, they can’t be the only one enjoying the camp-out anymore. The rest of the group would need to either gain an appreciation for the great outdoors thanks to the protagonist’s influence, or the friendships they forged must be strong enough to overcome their own misgivings. On the other hand, if the protagonist started off in a State of Imperfection and hated everything about the wilderness at the beginning, the audience would need to see how much they’ve changed as a result of the story.

In other words, the final image needs to have some connection to the opening image, and is often a mirror (be it fun house-style or just a normal one). This brings the story full circle, and leaves the audience with the feeling that all is right in the world. For a P.A.R.T.Y. in a Box skit, this is the perfect time to tell the judges the moral of the story to drive home how the team has come to understand and illustrate the theme. Plus, it’s the last opportunity to really “wow” them with a special talent or comedic relief. The old showbiz adage of “always leave them wanting more” couldn’t be truer! Judges often adjust their scores after they’ve seen all the shows in order to make sure the scoring is fair. If the story ends with a bang, it’s much easier for them to remember what they’ve seen, even if a team gave their performance at the beginning. So, don’t forget to make it memorable!

Read the rest of the Elements of Storytelling posts for more info about structure, and check out the rest of our P.A.R.T.Y. in a Box tips.

 

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Posted in Elements of Storytelling, For Coaches and Teachers, For Kids, Resources
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