Mindset in Quiz Bowl

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William McCurley
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Mindset in Quiz Bowl

Post by William McCurley »

Hello. I am fairly new to the more competitive, “good” quiz bowl; it was only this year that my school’s team began to participate in tournaments beyond our local intraregional tournaments. The COVID-19 pandemic has completely halted our progress in quiz bowl, but I have still attempted to participate in online alternatives to in-person quiz bowl (Buzzword and Scottie Online) and am gradually improving my strategy and play-style. Despite having what I would consider an appropriate knowledge base for quiz bowl, I struggle from one major problem that has resisted my ascension in quiz bowl (and really any other activity I have ever tried to become proficient at): mindset.

I have always struggled from relatively minute occurrences impeding my ability to perform well. Usually these are mental; sometimes I get bothered when I anticipate a question alluding to one thing but another clue contradicts my prediction, sometimes I get bothered when a moderator horribly mispronounces a word (this happens far too often at our local tournaments), sometimes I hesitate and wait too long to buzz in when I knew an answer with the first clue and other times I get too hasty, and sometimes the skill of the opposing team and/or player surprises me and I fall into a defeatist state. There have also been physical problems; my outdated PC audio cut out a few times in the first few weeks of Buzzword Level C and sometimes the moderators of Scottie Online failed to recognize my buzz at the moment I buzzed.

All of these occurrences are not horribly detrimental on their own, but that’s where my problem comes back to mindset. I find myself far too often looming on the minor occurrences at previous points in matches or even whole tournaments and I make even more mistakes in the future. I have a hard time “resetting” after a question is over (attempting to separate the previous question in my mind from the one I am answering now).

I’m not sure exactly how common of a problem this is; I have played against players who seem to struggle from similar problems, but I cannot generalize with my lack of experience. So, to all the quiz bowl elites who have been playing for many years and have far more experience than I: what is the best way to reset your mindset after a disruption during a game and continue playing well? What are some ways to get into an appropriate mindset even before or after a match or tournament?

Thank you to any who reply and I genuinely hope your replies assist in my future academic endeavors.

P.S.: Is “Theory” the appropriate category to submit a topic like this?
Will McCurley

Varsity Quiz Bowl Player
Baker High School (Mobile, AL)
Generalist/Slight Focuses on Science, History, and Philosophy

“I may disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” -Evelyn Beatrice Hall
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Smuttynose Island
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Re: Mindset in Quiz Bowl

Post by Smuttynose Island »

The theory section is a great place for this post, WIll.

A lot of the frustrations that you lay out are frustrations that I myself have dealt with, moreso over the later half of my career as I have played more events solo. I haven't found any "magic bullets" for eliminating these frustrations, but here are two strategies, one in game and one out of game, that have often helped me.
  • Setting Expectations: Oftentimes a lot of my own frustrations with "playing poorly" (negging with a bad guess on a question, not buzzing in early enough despite having the right hunch, etc) come from expecting myself to play perfectly, especially on tossups in subjects that I care about. But what's important to remember is that nobody plays every TU perfectly in a match nor does anybody completely lock down a category across a tournament especially as the skill level of their competition increases. We can't expect ourselves to be perfect and that is okay*. Nonetheless, this is very easy to forget. So I like to remind myself of this prior to each tournament. That way I can focus on reducing mistakes in game rather than getting upset at making mistakes in game. Likewise, taking a deep breath mid-game and mentally reminding myself to reset my expectations often helps me refocus in game. Occasionally, I'll write this reminder down in my notebook.
  • Practicing for Success: Outside of tournaments I work hard to make sure that day of mistakes have as little impact as possible on my in game performance. I do this by working hard to develop a deep knowledge base in the areas that I care about. That way, in theory, I know enough so that my hunches are well informed and more likely to be accurate, moderator errors mean less because I'm buzzing on the next clue anyways, and I don't get thrown off by an opposing team's skill because I'm going to "get mine" anyways. This isn't to say that I'm actually very good at my categories, but practicing under this mindset has helped me carve out specialties that I'm reasonably competitive in. Despite these efforts, I still get routinely beaten to my specialties, which is why managing day of expectations is so important.

    Furthermore, while I've used this mindset to become a decent college-level specialist, I think it should work equally well for becoming a high level generalist at the high school level. Another way to reduce the impact of in game mistakes on questions is to be good enough to just get the next question.
*Likewise we cannot expect moderators or game conditions to be perfect, especially in the online environment. Setting this as my expectation means that the mistakes of others don't bother me as much because I am already mentally prepared for them to occur.
Daniel Hothem
TJHSST '11 | UVA '15 | Oregon '??
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whatamidoinghere
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Re: Mindset in Quiz Bowl

Post by whatamidoinghere »

William McCurley wrote: Sat Jul 11, 2020 5:02 pm [...] what is the best way to reset your mindset after a disruption during a game and continue playing well? What are some ways to get into an appropriate mindset even before or after a match or tournament?
In terms of playing questions:

- If you're early in the round (say tossup 1 to tossup 6) I usually think "My bad, but there are still [x] many cycles left where I can make up for such problems." It's not like these first tossups aren't critical to success; they absolutely are, but the fact of the matter is that within the beginning of the game there's a lot of time for you to make up whatever loss you might have accrued.

- If you're in the middle of the round (tossups 6-15; big range I know), I usually think "keep up the playing style," if my team is up in a close game, or "forget about this cycle, note it down in the notebook, and get them the next cycle," if my team is down in a close game. If by this point my team is down by a lot, I usually think "play each question and forget about the other team." It's much more calming to think "all I have to do is get this question correct" than to think "I have to beat this team," and plus if you neg you don't have to care about it as much.

- If you're in late game and, say, you neg accidentally in a close match, I usually say to myself "be more patient, there are still a couple cycles left." If my team's being blown out or we're up by a lot, I usually start thinking about the next game.

After a tournament I usually discuss with my team what general things we can improve on (such as "bonus communication" or "RMPSS coverage") rather than thinking back to specific games since specific games have a lot of variance (such as what you had for breakfast/if you're hungry, etc.).

Overall, a good mindset I think is to take trends into account. Is your team improving overall? If so, then that one off day or off game won't mean anything.
joshxu
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Re: Mindset in Quiz Bowl

Post by joshxu »

I have always struggled from relatively minute occurrences impeding my ability to perform well. Usually these are mental; sometimes I get bothered when I anticipate a question alluding to one thing but another clue contradicts my prediction, sometimes I get bothered when a moderator horribly mispronounces a word (this happens far too often at our local tournaments), sometimes I hesitate and wait too long to buzz in when I knew an answer with the first clue and other times I get too hasty, and sometimes the skill of the opposing team and/or player surprises me and I fall into a defeatist state.
I agree with Avinash--after mistakes or unforced errors, it's always good to be patient with yourself and realize that the game or tournament isn't over yet. Rather than fixate on past blunders or what could've been, it's best to focus simply on what you can do to give your team a chance to win the game (e.g. Given the score and question distribution so far, do I have to be more aggressive or more cautious on the next tossup? How many cycles do I have left to make up the deficit?), since you can't go back and erase a neg or decide to buzz a clue earlier than the other team did.

One strategy that I began experimenting with this year was calling timeouts whenever I believed either my team or I weren't mentally in the game--usually after a series of bad negs, failing to pull a bonus part that we definitely knew, etc. I found that even having 30 seconds to stand up, drink some water, and clear out my mind would help me focus on the match much better. Sometimes a quiz bowl game can fly right by you, and it may be best to [literally] slow the game down to give yourself a chance to refocus. I would, however, only recommend this strategy for formats without a clock. In timed matches, timeouts can be very valuable especially in the final few cycles of a close match, and it's probably not going to be worth it to burn your only one in the first half.
Josh Xu

Santa Monica High School (Class of 2021)
Quiz Bowl Captain
"Club President"
2019–2020 SoCal Quiz Bowl Coach of the Year (self-proclaimed, but uncontested)
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