How to Build an Acadec Team, part 2: Recruiting

This probably should have been the first post, because you can’t start the team that you want without properly recruiting.  This is a very complex problem that is different for each school, especially if you tend to recruit out of your own classes.  Not only is that a factor that can greatly change the situation, but also the prestige of the program at your school can greatly increase or decrease your ability to recruit outside of your class (as well as within).  When you become successful, it is easier to have great kids come to you on their own volition and sign up.

The character of the coaches also comes into play here- if you are a well-liked teacher, it will also be easier to convince the kids that it is something worth doing, and you are someone worth being in their lives for another 1-3 years.  This topic would be a great one for discussion on here,  as every successful program has a different approach.  I will highlight what we use, and what I have known others to do, and then try to approach the question that can really turn a program into a powerhouse- how to recruit varsities.


  1. Recruit out of your class– this is the easiest way to do this I have found.  Not only does it give you a good idea who is smart and willing to work hard; more importantly it gives you an insight into the character of the kids.  When they will be together for months and even years at a time, a child who is not trustworthy or good-natured will be a drain on the team as a whole.  I have seen teams fall apart because of one or two people who were simply poisonous to be around.  Getting kids who hit the trifecta of smart, hard-working, and good to be around is not that hard to find- if you know who you are recruiting.  Having them in your class is the easiest way to ensure that.
  2. Teacher recommendations– If you teach a class of seniors, it becomes difficult if not impossible to recruit out of your class.  That is where the network of teachers come in.  This is merely an extension of the first point- if teachers can recommend kids based on their work ethic and character, that may be just as good (if not better) than getting them out of your own class.
  3. Kids recruit kids– one of the best ways to find kids who fit the mold of someone who is willing to bear down on decathlon is to have the current team members or recruits convince their friends or people they know to do it.  This can create a great environment for the kids if they get to recruit friends who also fit the criteria we already set up.  It can also backfire if the kids are just looking for a place to hang out with their friends.  Make sure you trust the kids in who they are recommending, and probably combine this with teacher recommendations.  If the kids like someone, but the teacher’s don’t, there is probably something the kids are overlooking.
  4. Word of mouth– If you have created a place people want to be, that will spread through the school.  Many kids are looking for a “killer app” for their resume, and decathlon can certainly be one of them, especially if they are successful at it.  Be wary of kids who just want something that looks good, as they tend to not put in everything that is needed for a great team.  This one involves creating an infectious atmosphere, which is probably the hardest thing to do, and worthy of its own post.
  5. PSAT Scores– A simple and clean way to recruit is by getting test numbers for your campus and cross-referencing them with transcripts to find a good blend of the three categories.  This is the most thorough option, while also being the least personal.  You can really screw things up doing it this way if you cannot control your team, but if you are able to this can really pay off.  I know of at least one incredibly successful program that does it this way.  I will say that we would have missed out on A LOT of great students by doing this.  I would especially focus on the reading section, as it shows reading comprehension.  Math can be fixed despite what the kids think.
  6. Food– Seriously.  Kids love free food.  Provide them with free food every once in a while and they’ll do anything you ask.  Especially varsities.



How to recruit varsities

Varsities buck most of the ideas from above.  They tend to either not want to work hard, or don’t believe they are smart enough to do well.  They also may have just never considered that they would be able to compete in an academic competition, since those are usually reserved for A+ GPA kids looking for another thing to bolster their resume.  Varsities need a personal touch.  You have to interact with them, convince them of their worth, and convince them decathlon is a worthwhile endeavor.  I have never had a varsity that was convinced in the first conversation- usually it was two, three, five conversations over the span of a year.  It was a battle, and I had to wear them down to get them to do it; once they join though, they tend to love it.  It is work to convince them, but worthwhile work.  This will be fleshed out in a later post, but the most important part of recruiting varsities is perseverance.


So what do you do to recruit?  Is it successful?  Let me know!


How to build an Acadec Team, part 1

The number one hardest thing for any decathlon coach to do is to create a system that is both successful and sustainable for the students.  If you try too hard to make something successful, you face backlash and burnout from the kids- no one should be doing 10-20 pages a night for the entire year.  If you try too hard to be sustainable for the kids, you get a team that gets to state every year, or even wins your state every year if it’s less competitive, but nothing memorable for you or the kids. If you are able to create something that strikes this balance, chances are you will have a very successful team, consistently able to score 45,000 or above regardless of the student body you are able to recruit from.  So how do you do this?

  • The kids have to read every night.  This is the hardest hurdle for every program.  I have been on both sides of the coin as a competitor- as a junior, my team scored a hair over 41k- which is not terrible, but we did it blindly firing into the bush and hoping to kill the king of the jungle.  There was no daily scheduling of what to do, but rather a nebulous idea of “let’s finish sosci by Friday”.  Our senior year was an entirely different matter- we had a routine, and it was very simple- read six or seven pages a night (more specific than that- read pages 23-29 up to “Typhus”).  Telling students to “just read” is a nebulous thing that will constantly get pushed aside by something that is more pressing and does have a schedule- band practice, homework, tests, college applications, soccer practice.  Those things have deadlines- “read sosci” does not, especially for varsities.
  • Make the reading worth something.  The year is long and grueling in decathlon.  Starting in August and ending anywhere between January and April, it can really wear on a kid, and when you say to read just to read every night, that will fall apart after about a week.  The goal is so far in the future, that it always seems it will never happen.  Then, the week before the regional or state meet, the kids will go all out to find that last-minute info dump to cram into their brains and forget a day after the meet.  So how do you create the incentive to reading every night?  The solution I learned in my time competing at Pearland was competition.  We had a full spreadsheet with all the kids on it and all their scores averaged out and ranked so people could see where they were and how hard they needed to work or what they needed to do to stay on top.  It was fun and competitive, and created a sense of every day meaning something.  I am sure there are several ways to create this incentive, but this is what I have used to help create something successful at my current school.

These are not axioms that must be followed to be successful, these are merely the ideas I have used as the base to being a successful coach.  There are a million things to discuss when it comes to coaching decathlon, and I hope to write some more about them in the future.